Dolphins, pigeons, and some primate species are able to communicate with humans by using symbols.
Now, scientists have discovered yet another species with that unique talent: horses.
Researchers taught 23 riding horses (various breeds) to view and interpret a board with three icons on it. The icons all had to do with either wearing or not wearing a blanket: "no change," "blanket on," or "blanket off."
Within 14 days, all 23 horses had learned how to interpret the symbols by approaching the board and nosing the different icons.
Then, the horses were tested in a variety of weather conditions to see if they truly understood how to use the board to communicate their blanket preferences to their handlers.
According to the scientists, whose report appears online in the journal "Applied Animal Behaviour Science," the horses chose the symbols not randomly, but deliberately. They made their choices according to the weather conditions.
In cold, wet, and windy weather, horses that were not wearing blankets chose the "blanket on" symbol. Horses that were already wearing blankets chose the "no change" symbol.
In pleasant weather, blanketed horses nosed the "blanket off" icon, and horses without blankets chose "no change."
The study's findings revealed that the horses were well aware of the consequences that choosing each icon would have. Scientists hope that future research will seize on this methodology as an opportunity to learn more about horses by asking them questions.