Stop horsing around

I’m back and I’m now officially a graduate – exciting!

blog-11-6I warned you guys that my hobbies would come into my blog, so be prepared for a blog on horses. Please stick with it as it’s not that long and hopefully interesting.

For thousands of years’ humans have used horses for a variety of purposes. Horses have been used for transport since 2000 BCE, though it’s thought horses were first domesticated around 3500 BCE.

A lot of people have misconceptions about the intelligence of horses. People try to draw comparisons between cats, dogs and horses – when they are completely different. Cats and dogs are predatory animals. Horses are prey animals, that display a lot of instinctive behaviour to avoid being eaten. But horses do have cognitive abilities beyond what most people would

Horses are quickly able to recognise commands and body language. We have trained horses to respond to the shape of our body and the sound of our voice.

I hope I can change some of your preconceptions about horses’ intelligence with some new research.

‘Horses can learn to use symbols to communicate their preferences’ – Mejdell, Buvik, Jorgensen & Boe (2016).

Previous research has shown that horses can discriminate between visual stimuli. Mejdell et al. (2016) investigated whether horses could understand the meaning behind symbols and differentiate between them. This research aimed to train horses to ‘ask’ whether they would prefer to wear/not wear a 11 2.jpg

Twenty-three horses were included in the training programme (13 cold-blooded horses and 10 warm blooded horses. 18 were geldings, and five were mares. Aged 3 to 16 years). All horses were kept as riding horses and were accustomed to wearing a blanket (although blanket routine varied with each horse).

There were 10 training steps to teach the horses free choice learning. This involved getting the horse to freely touch the display board, teaching the horse the difference between the symbols (blanket on/blanket off), and introducing the ‘no change’ symbol. (Horizontal line: blanket on, Middle symbol: no change, vertical line: blanket off).


Horses were trained for 2-3 sessions per day (5 minute durations), for 5-7 days a week. The horses were taught to associate one symbol with having their blanket on, and another symbol with not having a blanket on. Horses were rewarded for choosing correctly with food.

After association, the next aim was to ensure horses could associate blanket status with their own comfort. Challenge tests were carried out. The heat test was performed by putting on a thick blanket so the horse felt obviously hot, then checking that the horse touched the display board with the ‘blanket off’ symbol. The cold test was performed by leaving the horse outside in rain or chilly weather until they showed signs of thermal discomfort. They checked that the horses chose the ‘blanket on’ symbol.

All 23 horses successfully learned the task within 14 training days and could distinguish between three symbols and their consequences. Horses of warm-blood type needed slightly but significantly fewer training days than cold-blooded horses. Interestingly, the three-year-old Blue seemed to enjoy the event of blankets being taken on and off, as he always chose the ‘change’ symbol and therefore needed additional temperature challenge tests to understand the consequences of his choice for own thermal 11 4.jpg

Overall, this suggests that horses can indicate their preference regarding blanketing to gain thermal comfort. But more importantly it suggested that horses can communicate their preferences and are aware that their choices have consequences.

I just thought it was awesome.

Love Em (The Little Blogger).

Here is the article:


Understanding horse intelligence


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