Horses have been taught to communicate with humans

Wed, Sep 28th 2016, 09:40 AM

Image credit: acceptphoto/

All our childhood dreams just came true.

Scientists in Norway say they've trained horses to communicate with humans, by pointing their muzzle at simple symbols on a board.

The horses were asked whether they wanted to wear a rug or not, and their answers matched up with the weather outside, suggesting that they weren't just pointing randomly.

If this is confirmed as genuine communication between species, 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 Helen Briggs over at 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."

The team trained 23 horses of various breeds to communicate by enticing them with carrots. First the horses were encouraged just to come up to the board and touch it with their muzzles.

They were then trained to differentiate between the three symbols available: a horizontal bar to represent they wanted their blanket on, a vertical bar if they wanted their blanket off, and a blank symbol if they wanted no change in their rug situation.

You can see an example of the horses making their choices below:

Applied Animal Behaviour Science

After being taught to associate each symbol with its meaning, the horses were eventually able to walk up to the board and indicate if they were too hot or too cold with their muzzle. After two weeks of 10 to 15 minutes of training each day, all 23 horses could master this technique.

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By Fiona Macdonald

Source: Science Alert