According to recent research conducted in Norway, you can literally communicate with horses. Though not with words exactly but with symbols.
According to the results of the research you can talk to horses by pointing out certain symbols with their muzzles. The same system works for such animals as apes, pigeons and dolphins.
Dr. Cecilie Mejdell from Norwegian Veterinary Institute wanted to find out the way to ask the horse if it likes or not to wear a blanket. She was the one to become the leader of the research. So along with a team, she worked with horse trainers on teaching 22 riding horses of different breeds how to talk with people using symbols.
The study used a “reward-based operant conditioning”. How did it actually work: first the horse was trained to come up to two boards with symbols which hung on the fence. Once the horse touched the symbol with a muzzle it was rewarded with a carrot. After that the horse received the treat only when it touched the board indicating their current status, for example blanketed or not. Later on, horse could tell the difference between symbols. For example a horizontal bar meant “blanket on”, while a vertical one – “blanket off”. Blank board showed “no change”.
Each of the horses learned symbols in relevant situations. They were tested when they were wet and cold, the other times when it was hot outside but they had a blanket on. Once the horses showed right symbol 12 times, they were shown a blank board.
The whole process of training took only two weeks and had 10-15 minutes of training every day. So in overall it took horses ten days to understand the symbols and to muzzle them. By the end of the two weeks, all the horses learned the system.
The boards were used in different real time situations with changing weather during several months. By the end of the tests, horses understood the way of communicating with symbols by knowing what they want. Either they prefer to be blanketed or no. Before it was up to the owner to choose.
During the recent years horses didn’t participate in any of the researches, as primary focus was set on dogs and cats. But now the times are changing. Another research this year showed that horses can see happy and angry facial expressions and now it turns out that they understand the consequences of the choice They make.