Lukas, the World’s Smartest Horse (according to the World Records Academy) and Guinness World Record Holder, was recently featured on Time Warner CNN Headline News (January 21, 22, 23). An interview with Karen Murdock, Lukas’ owner/trainer, traces his past and offers insights into their purpose.
- How old is Lukas and how long have you had him? Lukas is seventeen now; I bought him nine years ago.
- What is his background and how did you find him? I found Lukas advertised in a sale ad described as an inexperienced project horse. He’d been found starving and neglected in a yard – the woman I bought him from had tried to make him into a jumper but he wasn’t fitting in. His breed is a Thoroughbred and he raced in three races as a two-year-old, hurt his legs and left the track. He changed homes several times over the following six years until his rescue.
- What is your background and experience? I’ve been a psychiatric nurse for the last twenty-six years and I’ve also devoted my life to studying ways of training animals in a kind manner for their improved treatment. I use liberty – the horse is loose and free – and no equipment at all to show that animals can be taught without force.
- What are your techniques and can they be applied to other species? After thirty-five years of studying every type of training available, I developed a system based on Shaping, a clicker approach and positive reinforcement. In a nutshell, it’s getting small behaviors and putting them together by encouraging cooperation. And yes, I also use these techniques on all of my dogs as well; Wendel, my spaniel, who I’ve trained, is a certified therapy dog. My psychiatric patients, daughter, friends and neighbors, even my husband, and especially myself have benefited from this approach – principles based on trust, caring, appreciation and respect apply to everyone.
- We’ve heard that Lukas was just approved for a Guinness World Record – can you tell us about that and when did you notice that he was so smart? Yes, thank you, that was so exciting – our Guinness record was recently approved: “Most numbers correctly identified by a horse in one minute: 19.” Lukas’ intelligence came out gradually and as his eagerness and understanding grew, I just kept expanding the lessons.
- What are some things that Lukas can do? Lukas can kiss, smile, yawn, catch, fetch, wave, bow, curtsey, stay and come, sit, go on his pedestal, do lots of fancy footwork and rear. I’ve also taught him to identify letters, numbers and shapes, and discriminate colors, and he understands the concepts of spatial relationships, object permanence, same/different, proportion and absentness.
- Why did you start teaching him cognitive tasks? The cognitive tasks resulted from several things: curiosity about how much Lukas was capable of learning and a strong belief that animals would be treated better if people realized how smart they were. Also, from my mental health background, it is a way for people to practice kindness and hopefully be better humans to each other as well.
- What are your future plans? We have lots of exciting projects planned for 2011: increased exposure through appearances, interviews, articles and events. We hope to continue to spread Lukas’ message of hope and happiness to more people who also believe that the world can be a better place for all.
Watch the Time Warner interview at http://youtu.be/5cnwgrY7-VI.