We've always known horses are pretty smart, but did you know they can talk to us? Of course, we don't mean talking in the Mr. Ed sense, but horses can be trained to tell us what they want with simple gestures.
A study from the Norwegian Veterinary Institute shows that horses can be trained to indicate preferences of whether or not they want to wear blankets. According to Horse Channel, 23 horses were presented with three different boards that showed various symbols: a horizontal line to put a blanket on, a vertical line to take the blanket off or a blank board to indicate no change was desired. Initially, the horses were presented with one board at a time and were rewarded with a carrot and the proper action when their muzzle touched the board.
Once more boards were added in, the horses were only rewarded when they picked the board that was a change in their status. For example, if one of the horses had a blanket on and touched the vertical line (meaning "blanket off"), that horse would be rewarded. After choosing the correct board 12 times, the blank board was brought in. Horses were rewarded with yet another piece of carrot if they chose the blank board, and no additional action was taken.
Within two weeks, the horses were able to effectively communicate their preferences of blanket use by touching their muzzles to the corresponding boards. The study also observed the horses in different temperatures, and depending on the horse's answer, the researchers could tell whether or not the horse was too hot or too cold.
Though these findings are fascinating and allow us to read more into a horse's mind, we already have hints as to how horses are feeling. According to The Horse, body language is very telling of a horse's mood. Even something as small as the way it positions its ears can reveal whether a horse is happy or incredibly uncomfortable. Pin-backed ears are a sign of displeasure, aggravation or aggression. Alert and forward ears mean a horse is intrigued or curious. Relaxed ears signal your horse is calm and content. Other methods of predicting your horse's mood can be found in its eyes, mouth and whole body movement. Many resources such as horse behavior guide books and your veterinarian can help you understand what your horse is feeling.
To learn more about this study, watch the short clip below: