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How Smart is Your Horse?

In a recent review of equine learning behaviour, researchers Jack Murphy and Sean Arkins of the Department of Life Sciences, University of Limerick, Ireland, noted that where equines are concerned, “training is actually enhanced when the training methods employed exactly match the mental ability of the horse.” Although the statement seems elementary, matching training methods with a horse's cognitive capacity is central to maintaining a balanced social interaction between horse and human, and arguably more challenging than it might first appear. We train our horses based on assumptions about their cognitive ability founded more on tradition, experience, and folklore than on science. Yet, when we turn to science for answers, controlled experiments about equine cognition do not easily translate meaningfully into our everyday practice with horses. Does a horse's ability to choose the largest triangle in a lab experiment tell us anything about his understanding of being the fastest clean…

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