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LUKAS GOES ON THE ROAD WITH GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS You Can Count on the World’s Smartest Horse! Walnut, California – Lukas (, the World’s Smartest Horse (according to the World Records Academy) and Guinness World Record Holder (“Most numbers correctly identified by a horse in one minute: 19”), is currently being featured in the Guinness World Records “OMG! On the Road” series....

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Video du Jour: The world’s smartest horse? Meet Lukas, a 19-year-old off-the-track thoroughbred that the Guinness Book of World Records has declared “the smartest horse in the world.” Lukas is able to count, identify different numbers and shapes, spell his owners’ names, and perform various tricks. On June 16, 2010, he swept the Guinness record for “Most Numbers Identified By a Horse In One Minute”–he...

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Lukas and Louis Vuitton World’s Smartest Horse in Prestige Magazine News Flash – Paulick Report, Abundant Hope, Discover Horses, Good Relationships, Relaxed Horsemanship, That’s Really Wild, Equilink Times, Horsealacious, Just Equus, Equine Chronicle, Happy News, My Horse, Equine Welfare Alliance, Horse and Friends Radio Walnut, California – Lukas, the World’s Smartest Horse (according to...

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Lukas Has Plenty to Smile About World’s Smartest Horse Grabs a Guinness   Walnut, California --- Lukas (, the World’s Smartest Horse (according to the World Records Academy) and Guinness World Record Holder (“Most numbers correctly identified by a horse in one minute: 19”), has been featured in Caters! Caters news is the United Kingdom’s leading independent photo...

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Trick-Training Animals

Category : Written Words

Lessons with Lukas, the World’s Smartest Horse: Basics

What would you say if I told you that everybody’s a trainer? That’s right; everyone you see and meet is training either themselves or others every waking moment, even if just to maintain a habit of some sort. Let’s look at this closer. I’ll use myself as an example, since I’m sure none of you would do these things. For instance, I might hit the snooze button a few too many times if I stayed up late the night before, and grab a doughnut going out the door if I don’t have time for a regular breakfast. Coming home I might let my therapy dog, Wendel, jump on me if I’m not paying attention, or perhaps forget to acknowledge a thoughtful gesture by my husband, Doug, if I’m distracted. And so on. All of these incidents are either reinforcing or eliminating what we and others do, and what we repeatedly do creates what we and others become.

Photo by Sharon Fibelkorn

You’ve heard of self-fulfilling prophecies? We determine our world and what’s in it, for the most part. Some of you might be thinking right about now – this is really woo-woo, out there, might work for animals, but I’m above any sort of conditioning like that. As a psychiatric nurse for the last 25 years, I can assure you that not only does this system work on people; it can produce immediate, lasting and beneficial effects without others even realizing their involvement!  In this article series, you’ll be learning more about this process. For now, I just want you to begin to consider how far-reaching and powerful our influence can be, not only for others, but especially for ourselves.

In my work as a psychiatric nurse on acute-care, locked-down units, I’ve certainly witnessed some dramatic events. I’ve watched as small issues, which should have blown over, turn into huge crises with unfortunate outcomes: unnecessary violence, injuries and over-medicating and often a worsened situation. On the other hand, a few select staff could turn around even the most desperate circumstances almost single-handedly. Early on I saw the advantages of eliciting cooperation in a kind manner, using gentle and fair methods. I also became more aware of the effects my body position, gestures, voice, eye contact and attitude had on outcomes. Allowing choices, maintaining dignity and promoting positive results increasingly became a part of my repertoire.

Together, through these articles, we’ll be reviewing the techniques and how to blend them to magnify results. Additionally, you’ll discover ways to refine these techniques for advanced lessons. You’ll also learn principles I’ve found helpful. Keep in mind that this system, as with all approaches, should be tailored to fit the individual learner’s needs. There are no rigid formulas or recipes, and viewing difficulties and obstacles as ways to grow and improve will keep our training fun and fresh. Being open to possibilities has enabled me to learn much more from animals than I’ll ever be able to teach them!

            My program has three main parts: Shaping, Clicker Training and Positive Reinforcement. Shaping is the overall process, the basic foundation; the tools are your click, an indicator that the desired behavior has occurred, and positive reinforcement, which energizes your methods. I was impressed with the effectiveness of clicker training when it came out years ago, but there were several disadvantages as far as I was concerned: I didn’t want to carry anything around in my hands, it wasn’t conducive to riding (horses), and there always seemed to be a time lapse between the response and click, from what I could see. So instead, I substituted sounds – words and whistles – for my click. Be aware that you’ll need to pair the click of your choice with primary reinforcement – food usually – so the animal learns to work for your click. And the click promises food, so be careful what you choose.

 If you repeatedly, accidentally click and say “Good” for example, and no food is forthcoming, you’re weakening the link and lessening the student’s motivation.

 Shaping is a way for me to introduce a behavior in a gentle and subtle manner. It   teaches small behaviors by growing and connecting them. In order to shape a behavior, I have 2 choices: I can create it and/or capture it. Think about this: not only am I cueing my horse Lukas (the World’s Smartest Horse according to the World Records Academy and Guinness World Record Holder: “Most numbers identified by a horse in one minute: 19”) for expected responses, I’m also always watching and looking for things I might want to use and save for later. This doubles your training potential and is very powerful tool. Creating and capturing resemble a steep staircase – the trials and attempts are the flat steps and as the horse catches onto the game, learning rises sharply. In the next article (Liberty) you’ll discover the secret key element in putting these strategies to work for you.

Karen Murdock

Equine Affaire – That Can’t Be A Thoroughbred!

Category : Written Words

        My horse Lukas, an ex-racer and former rescue, and I are at the Equine Affaire in Pomona, California. We’ve been invited to join the “Thoroughbred Village” along with several non-profits to promote the breed. In case you’re not familiar with racehorses, they tend to be rather high-strung, to say the least. Having been bred over centuries for speed, they have a strong flight instinct, as you’d imagine. Lukas was no different when I bought him; in fact, his sensitive nature is what appealed to me from the outset. As you’ll see, this complex and observant quality is what has made him the most unusual horse on the planet.

            Lukas, after three unsuccessful races as a two-year-old, left the track with injuries. He subsequently changed homes several times, ending up emaciated and neglected in a yard. Following his rescue and rehabilitation, I bought him from a jumping stable where he wasn’t fitting in. As a nine-year-old set in his ways, he would prove to be an immense challenge even though I’ve spent over a quarter of a century training horses. Initially, his spooky nature would have to be dealt with – just hand-walking Lukas a short distance was problematic.

            A desensitization program – gradually increasing the stimulation along with positive reinforcement for successful encounters was practiced repeatedly and calmly. This led to an acceptance of and then a cheerful curiosity about his environment. Our sessions expanded to exploring more new and unfamiliar territory – from advanced liberty (free) movements, we progressed to discrimination tasks. I could always count on Lukas to eagerly attempt and try to absorb the lessons. His willingness to please and desire to succeed seemed boundless.

            This characteristic ability would soon become his trademark world-wide as his understanding of advanced concepts grew. In addition to his large liberty repertoire, Lukas learned to identify letters, numbers, and shapes, discriminate colors, and comprehend same/different, proportion, object permanence, spatial relationships and absentness. During this time, Lukas also became known for being an ambassador of hope for animals in need of second chances.

            And so it was that we arrived at the Equine Affaire to change people’s perception about the trainability of Thoroughbreds. During the next four days, we had the opportunity to share Lukas’ story with many visitors. More than once, we heard “That can’t be a Thoroughbred, he’s too calm.” Even the event coordinator admitted that he was the best behaved equine participant, “We are all amazed at his poise.” His demonstration in front of a noisy crowd went without a hitch, and Lukas has since gone on to change many more opinions about this special breed.           

Karen Murdock

Gratitude – Racehorse Style – Lukas, The World’s Smartest Horse

Category : Written Words

“Lukas is such a lucky horse – he should be so grateful for everything you’ve done for him.” Gratitude is on everyone’s mind this time of year, especially for me. I receive over one hundred e-mails a day about my horse Lukas from all over the world, and get many comments like the one above. Granted, he’s come a long way since leaving the race track with leg injuries after three forgettable back-of-the-pack finishes. After changing hands several times, he ended up sorely neglected and emaciated in a yard. When I purchased him as a nine-year-old “Inexperienced project horse” from his rescuer, I was hoping to compete him in beginner classes. However, within a month of competition training (by another trainer – I was then working full-time as a nurse), Lukas quickly became resistant and dangerous. He began bucking, bolting and spooking, and was unsafe even in his own stall.

At that low point, I decided to fall back on my trick training experience to try to bridge the gap between us. We started with the smile and as time went on I began to notice a definite improvement in Lukas’ attitude and behavior. He became an eager and willing partner, happy to cooperate and initiate games and our relationship deepened to love. Our lessons progressed from liberty (free/loose) movements to cognitive tasks and we never looked back.

To date, Lukas is able to smile, pose, nod yes, shake his head no, yawn, catch, kiss, fetch, cross his front legs, wave, curtsey, bow, push a cart, passage (like skipping), Spanish Walk (high step), jambette (three legged pivot), act lame, sit, put his legs all together, lay down, rear, stay and come, do pedestal work, play hide and seek and be blindfolded. Most of his acclaim comes from his abilities to spell, count, identify shapes and discriminate colors and he understands object permanence, same/different, spatial relationships, proportion and absentness. Moreover, our bond has received the most attention from animal lovers world-wide.

Lukas has been on NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, HLN and Inside Edition and the Associated Press and America On Line released feature articles about him. He has been in magazines, newspapers, forums, blogs and newsletters all over the world and his story has been heard on RFD-Radio, Animal Radio, Pet Talk Radio, Pet Talk Live radio and Pet Place Radio among many others. He was nominated for the 2010 Equine Vision Award sponsored by Pfizer and American Horse Publications.

Also, the World Records Academy recognized him as the World’s Smartest Horse and Guinness approved his record “Most numbers correctly identified by a horse in one minute: nineteen.” Lukas is the Spokeshorse for After The Finish Line, a group dedicated to finding homes for ex-racehorses. I n addition, we are associated with the Human-Equine Alliance for Learning (HEAL), a program to aid trauma victims through equine assisted therapy.

His second-edition book Playing With Lukas (available at Amazon) and his stunning Documentary were just released in October 2010 and you can watch it directly at

So, as you may have already guessed, it is I who am grateful to have such an incredible friend.

Copyright 2011 Karen Murdock is a retired psychiatric nurse, who has been fixing problem horses for over 30 years. Owner of She uses a combination of shaping techniques, a specialized version of clicker training and positive reinforcement. Her unique approach uses games and play as a way to connect and bond with horses to develop confidence, increase focus, improve performance as well as build willingness and trust. All of her services and proceeds go to benefit the horses.


Category : Written Words

Lessons From The World’s Smartest Horse
(According to The World Records Academy)

My horse Lukas is a seventeen year old Thoroughbred ex-racer and former rescue. He ran in three races as a two-year-old, injured his legs and left the track. He subsequently changed homes several times and was found starving in a yard and saved by a neighbor. After his rescue, I purchased him as an “Inexperienced project horse.” He had many problems including bucking and spooking and required much patience, but before long his intense focus and driving curiosity began to blossom. After teaching him a broad foundation of liberty (free/loose) movements and tricks, I began to experiment with cognitive and perceptual tasks. When I unfolded his desk, he whinnied, and seeing his toys brought out nickering galore. How much could a horse learn? I decided to find out.

Current Research/Alternatives

According to most animal intelligence ranking scales, equine statistics are dismal: horses rank anywhere from fifth to ninth in intelligence comparisons between species. In addition, the equine population is thought to be a generally reactive group at the mercy of flight instincts and walnut-sized brains. I suspected that the commonly used repetitive machine trials to assess learning capabilities were missing some important components: a social, interactive element, voice prompts (particularly intermediary/leading markers) and reinforcement variations. Furthermore, I decided that the prevailing methods of force training were inadequate and even counter-productive. I decided that Lukas’ lessons would resemble those that we use for children: fun, gentle and a mutual exploration into possibilities.


My approach consists of combining three elements to create a powerful and effective training system: shaping, clicker training (substituting whistles and my voice for the click) and positive reinforcement. Shaping is the overall process, the basic foundation. The shaping strategies that I use include capturing (marking and rewarding behaviors that the student offers naturally) and creating behaviors (using cues to elicit desired responses incrementally). The click, having been previously paired with a primary reinforcement – food – to “charge” it, is an indicator that a desirable behavior has occurred. This marks the exact moment of the learner’s maximum effort/performance given current abilities/understanding.

Positive reinforcement energizes the methods and is given on variable schedules to maintain eagerness. Initially, treats are given steadily, then switched to a intermittent routine (i.e. every second or fourth acceptable response) and gradually shift to a random pay-off. This unpredictability of the treat regimen keeps the animal guessing and trying.

In my experience, there are several disadvantages to conventional clicker training: the inconvenience of having to carry something around in my hands, especially when riding, and the time lapse between the behavior and the click which makes it less effective. Also, during clicker sessions there are many lost opportunities for training as the animal frantically and randomly searches in a solitary manner for a behavior to be clicked for. To lead the subject to my target behavior and involve myself in the process, I employ intermediary markers to give the student hints about direction and to link attempts to the desired outcome. This is similar to the hot-cold game we played as kids: a drawn out “aaahh” or “yessss” to indicate a wanted effort or a “uh-uh” to relay a message about an undesirable response.


To maximize the benefits of the lessons, I use no equipment whatsoever (including a whip). All of our activities are freely and jointly engaged in: choice and movement have given him the ability to figure things out on his own, be much attuned to me, and have also caused me to be more aware of my movements and body position. This freedom promotes creativity and initiative, yet he is extremely receptive to re-direction and the prospect of a new game. Creating and capturing are very powerful tools and can double the training results. I can capture (with whistles or my voice) any offered behaviors and then build on them (creating) to fashion elaborate behavioral chains. Lukas’ tricks in themselves are not especially significant – his eagerness, comprehension and anticipation are what make his abilities meaningful and memorable.

Sessions are brief and pleasant, horses need time to absorb new information and the latitude to explore options, and I encourage this. Associating lessons with enjoyment produces quicker learning, better retention and greater generalizations.  In this way, lessons tend to pick up where previous ones ended and is reinforcing not only for the student but for the teacher as well. 


Lukas’ repertoire to date includes the smile, pose, yes, no, kiss, fetch, being blindfolded, catch, yawn, wave, pedestal work, Spanish Walk (high step), stay and come, sit, jambette (three-legged pivot), curtsey, passage (similar to skipping), bow, crossed front legs, lay down, feet all together, hide-and-seek and rear. Much of his acclaim is due to his cognitive abilities: identifying letters, numbers and shapes, discriminating colors, and his grasp of proportion, same/different, spatial relationships, object permanence and absentness. Lukas has been on NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, HLN and Inside Edition and in feature stories released by the Associated Press and America Online. Newspapers, forums, blogs and newsletters world-wide have shared his story and his journey has been heard on Horse Talk Radio, Pet Talk Live Radio, Pet Place Radio, All Paws Pet Talk Radio and RFD-Radio among others. The World Records Academy recognized Lukas as the “World’s Smartest Horse,” and Guinness has approved his record “Most numbers identified by a horse in one minute: 19.” Also, Lukas was nominated for the 2010 Equine Vision Award sponsored by Pfizer and American Horse Publications. He is the Spokeshorse for After the Finish Line, an organization dedicated to finding homes for ex-racehorses and he’s been invited to participate in the Wounded Warriors program. 

Written by Karen Murdock, December 2010

PlayingWithLukas is on SlideShare too!

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