Lukas can pose, stretch, kiss and iden­tify shapes

Smart 16-year-old horse has a web­site and is a Face­book star

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

WAL­NUT, Cal­i­for­nia: Lukas was all bite, buck and bit­ter­ness be­fore Karen Mur­dock adopted him six years ago and made him an in­ter­net star.

Mur­dock in­tro­duced the 16-year-old thor­ough­bred to car­rots and kind­ness, helped him for­get years of abuse and taught him tricks. He can smile, yawn, kiss, nod, iden­tify shapes, num­bers and let­ters, fetch, wave, salute, pose and stretch – and he does some of it with his front feet on a pedestal.

The 544kg geld­ing has a web­site, is a star on Face­book, YouTube and Twit­ter and has been on TV. He and Mur­dock get up to 200 e-mails a day.

The story of Lukas has to be patched to­gether in places. Cal­i­for­nia bred, he ran in three races as a two-year-old.

Be­tween 1995 and 2001, he prob­a­bly changed hands a cou­ple of times. Then a South­ern Cal­i­for­nia horse trainer saw Lukas in a yard.

“He was mal­nour­ished, ne­glected and ema­ci­ated,” Mur­dock said.

The trainer bought him, then sold him to Mur­dock for $2 000 (R14 950) in 2003.

Mur­dock said: “He had a whole lot of fears and pho­bias. You couldn’t touch his ears. There were no scars, just men­tal wor­ries, ap­a­thy and mis­trust.”

It took her a year to un­train him.

Mur­dock has been work­ing with horses since she was a teenager. “Lukas flour­ished. He can­not get enough of learn­ing. He’s like a sponge.”

Now he is a lib­erty horse – per­forms without tack – who can do the Span­ish Walk (front and back), pas­sage (a hes­i­tat­ing trot) and jam­bet (a three-legged pivot). He also does the bow, obei­sance (curt­sey with his face be­tween his legs) and rear (goes up on his hind legs).

The Hu­man-Equine Al­liances for Learn­ing (Heal) in Che­halis, Wash­ing­ton, which of­fers pro­grammes in psy­chother­apy and per­sonal growth, asked to study Lukas.

Lukas and Mur­dock show the “con­nect­ed­ness” that en­ables horses to be so ther­a­peu­tic for hu­mans, Heal spokesman David Young said.

But it’s un­likely the study will clear up his­tory’s mys­tery ques­tion about smart horses.

There is no sci­en­tific data to sup­port the no­tion that horses have the cog­ni­tive abil­ity to count, spell or read, said Dr Emily Weiss, equine be­hav­iour ex­pert with the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety for the Preven­tion of Cru­elty to An­i­mals.

“What is more amaz­ing and more as­ton­ish­ing (than in­tel­li­gence) is that this horse is so cued in, has such an in­cred­i­ble bond with its owner, such a great un­der­stand­ing of his hu­man. The way they in­ter­act is pretty pro­found,” she said.

There have been par­al­lels drawn be­tween Lukas and Beau­ti­ful Jim Key, an Ara­bian horse who may have per­formed be­fore 10 mil­lion peo­ple from 1897 to 1906 be­cause of what seemed to be his abil­ity to read, write, spell, count, tell time, sort mail and use a tele­phone and cash reg­is­ter.

Weiss also tells the story of Clever Hans, a horse in Ger­many in the 1890s. He was able to spell or solve any maths prob­lem by sim­ply stomp­ing his hoof with the an­swer.

Clever Hans was chal­lenged at ev­ery turn – there was even a Hans Com­mis­sion. Pro­fes­sor Carl Stumpf and a man named Oskar Pfungst tested Clever Hans and de­ter­mined the horse was get­ting cues so sub­tle that even the ques­tion­ers didn’t re­alise they were giv­ing them.

Weiss said: “The horses are read­ing the be­hav­iour of their per­son in­stead of un­der­stand­ing the lan­guage of sci­ence.”

Mur­dock doesn’t care why Lukas does his tricks, or the rea­sons for their bond.

When she ar­rives each day at the Brook­side Eques­trian Cen­tre, about 40km west of Los An­ge­les, Lukas greets her with big, sloppy kisses. The trained psy­chi­atric nurse doesn’t own a whip. Lukas per­forms for love and car­rots – he eats 2.8kg a day.

Lukas re­cently be­came the spokeshorse for the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia chap­ter of the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Al­liance to Net­work Thor­ough­bred ExRace­horses, a na­tional vol­un­teer group that helps race­horses find sec­ond call­ings.

Ev­ery year, the ca­reers of about 37 000 US Thor­ough­breds come to an end. About 2 000 of those ex-race­horses come from Cal­i­for­nia and too many end up aban­doned, abused or sent to slaugh­ter.

Bon­nie Adams, the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia chap­ter’s di­rec­tor, be­lieves Lukas is the per­fect spokeshorse be­cause of his back­ground.

“He’s a very kind, quiet horse. But his eyes never leave Karen. You can see the love in his eyes,” she said. “It shows peo­ple that horses re­ally do have deep feel­ings.” – Sapa-AP

CLEVER: Lukas, picks num­bers from a board on com­mand by Karen Mur­dock.

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