Martinez de Andino, E. V., McDonnell, S. M. 2017. Evaluation of operant learning in young foals using target training. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 193, 67-72.
The primary purpose of this study was to characterize operant learning performance of young foals. For each of 26 foals, aged 6–20 weeks, learning performance was quantitatively evaluated in a single brief training trial using a standard operant conditioning task and paradigm analogous to those common to training and management of domestic horses, popularly referred to as “target training.” With no human interaction in the interim, retention of the learning was evaluated seven to 26days after the initial training trial. All 26 foals demonstrated learning in this operant paradigm. In this operant paradigm, learning was as efficient in the foals of 6 weeks to 3 months of age (n=14) as foals of 3–5 months of age (n=12). Some evidence was found for more efficient learning in female (n=13) than in male foals (n=13), as well as in certain sire lines. Seventeen of the 26 foals (65%) met the criterion for retention. Differences in the proportions of males and females and of younger and older foals that met this criterion were not significant (Fisher’s Exact Test). This work demonstrates the ability of young foals to efficiently learn and to retain an operant task.