Most numbers identified by a horse in one minute

Our Monday Motivation series on profiles the inspiring stories of commitment, courage and dedication behind some of our most extraordinary titles. This week we're placing the spotlight on a special gelding named Lukas, a rejected race horse who became a record holder for his outstanding intelligence with the help and love of his owner Karen. 

There are few things that Karen Murdock loves in her life more than her companion Lukas. 

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He’s smart, stubborn, and shows affection whenever they have a moment to spend time with one another. 

Karen, from Walnut, California, adopted the thoroughbred in 2003, a decision that would change her life forever. 

“He came to my attention as a ‘project horse’ something I had seen in a classified advert – he wasn’t working out for anyone, it seemed.”

When responding to the listing in a newspaper, Karen had no idea Lukas’ back story was more than just an owner looking to giveaway a horse. 

The nine-year-old gelding had been shifted from several homes after being rejected from the horse racing industry in 1996. 

A contributing issue was that Lukas possessed a distinct contempt for having his will being forced, creating an uphill battle for anyone attempting to train him for the races. 

Within the equestrian world, it is often said that a thoroughbred with a strong, nearly wild competitive spirit makes for an ideal race horse – but this was not the case for this particular steed. 

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The issue came to the fore during Lukas’ first race.  

After maintaining a position in last place throughout the race, he shocked onlookers by collapsing at the finish line from sheer over-exertion. 

From that moment, Lukas was handed-off. Sadly, before making it to the home that listed him the classifieds, he was found abused, neglected and starved.

“The owner I purchased him from had rescued Lukas from starvation in a yard without food after being given away by someone else who didn’t want to take care of him, and on this went. The woman I bought him from threatened the neglectful owners that if they didn’t let her buy him, she would report them to the authorities. Skin and bones, full of sores and bites, hair a monstrous tangle of knots. She attempted to train him for jumping, but he was not agreeable.” 

According to Karen, who had transitioned her career from psychiatric nursing to horse training, this level of damage was detrimental to any animal’s mentality. 

With Lukas being nine - midlife in human years - the abuse he received was equivalent to decades of harshness, deprivation, and neglect – issues that overlap with the sort of human trauma Karen would have been used to observing during her time in her previous care. 

Karen was in doubt that she would need to tread lightly with a gelding that had suffered so much during its rehab and development. 

Most numbers identified by a horse in one minute

Assuming he had suffered from lack of structure, Karen determined that the precise, articulate, and measured movements of dressage training would be exactly what Lukas needed.

However, this wasn’t the case. Before she could get Lukas to the core parts of this style of riding, he began to resist violently – bucking, jerking and spooking easily. 

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The approach was proving to be more dangerous and harmful than encouraging. 

So Karen paused, assessing how she would continue to pursue her project horse - giving up on him the way others had so willing done was not an option.

“Using my prior career experience, I came up with a training protocol based on 30 years of behaviour modification techniques developed during my work on intensive locked patient units. I became aware that Lukas enjoyed learning and improving as much as any of my patients did, as long as I presented the material in an acceptable, understandable and positive manner.” 

Understanding that her new horse seemed to function in a more unique way than other horses, she decided to get creative with her tactics. She found a desk to present Lukas with different objects; this is where she would teach him, utilising repetition and voice commands. 

For their first session, Karen placed a series of flat, circular pipe covers, across the surface of the table, with one shapely object in the line. 

She then took the shape away, wondering if the gelding would comprehend that things were different – her way of seeing if he would respond to the concept of “absentness”. 

A few moments later, Lukas placed his nose around the area where the missing object was located just moments before. 

After submitting evidence of their attempt at the title, the duo were informed by Guinness World Records that Lukas had proficiently identified 19 numbers in the span of sixty seconds, making him an official record holder and to his growing fan base, “the world’s smartest horse.” 

Since his record-breaking accomplishment, Lukas has made several media tours, TV appearances, and performed at schools, aiming to enlighten anyone who will watch that an average horse may just have a trick or two up its sleeve. 

At present he is retired, maintaining his days at a local stables with Karen visiting each and every day. 

He still “whinnies” whenever he sees her, eager for their next game. 

"I’m much more patient than I used to be and allow others the space to be who they are. I’m filled with gratitude for the experience of being with Lukas these past 14 years and for the honor of being a part of his accomplishments. No matter your background, limitations, or past problems - with the right approach and mindset, we can do what we are destined for and fulfill our purpose. Every day I still tell people that Lukas is the epitome of recovery, and that we should all strive to emulate someone who is able to overcome an ingrained and horrific background. I find his story to be a fascinating testament to the will to survive and excel – Lukas has become my greatest inspiration."