A German study has found that more dominant horses may be slower to learn new tasks than their submissive counterparts, reports EQUUS magazine.
Though herd leaders tend to be older, age has nothing to do with the horses’ cognitive ability in this instance. Instead, horses that are more alpha are often unmotivated to try new methods of obtaining resources.
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Researchers observed 30 horses of varying ages that had been in stable herds for at least two years and noted the hierarchy. The team then chose a horse that ranked in the middle of the pecking order and taught him to open a box that had food inside. The other horses in the herd were allowed to watch the horse open the box several times.
The other horses were then given an opportunity to open the box. The scientists found that young, low-ranking horses were more likely to open the box after watching the demonstrator horse. Older horses were equally as successful at opening the box, but were less inclined to try to open it.
The team hypothesized that the older, higher-ranking horses may be less likely to copy their younger, lower-ranking counterparts because young horses may not know what they’re doing. For example, a young horse may consume forage that is dangerous. The older horses may also not copy behaviors because they have an established herd rank which provides them ample access to resources at all times.
Read more at EQUUS magazine.
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