Horses fail to use social learning when solving spatial detour tasks

Abstract

Social animals should have plenty of opportunities to learn from conspecifics, but most studies have failed to document social learning in horses. This study investigates whether young Icelandic horses can learn a spatial detour task through observation of a trained demonstrator horse of either the same age (Experiments 1 and 2, n = 22) or older (Experiment 3, n = 24). Observer horses were allowed to observe the demonstrator being led three times through the detour route immediately before being given the opportunity to solve the task themselves. Controls were allowed only to observe the demonstrator horse eating at the final position, but not the demonstration of the route. Although we found a tendency towards better performance by observer horses in the second experiment, we were unable to repeat this result in a similar set-up with a new group of horses and older, dominant demonstrator horses. We conclude that horses exposed to prior demonstration did not perform better than control horses in solving spatial detour tasks.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Aarhus University, Foulum, for providing the facilities for the project, as well as Anna Feldberg Marsbøll, Emeline Cornet, and Josefine Madsen for assistance during the experiments, and Erik Jørgensen and Kristian Kristensen for statistical support. Finally, we would like to thank the horse owners for kindly allowing us to use their horses.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interests.

Ethical standard

All experiments comply with the current Danish law of animal welfare.

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Correspondence to Maria Vilain Rørvang.

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Rørvang, M.V., Ahrendt, L.P. & Christensen, J.W. Horses fail to use social learning when solving spatial detour tasks. Anim Cogn 18, 847–854 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-015-0852-6

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Keywords

  • Horse
  • Social learning
  • Spatial detour task
  • Motivation
  • Dominance
  • Social relationships