Smartest Horse Passes Self-Awareness Test
Lukas, the World’s Smartest Horse (according to the World Records
Academy) and Guinness World Record Holder (“Most numbers correctly
identified by a horse in one minute: 19”), has joined an elite group: those with
the capacity for self-awareness. He has proven that he is able to recognize his
own reflection in a mirror as an image of himself. To date, only humans (after
the age of eighteen months), great apes, bottlenose dolphins, orcas, elephants
and European magpies have successfully passed this test.
this experiment, Karen Murdock, Lukas’ owner/trainer, utilized the mirror test,
developed by Gordon Gallup in 1970 (based on observations by Charles Darwin). It
determines whether an animal can recognize its own reflection in a mirror as an
image of itself. Lukas’ four by six foot Plexiglas mirror, two inch round
stickers and the following steps were used:
marking Lukas with two odorless spots: the test spot was on a part of Lukas
which was visible in front of a mirror, and the control spot which was placed on
an accessible but hidden part of his body (to rule out tactile involvement).
recordings documented whether Lukas reacted in a manner consistent with his
being aware that the test spot was located on his own body, rather than on the
mirror, while ignoring the control spot.
of awareness included: turning and moving his body so he could better view the
marking in the mirror, or poking at the marking on his body with his muzzle
while viewing the mirror.
Lukas didn’t recognize his image, Murdock would have attempted to teach this to
him. No prior access to mirrors and not having the necessary previous
experiences to use them could possibly have been a factor in the event of Lukas’
to most animal intelligence ranking scales, equine statistics are dismal: horses
rank anywhere from fifth to ninth in intelligence comparisons between species.
In addition, the horse population in general is thought to be a typically
reactive group at the mercy of flight instincts and walnut-sized brains. Murdock
believes that the commonly used repetitive machine trials to assess horses’
learning capabilities are missing some important components: a social and
interactive element, intermediary voice prompts and reinforcement variations.
Furthermore, she proposes that the prevailing methods of force training are
inadequate and even counter-productive. In contrast, Lukas’ lessons resemble
those used for children: enjoyable, gentle and a mutual exploration into
possibilities. A rather unscientific, yet significant supportive substantiation
of Lukas’ self-awareness abilities includes the fact that he is completely
intolerant of any horse near “his girl,” yet, in the test, he gave no indication
that he believed his reflection to be an interloper.
most difficult aspect of the test according to Murdock involved Lukas remaining
immobile when the test spot was absent: “He always wants to do something to
please me,” says Murdock, “and he’s used to trying out different behaviors to
get my attention.” As always, Murdock, a psychiatric nurse for the last
twenty-six years, and an animal trainer for over forty years, used her own
particular blend of techniques. Sessions with her dear friend were brief, fun
and tender and included the following guidance: “That’s you in the mirror,
Lukas. You’re a horse. I love you.”