September 24, 2016

Can Horses Talk? Of Course, Of Course


For thousands of years, horses have obeyed our commands.
It's why we rode them into battle, use them as farmhands, and - more recently - draw on them for therapy and rehabilitation programs

But new research into human-equine communication confirms horses aren't just able to listen to us; they're able to talk back.

A study conducted by Norwegian animal behaviour experts has found horses are able to convey their preferences to handlers by touching symbols with their noses.

The researchers trained 23 horses, of various ages and breeds, for up to 15 minutes a day on how to approach and touch a board in order to tell the handler whether whether they were too cold, too warm or just right. 

One of the symbols meant "blanket on", the second meant "blanket off" and the third symbol meant "no change".

After two weeks, the horses were all able to tell their handlers if they wanted their blanket put on or taken off by touching the corresponding symbol.

The animals were tested in all sorts of conditions, including warm weather as well as rain and snow.

"The horses not only became able to discriminate the three symbols and associate each of them with a specific outcome ... they were also able to understand the effect a change in blanketing status would have on their thermal wellbeing," the study reads.

However, before you start dreaming up scenes reminiscent of the talking horse from Mr Ed, it's important to understand horses have always communicated with humans.
Equine experts say it's just that most people don't realise the horse is trying to talk to them in the first place. 

Kim Wren, the owner of Wedgetail Rides in the Yarra Valley, said the people in this study have simply taken the time to listen to the horses involved.

"We're often talking to horses, telling them what they can and can't do," she said. 

"But a lot of horses communicate with humans and each other through body language. We need to listen by watching the body language. This is exactly what these people [the researchers] are doing - they've taught them cues."

Ms Wren has a herd of 17 horses she uses for classes with at-risk youth or people living with disabilities. 

She said her horses also tell her if they don't want to be rugged up.
"If I go to rug up the horse and the horse walks off, it's saying it doesn't want it on," she said. 

"If they walk up, they do. You listen to the horse by observing."

By Broede Carmody

With many thanks to The Age