Tool use in horses

Konstanze Krueger*, Laureen Trager, Kate Farmer, Richard Byrne

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Tool use has not yet been confirmed in horses, mules or donkeys. As this subject is difficult to research with conventional methods, we used a crowdsourcing approach to gather data. We contacted equid owners and carers and asked them to report and video examples of "unusual" behaviour via a dedicated website. We also searched YouTube and Facebook for videos of equids showing tool use. From 635 reports, including 1014 behaviours, we found 20 cases of tool use, 13 of which were unambiguous in that it was clear that the behaviour was not trained, caused by reduced welfare, incidental or accidental. We then assessed (a) the effect of management conditions on tool use and (b) whether the animals used tools alone, or socially, involving other equids or humans. We found that management restrictions were associated with corresponding tool use in 12 of the 13 cases ( = 0.01), e.g., equids using sticks to scrape hay within reach when feed was restricted. Furthermore, 8 of the 13 cases involved other equids or humans, such as horses using brushes to groom others. The most frequent tool use was for foraging, with seven examples, tool use for social purposes was seen in four cases, and there was just one case of tool use for escape. There was just one case of tool use for comfort, and in this instance, there were no management restrictions. Equids therefore can develop tool use, especially when management conditions are restricted, but it is a rare occurrence.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1876
Number of pages10
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2022


  • Management
  • Tool use
  • Innovation
  • Mule
  • Horse
  • Crowdsourcing


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