Social Learning and Cognition in Horses
Whether animals are able to think is still under discussion. Unfortunately, they are not able to communicate verbally with us. Nevertheless, their communication systems can provide evidence for mental processes. In humans, for instance, in the situation of opening the door for each other, such an act of kindness can tell a lot about the knowledge of the individuals concerning each other. Horses live in social groups, which are structured hierarchically. Much has been published about the species-specific communication system of horses. Still, there are some aspects that have not been described yet, like the "licking and chewing of adult horses in interactions", for instance.
In our research we focus on the perception of social aspects in horses, on the conclusions the horses draw from it for themselves and the classification of the horses´ abilities in terms of cognition. Starting off with a controlled test series in domestic horses kept in their natural environment, we will gradually emerge to test the same aspects in feral horses or even wild equids as well as testing the other way around. Basically, research data will be discussed on an interdisciplinary level, which will include the fields of zoology, psychology and philosophy. Furthermore, we will provide a closer look at the ecology and evolution of social behaviour and in terms of the philosophical understanding of rational, mental abilities in animals. Prior studies of other authors as well as our own preliminary results show, that horses have abilities in social learning and of rational evaluation and generalization of the learned context.