There are often indecisions among horse owners as to whether or not to put blankets on their horses. When the weather is cold, you feel it in your body, and so does your horse. The only difference between you and your equine friend is that you can clothe yourself according to the weather or communicate with someone around you in case you need a blanket, but your horse cannot do either of those. Your horse completely depends on your judgment and action when it comes to blanketing the animal. Wouldn’t it be better if you could listen to your horse’s blanketing preferences? Well, now you can; a team of Norwegian Veterinary Institute led by Cecilie M. Mejdell has developed a system of communication that enables horses to express their desires to be blanketed or not.
Mejdell and her team worked with 23 different horses using easily understandable printed symbols; these distinguishable visual symbols were utilized to teach the horses their meanings with associating certain corresponding actions. Thus the horses were able to learn that one symbols means “blanket on”, another means “blanket off” and yet another symbol means “no change”. The classic method of rewarding them with food for selecting symbols was adopted. It didn’t matter which symbol a horse chose; as long as he understood the meaning of the symbol, he was rewarded. On an average, each horse learned the meanings of those symbols in just 11 days. The team tested the horses in various different weather conditions. They were out there in sun and rain, wind and snow with Norwegian temperatures between 5 degrees Fahrenheit and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
The horses were quick to learn the meanings of those symbols; eleven days is not a long period considering the level of intelligence horses have. Besides, they showed consistency in showing their preferences. The horses, after having learned the meanings of those symbols, were swift in making their decisions about being blanketed; they patiently waited for their decisions to be carried out by their attendants. There are different breeds and their bodily constructions are different from each other and so is their response to the temperature within the environment they live in. An Arabian horse will be more tolerant of heat than an English horse and so will be a Scandinavian horse to freezing condition than an African horse. The horses responded to the symbols with coherence and pragmatic approach.
The system of communication seems to be well understood by the horses on whom the symbols were applied. They understood the benefit of responding to these symbols; if it is cold, making the right choice will bring a blanket on a horse’s body and if it is hot, making the right choice will take off a blanket from his/her body. The horses also learned to continue to keep the blanket on or to continue to stay without a blanket just by picking up the correct symbol. And although horses can learn through words, the power of symbols is far more effective on animals like horses.
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