A study concludes that the horse – if it could choose – would prefer to have its blanket off when the temperature is between 10 and 20 degrees. This may not be so surprising. However, the method on which the study is based is surprising. A method where the horse itself learns to communicate whether it wants its blanket on or off. Here, we give you the opportunity to form your own assessment of the research project.
A 2016 study in the international journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science demonstrates that horses can learn to communicate through symbols.
By having a skilled behavior trainer train 23 horses for 10-15 minutes a day, it was possible to teach them the difference between three distinct visual symbols, which they could touch with their muzzles. The symbols respectively indicated that the horse wanted to keep its blanket on, have it off, or leave the state with or without the blanket unchanged.
Subsequently, it was tested whether the horses had truly learned to understand the symbols. Under different weather conditions, the horses were asked to touch one of the three symbols. The result was that in warm and dry weather, the horses touched the symbol for not wearing a blanket, and in wet and cold weather, they touched the symbol for wearing a blanket. Thus, the conclusion was that horses are capable of understanding the consequences of their choices and can express their preferences using symbols.
The study is titled "Horses can learn to use symbols to communicate their preferences" and can be downloaded or read about here.
The aforementioned study has subsequently – in 2019 – been used to demonstrate that horses most often prefer their blanket off when the temperature is between 10 and 20 degrees.
On a series of test days, 23 horses were led one by one to a test area where they could choose between two symbols: A ‘no change’ symbol, or a ‘blanket off’ or ‘blanket on’ symbol depending on whether they already had a blanket on. After touching one of the symbols with their muzzles, each horse was again put back into the field.
The results showed that most horses preferred to have the blanket put on at temperatures below -10 degrees, regardless of whether it was windy or there was precipitation. With rising temperature, the horses’ preference for keeping their blankets on decreased. Some horses wanted the blanket off already at 10 degrees, while a few others only when the temperature was around 20 degrees. In sunny weather, the preference for having the blanket off was also increased, regardless of the temperature, just as the opposite was true in wind and rainy weather. In other words, most horses would like to have the blanket off when the temperature is between 10 and 20 degrees, depending on other weather conditions.
The study is titled "The effect of weather conditions on the preference in horses for wearing blankets" and can be downloaded or read about here.
The studies naturally raise a big question in us: Can you really teach your horse to communicate in this way? Can it really learn to express its own opinion? According to the study, you can – and there seem to be no limits to how it can make us more knowledgeable about our horses and their own preferences.
Kilde: Science Equine.