Horses can use symbols to talk to us
By Virginia Morell
There will never be a horse like Mr. Ed, the talking equine TV star. But scientists have discovered that the animals can learn to use another human tool for communicating: pointing to symbols. They join a short list of other species, including some primates, dolphins, and pigeons, with this talent. Scientists taught 23 riding horses of various breeds to look at a display board with three icons, representing wearing or not wearing a blanket. Horses could choose between a “no change” symbol or symbols for “blanket on” or “blanket off.” Previously, their owners made this decision for them. Horses are adept at learning and following signals people give them, and it took these equines an average of 10 days to learn to approach and touch the board and to understand the meaning of the symbols. All 23 horses learned the entire task within 14 days. They were then tested in various weather conditions to see whether they could use the board to tell their trainers about their blanket preferences. The scientists report online in Applied Animal Behaviour Science that the horses did not touch the symbols randomly, but made their choices based on the weather. If it was wet, cold, and windy, they touched the "blanket on" icon; horses that were already wearing a blanket nosed the “no change” image. But when the weather was sunny, the animals touched the "blanket off" symbol; those that weren’t blanketed pressed the “no change” icon. The study’s strong results show that the horses understood the consequences of their choices, say the scientists, who hope that other researchers will use their method to ask horses more questions.
Oh yeah I read about that study before. Cool stuff!ReplyDelete
I did read this study a while ago. I think its awesome that horses can learn symbols and choose their preferences. The thing is how would we the general public teach our horses? This could lead to so many ways to communicate with our horses. I always say "if only they could talk". But they do let us know their likes and dislikes in their own way sometimes. Dusty comes to mind...apparently, she disliked her alfalfa cubes so much that anytime we put them in her bucket she would back up to the bucket and poop in it!ReplyDelete
Thanks for the info. Good to hear from you again.
Oh that is interesting. Not sure if I should teach that to mine or not.....ReplyDelete
I tend to be a little suspicious of an article like this, because horses can learn very easily to take subliminal cues from handlers. That’s how the various “counting horses” were able to do that trick. In fact, the authors even acknowledge this effect in the discussion section of the paper and state they can’t rule it out. It’s an intriguing study, but I’d like to see it reproduced, particularly with removing the human element (handlers were always present when the horses were tested), before I’d put much stock in it.ReplyDelete
L.Williams + GHM - I noticed that the article was dated from 2016 - figured it had made the rounds on Facebook. Thought I'd post anyway just in case since the topic is timely. We're having temps go from 60's to 20's overnight, classic blanketing dilemma.ReplyDelete
Teresa + A Work in Progress - I can unscientifically confirm that my horse conveys in no uncertain terms what level of dress he prefers. He'll put his head in the neck hole unaided when I hold the blanket in front of him if he wants to be dressed. The symbols would help me out on the undressing decisions I suspect...
That study is one of my favorites! I don't need symbols for my horses to tell me their preferences! JR will run the other way if he sees a blanket coming, while Ozzy will try to pull his off the fence if he's cold!ReplyDelete
Dom - Exactly :DReplyDelete
I can't help but wonder what the horses think about those scientists and all those silly, little studies that amaze all of us so much...ReplyDelete
Maybe that we're very easily amused. I for one, believe that horses are a whole lot smarter than we will ever give them credit for. Likely even, more intelligent than we are, given how long they've survived without all the little "extras" that we've had. And realizing just how difficult it is for humans to understand their language and communicate our wishes to them, really makes me wonder who is the smarter species. Interesting stuff for sure. :)
I had heard about this study but have not actually been able to read it, yet. Thanks for posting!ReplyDelete
Thinking of you, Val and all your creatures. Stay safe.ReplyDelete
Wow so cool! Thanks for sharing! I am totally bookmarking this paper now.ReplyDelete