Horses can learn to use symbols to communicate
Communication between horse and human is vital for working together. This study investigates if horses are able to learn to communicate by touching neutral visual symbols in order to show their preference if they want to have a blanket on or not.
Twenty three horses were trained for 10 to 15 minutes per day using reward based operant conditioning by a skilled trainer . The horses were taught to approach and touch a board as well as to understand the meaning of three different symbols. The symbols showed that the blanket should be taken off, put on, or that the conditions should remain the same. There were ten strategic steps to teach the horse, and the horse could only proceed once the previous step was fully learned. Heat and cold challenges were performed to help learning as well as to confirm the level of understanding.
After the full training, horses were tested in different weather conditions. The results show that the choices made were weather dependent: in good weather horses chose to stay without a blanket while in cold or wet weather they preferred to have a blanket. This shows that horses can have an understanding of the consequences of their choice, as well as that using this novel method horses are capable of learning to show their preference by using symbols.
> From: Mejdell et al., Appl Anim Behav Sci 184 (2016) 66-73. All rights reserved to Elsevier. Click here for the online summary.