Study: Horses can Communicate Blanketing Preferences

Researchers taught horses to request a blanket be put on, a rug be taken off, or no change using different symbols.
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Study: Horses can Communicate Blanketing Preferences
Using a simple series of easily distinguishable printed symbols, Mejdell’s group taught 23 horses to associate symbols with certain actions. The horses learned that one symbol meant “blanket on,” another meant “blanket off,” and a third meant “no change.” | Photo: Courtesy Cecilie M. Mejdell
Blanket? No blanket? Blanket? Oh, that frustrating inner battle on a cool day. There are many good reasons to put a blanket on your horse, but there are just as many reasons to leave it off. If only your horse could just tell you what he wanted!

Actually, there might be a way to determine whether your horse wants a blanket or prefers to be naked: Cecilie M. Mejdell, PhD, of the Norwegian Veterinary Institute, and colleagues have developed a communication system with horses that allows the animal to express his desire to have a blanket on—or not.

“Blanketing horses is common in our culture, but blankets are often used excessively, even into summer,” said Mejdell. Mejdell presented a study she completed with Turid Buvik, Grete Jorgensen, and Knut Boe, at the 2014 International Society for Equitation Science conference, held Aug. 6-9 in Bredsten, Denmark.

“(Blankets) could be uncomfortable for the horse, and they also prevent social grooming,” she said. “So it’s important to know what the horse actually prefers

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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