Horses are an intelligent species and have been communicating with humans ever since we domesticated them and now a new study has found that these species of animals are capable of conveying their desires using symbols.
Some of the communication tactics include stomping feet, biting or knocking holes in the stall walls; however, scientists at Norwegian University of Life Sciences have shown that horses can read symbols and use them to convey their desire – for example whether they want a blanket on them or not.
Published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science, the study describes the efforts of scientists over the course of two weeks during which they trained riding horses to read the signs and then to use them to indicate to their human companions whether they wanted a blanket to be placed on their back, to have an existing blanket removed, or for things to remain the same.
The motivation behind the study is the intelligence exhibited by these animals. Scientists suspected that horses are smarter than believed and to test that belief out, researchers created three signs for the horses to look at—one was pure white, one had a black horizontal bar on a white background and the third had a black vertical bar on a white background.
After just 11 days, scientists claim, majority of the horses had grasped the symbols and were using them to convey their desire. At the two-week period all of the horses were onboard and were actively using the signs to express their wishes. The researchers also report that the choices made by the horses were not random—they would choose to have a blanket put on when it got cold, for example and ask to have one removed on warm days when they were sweating.
The researchers also report that the horses appeared excited at being able to communicate with their trainers in such a novel way, engaging eagerly in the training and responding sometimes before being asked. They note that their study showed that the horses were not only able to read the symbols but were able to understand the connection between them and real world consequences—a form of higher learning.