“Blanket or no blanket?” That was the question posed to horses going through a training program meant to determine how much horses and humans could communicate.
Twenty-three horses in Norway were tutored to recognize symbols corresponding to blanket preferences. A dark horizontal bar on a white board meant, “Yes, I would like a blanket.” A blank board meant, “I’m fine as I am now.” And a vertical bar on a white board meant, “Please remove my blanket.”
Researchers found that, after a few minutes of training per day, all 23 horses learned what the symbols meant in just two weeks. By the end, all the horses could touch the symbol with their muzzles to tell the people what they wanted.
4″Horses chose to stay without a blanket in nice weather, and they chose to have a blanket on when the weather was wet, windy and cold,” the new study, published in Applied Animal Behavior Science, says. “This indicates that horses both had an understanding of the consequence of their choice on their own thermal comfort, and that they successfully had learned to communicate their preference by using the symbols.”
The training method could be useful in animal welfare, according to Karen McComb, professor of animal behavior and cognition at the University of Sussex. “This is a really interesting and innovative study,” McComb told the BBC. “It has conceived a very novel way of getting at what is going on in the mind of the horse.”
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