Do Horses have Long Term Memory

Do Horses Have Long Term and Sequential Memory?

People have often wondered if horses can remember things that happened long ago, and if they can remember things sequentially. It is important to know what those terms mean in every day usage. Having long term memory means that a horse can retain information for a period of several years. Having a sequential memory means that they can remember details in order of the way they happen. If an animal does not have short and long term capabilities, they are not able to problem solve. We often have seen horses spook seemingly for no reason at all.  Perhaps they did so because something frightening happened to them a few years ago in that same spot and they remember feeling frightened. These details about our equine friends have not come to light until recent scientific tests have confirmed our suspicions.

Testing

Three horses were tested byEvelyn Hanggi, MS, and PhD, who is the co-director at the Equine Research Foundation (ERF) in Aptos, California.  She had tested some of these horses ten years ago, and offered the same tests again to see if they would remember what they did and how they accomplished the tasks. The testing involved manipulating equipment at indicated stations.  The horses were given variations of three tests using an LCD monitor. One of the tests was for recalling if two of the horses could still tell the difference between objects several years later.  They were given five testing sets. They performed accurately on four of the sets, but scored below average on one of them.  They had to choose images that were on the screen. The horses had to perform according to rules that were established during previous testing.  They were tested to see if they could classify objects on the screen. Not only were familiar objects from previous tests used, but also objects that had not been seen before. The horses responded correctly, even though it had been at least 10 years time since they may have seen the objects.  Another test was given to determine if a horse that was tested seven years previously could successfully determine the difference in relative size.  The horse performed admirably, choosing the correctly sized objects.  These are the first reported tests that have been able to prove that horses do in fact have long term memory skills and are able to sequence events correctly. 

Conclusion

Long term and sequential memory are very important to both creatures who are domesticated and to their wild ancestors.  Long term memory enables a horse to recall an area where perhaps one of the herd had been attacked by a mountain lion. Horses are also nomadic, travelling across the plains and grasslands in search of good grazing and safe areas to rest the herd.  Having the ability for long term memory enables them to remember the best grazing spots and safest places to rest, or have their young.  Possessing sequential memory gives the horses the strategy of being able to adapt to their surroundings. Having adaptability skills is essential for wild horses and domestic horses alike for survival.  Domestic horses that demonstrate the highest abilities to adapt and recall information will be the easiest and fastest to train and will acquire a better relationship with their handlers.  Both long term and sequential memory have been proven by scientists to exist in the horse and are essential for their survival.

Sources:

http://www.lestout.com/article/news-society/science-nature/horse-psychology-capacity-for-memory.html

http://www.horsetalk.co.nz/news/2009/02/105.shtml

http://www.thehorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=13642

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19148689