Lukas, a 16 year old off-the-track thoroughbred, is being described as the smartest horse in the world. He performs a number of intelligent actions such as spelling (words up to five letters), counting up to five, identifying shapes, and distinguishing among three colors. He also answers questions yes or no, plays hide and seek and performs a number of “trick” behaviors such as kissing, catching and fetching, rearing, bowing and pushing a barrel.
Lukas is an appealing performer, made even more so because of his history. He was bought by his current owner, Karen Murdock, as a 10 year old “project” horse. At this age, many horses are beyond the project stage and Lukas seemed to be running out of career choices.
Murdock bought Lukas with the intention of training him in dressage. However, Lukas had other ideas. He was resistant, sulky and at times, dangerous. To engage Lukas, Murdock
drew on her experience at training tricks and finally he found his calling. He has thrived in his new role and has even become a “spokesperson” for OTTBs representing CANTER California.
“Smart” horses have long been crowd pleasers. Back at the turn of the 20th Century, it was Beautiful Jim Key. From 1897-1906 Beautiful Jim was the most famous horse in America. He an his owner “Dr.” Bill Key (a self-trained veterinarian who had been born into slavery), performed before more than 10,000,000 Americans — a huge audience for the era.
According to information on the official Beautiful Jim Key Website
From 1897-1906, over nine years of continuous performances, Doc Key and Jim captivated the nation by demonstrating the “power of kindness” employed by Bill Key in cultivating Jim’s inexplicable abilities to read, write, spell, do math, tell time, sort mail, use a cash register and a telephone, cite Bible passages, and engage in political debate.
Beautiful Jim Key at the St. Louis World’s Fair.
Known as the “Marvel of the Twentieth Century” and “The Greatest Crowd Drawer in America,” the two were seen by an estimated ten million Americans and written about in every major newspaper. Fans collected his promotional pamphlets, souvenir buttons, postcards and photos, bought Beautiful Jim Key pennies, danced the “Beautiful Jim Key” two-step, wore Jim Key gold pinbacks in their collars, and competed in Beautiful Jim Key essay contests, while millions signed up to join and support humane groups around the country. Two million children joined the Jim Key Band of Mercy and signed his pledge, “I promise always to be kind to animals.”
In my mind the most important part of the Lukas and Beautiful Jim Key stories is that they show the potential that can be achieved through kindness in training. Murdock, like Dr. Key, never carries a whip. She has helped her OTTB project horse find his potential by tapping into one of the most endearing qualities that horses possess: the desire to please.
Here’s one video of Lukas. It’s worth watching the rest on her YouTube Channel, too!