Cognition and learning in horses (Equus caballus): What we know and why we should ask more

Behav Processes. 2016 May:126:121-31. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2016.03.017. Epub 2016 Mar 24.


Horses (Equus caballus) have a rich history in their relationship with humans. Across different cultures and eras they have been utilized for work, show, cultural rituals, consumption, therapy, and companionship and continue to serve in many of these roles today. As one of the most commonly trained domestic animals, understanding how horses learn and how their relationship with humans and other horses impacts their ability to learn has implications for horse welfare, training, husbandry and management. Given that unlike dogs and cats, domesticated horses have evolved from prey animals, the horse-human relationship poses interesting and unique scientific questions of theoretical value. There is still much to be learned about the cognition and behaviour of horses from a scientific perspective. This review explores current research within three related areas of horse cognition: human-horse interactions, social learning and independent learning in horses. Research on these topics is summarized and suggestions for future research are provided.

Keywords: Horse behaviour; Horse welfare; Learning; Social cognition.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Domestic
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Horses / physiology
  • Horses / psychology*
  • Knowledge
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Social Behavior