Object performance in horses: Horses’ ability to track hidden objects and the effects of training level

In the daily management routines and housing systems, horses can be faced with novel and sudden stimuli or objects (re-)appearing which potentially can elicit stress responses. Knowledge of horses’ ability to track hidden objects can shed light onto how good horses are at handling these situations. Object performance refers to the understanding that an object continues to exist even though they are out an observer’s (here: the horse’s) sight. This means, that the higher the level of object performance in a given animal, the higher the ability to predict changes in the environment.

This project aims to investigate aspects of object permanence in horses and the effect of training level. A sample of horses from a private stud will be included and consist of free roaming, untrained young horses combined with professionally trained, competing horses.

Although it is currently unknown if horses possess any level of object performance, it has recently been found that dwarf goats possess a high level of object performance, implying that domesticated mammalian species might have evolved to possess this ability. The results may help understand how horses perceive their environment as well as help to understand the evolution of intelligence.

Case species: Icelandic horses.

Icelandic horse