Horses can tell us what rugs they’d like to wear, claim researchers

26 September 2016

We all know the issues with this time of year – you’re trying to decide what rugs your horse should wear, but you can’t predict what the weather is going to do, and either they end up sweating in the sunshine or shivering in the cold. Fear not – you can now simply ask your horse what he’d like to wear, according to new research.

Rugging dilemmas

Scientists from Norway have undertaken research to see if horses wanted to wear a rug or not, with the horses giving their answers by pointing their nose at a certain symbol.

Twenty-three horses of different breeds were used in the research. They were firstly encouraged to touch the board with their muzzle, using the age-old technique of giving them carrots.

Then they were trained to differentiate between three symbols – a horizontal bar if they wanted their rug on, a vertical bar if they wanted their rug off, and a blank symbol if they wanted no change in their rug situation. All 23 horses used in this experiment mastered this skill.

The scientists claimed that the horses’ answers matched up with the weather conditions, suggesting they weren’t just pointing randomly but were telling us their preferences.

Communication

If this research turns out to be correct, horses will join a small group of animals known to be able to communicate with humans through symbols, including dolphins, pigeons and apes.

“I think our study adds to the knowledge on horse cognition – about what horses are able to learn and how they think,” lead researcher Cecilie Mejdell, from the Norwegian Veterinary Institute, told BBC News.

“Horses are often considered to be not very intelligent but this shows that using the right methods they can actually communicate and express their opinions and they can take choices that seem sensible to us even.”

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