Horse lovers have been saying it for years. It’s just that everyone else did not believe it. Now, thanks to a new research study, there is proof that horses can communicate with humans.
Scientists in Norway conducted a research project involving 23 horses or different breeds and ages. Would horses be able to make decisions based on their own preferences? Would the horses be able to communicate their preferences to humans? Those were some of the questions that scientists had with this study.
As it turns out, horses are pretty smart after all. All 23 of the horses were able to reliably communicate with humans within 14 days.
The study focused on one topic for the horses. Did it want a blanket on, did it want the blanket off, or did it prefer no change. The horses were taught to use display boards that they could touch with their muzzles to indicate a preference. One white board displayed a horizontal bar, another displayed a vertical bar, while a third was blank.
Horses could touch their muzzle to the horizontal bar to indicate that they wanted a blanket put on, to the blank board to indicate that they did not want a change, or to the vertical bar to indicate that they would like the blanket removed.
The training routine consisted of ten steps, beginning with simply having the horse touch the display board with its muzzle. The final step involved the researchers assessing the horse’s understanding of choice. Early motivation was provided in the form of carrot slices. Training sessions took only 10 or 15 minutes each day over the two-week period.
By the conclusion of the study all 23 horses were able to communicate their preferences. What’s more interesting is that the horses were able to express preferences that were considered reasonable. On warm days the horses preferred to not wear a blanket. On cold, windy, or wet days the horses preferred a blanket. We would expect people to make decisions like this, but as it turns out horses are able to understand that a blanket will make them warmer.
While all of the horses were successful in the research, some learned a little faster than others. The warm-blood breeds, for example, learned a bit faster than the cold-blood breeds. Researchers also noticed that stress slowed learning as well, though this has already been shown in earlier studies too. Another interesting discovery during this study was that as the horses became aware that they could communicate with humans, their motivation to participate in training seemed to increase.
This horse study was reported in Applied Animal Behavior Science. The full study is available online.