Horses Can Communicate by Learning Symbols


We know what you’re probably thinking…”Say what…?”


But it’s true!


A study was published in the Applied Animal Behaviour Science Journal from the Norwegian Veterinary Institution confirming horses could use symbols to communicate their “preferences”. Even more interesting, this is not the first research paper confirming this discovery!


Where have we been?!...


In summary, researchers describe a method in which they trained horses to touch visual symbols to state their blanketing preference. After the training was completed 23 out of 23 horses, various ages and breed types, were able to communicate to their handle whether they wanted a blanket on or off.


The speed of learning varied however all horses were able to communicate their preference within two weeks…Holy smokes!


Training time was an estimated 10-15 minutes each day using “reward operant conditioning”. This type of training has also been utilized in studies for horses to state their lighting preferences. This is far from our typical “one way communication” reward based training.  The ability for horses to discriminate between multiple symbols after learning the relevance of each has been well evidenced for years.


After the two-week training, horses understood the meaning of three different symbols (blanket on, blanket off, no change). By the end of the training, horses could approach the board, and touch the symbol to express their current preference.


Heat and cold temperature changes were performed to help the horses learn the meaning/task and check the level of understanding.


Results after day 14 confirmed the horses preferences were aligned with the individual preferences and weather/temperature conditions. Horses selected the “blanket off” symbol on nice days and the “blanket on” symbol when the weather was wet, rainy and windy.


The fact all 23 horses learned this ability in only 14 days, shows a whole new level of cognitive capabilities.  These were confirmed to be 23 “average” horses with no “special” training or techniques.


How many times you have taken a wild guess on your horses preference?… Even just in relation to blanketing...Even just this week! (Lord!) #HorseMomProblems


This probably sounds familiar, “hey Susan are you sheeting Cheyanne?...It says 45 degrees until 11 am and overcast but her coat is short from show season and the wind might pick up” and and and… The blanket dance never ends and just like humans, every horse is different.


If horses could communicate even their basic preferences blanketing, saddle types, bits etc. heck, most of us would just take our mares communicating “Its that time of the month, don’t even think about girthing me today” LOL.


We hope more research and development will go into this project.  Who would like to talk to your horse today?



For the full research article  "Click Here"

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