Relaxed Horses Learn Faster: Unveiling the Science

If you think chilling out helps you absorb knowledge faster, you're not alone. Interestingly, research has found that our equine friends also learn better when they're relaxed. Yes, you read that right: 'Relaxed horses learn quicker'. This recently discovered fact may cause a stirrup in the equestrian world!

New Research in Equine Learning

A recent study carried out at Nottingham Trent University indicated that horses with a lower arousal rate at rest, and during mental tasks, show an enhanced learning capacity. In other words, a cool-headed horse is quicker to pick up new skills.

The groundbreaking study monitored indicators such as heart rate and eye temperature while horses were at rest and performing cognitive tasks. The research involved 20 horses, with the aim being to identify which horses could learn a behavioral protocol most efficiently.

The Study Procedure

In the study, researchers presented two targets to each horse. When a horse chose the correct target, researchers rewarded them with food. Once the horses grasped this exercise, researchers swapped the targets, and the process was repeated once more.

Interestingly, horses with lower arousal levels fared best, implying a direct link between a relaxed state and effective learning. Researchers found these horses had an increased temperature in the left eye, which they suggested could be due to enhanced blood flow to the left side of the brain - the area primarily responsible for learning targeted responses and feeding.

Implications and Future Research

These findings are not just academic but also have wide-ranging implications for training our four-legged companions. Effective horsemanship means understanding how horses learn, ensuring their comfort and wellbeing, and adapting our training techniques to match their requirements.

It’s worth noting that the study didn't find any correlation between the blink rate in horses and learning. While blinked rate could lead to dopamine production, a recognized learning enhancer in humans, the same relationship didn't hold for horses. This discovery opens yet another avenue for further exploration in equine psychology.

A Word From The Research Team

Reflecting on the findings, lead researcher Louise Evans remarked, "We regularly expect domestic horses to learn different and complex behavioral responses as part of their working roles. This delicate balance between flexibility and control is what makes horses such good teammates." But she also acknowledged the gravity of the situation when things go wrong, developing a keen understanding of how horses learn is vital for our safety and the horse's wellbeing.

This discovery paves the way for future investigations into equine brain activity. As Evans notes, “What's also fascinating is that we may have found evidence of left brain hemisphere activity by measuring eye temperature differences during learning. This requires further investigation, but it could mean we can now measure hemispheric activity non-invasively and in real-time."

So, in the future, if your horse seems to be horsing around during a training session, maybe it's time to give them a break to relax. After all, a peaceful horse is a quick learner, and to quote an old cowboy saying, 'The quickest way to go slow is to go fast.'

Source Credit: Everything Horse UK