Comprehension of human pointing gestures in horses (Equus caballus)

Anim Cogn. 2008 Jul;11(3):457-66. doi: 10.1007/s10071-008-0136-5. Epub 2008 Feb 5.


Twenty domestic horses (Equus caballus) were tested for their ability to rely on different human gesticular cues in a two-way object choice task. An experimenter hid food under one of two bowls and after baiting, indicated the location of the food to the subjects by using one of four different cues. Horses could locate the hidden reward on the basis of the distal dynamic-sustained, proximal momentary and proximal dynamic-sustained pointing gestures but failed to perform above chance level when the experimenter performed a distal momentary pointing gesture. The results revealed that horses could rely spontaneously on those cues that could have a stimulus or local enhancement effect, but the possible comprehension of the distal momentary pointing remained unclear. The results are discussed with reference to the involvement of various factors such as predisposition to read human visual cues, the effect of domestication and extensive social experience and the nature of the gesture used by the experimenter in comparative investigations.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Association Learning*
  • Attention
  • Choice Behavior
  • Comprehension*
  • Concept Formation
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Female
  • Gestures*
  • Horses / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Social Environment
  • Socialization