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Responses of Domestic Horses and Ponies to Single, Combined and Conflicting Visual and Auditory Cues


Domestic horses and ponies communicate using visual and auditory signals. It has been reported that equines can respond to visual cues in object-choice tests, but utilization of auditory cues, alone or associated with visual cues, has not be investigated. Effect of equine breed type in object-choice selection is unknown. Using object-choice tests, we investigated the hypotheses that breed types (1) can use both visual and auditory human-given cues; (2) that performance is enhanced when both visual and auditory cues are presented together to signal a baited bucket, compared with when a cue is presented singly; (3) that latency to make a choice increases and choice is random, when auditory and visual cues conflict; and (4) that ponies outperform horses. Irrespective of breed type, subjects were equally successful at using single visual, auditory, and combined cues (proportion of correct choices: visual 0.63 ± 0.047 [P =004], auditory 0.61 ± 0.045 [P =013], combined 0.64 ± 0.054 [P =007]). In contrast to our hypothesis, combining cues did not significantly improve the likelihood of correct choice. Ponies outperformed horses using visual cues (P =044). In conflicting cue tests, 70% of subjects responded randomly; the remainder preferentially responded to visual cues. Our study showed that horses and ponies can respond with equal proficiency to both visual and auditory cues, alone and combined; however, ponies outperformed horses using visual cues. Our results may be used to improve relationships between humans and equines, as we demonstrated the importance of engaging both visual and auditory modalities.

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