ScienceShot: Horses Know Their Neigh-Bors

By: 
Daniel Strain
2012-05-15 19:01

When fans of old TV shows hear the shout, "Hi-yo, Silver! Away!" they know to look for the Lone Ranger. So, too, may Silver. A new study reveals that horses like this trusted steed can tell individual people apart. Researchers positioned 40 horses in front of a pair of human handlers that they knew well, then had the animals listen to a recording of just one of those individuals calling out to them. And sure enough, the animals tended to gaze directly at the person who's voice they had just heard, suggesting that they could distinguish between their two-legged companions. This ability to match faces with voices has previously only been shown in primates and crows. Such feats of recognition, reported online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, likely stem from the deep bonds that horses form with their caretakers—a useful alliance for chasing bandits down in the Old West.

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