Can Horses Communicate with Symbols?

Guest post by Rachael Loucks. 

I’m not a real researcher but I may have played one in life!

The headlines were everywhere this fall, “Horses can communicate with symbols!”  It was featured in equine and non-equine publications alike.  People were sharing the article with me left and right….even my pals who couldn’t tell the front end from the back end on a horse.  If you have not heard about this research yet, stop. Read the article here, then come back to my post.   If you have read it…continue.

 I was really excited when I read this, particularly because it involved a hot topic in our house…blanketing the horses.  My husband is pretty “old school” when it comes to the idea of blanketing—as long as there is a shed for the horses to get into and plenty of hay, he sees no need to blanket….ever.  I tend to be a bit more moderate and use the rules/guidelines put forth by University of MN.   On the other hand, I know many folks who stick to the rule of 30 degrees and blankets go on… matter. What.  Needless to say, everyone seems to have an opinion when it comes to blanketing.

The research conducted in Norway really excited me because I always suspected each horse had a preference about warmth.  I certainly saw this in my own horses.  I have had horses run when they see me coming with the blanket, whether it’s 30 and drizzling or -20.  I have had others that are hiding in the barn as soon as the slightest bit of rain or wind and as soon as they see me coming with the blanket they reaching their necks forward and stand stone still as I get them buckled on.

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I decided, after reading the research, I was going to try and replicate it.  The procedure is laid out in the article very clearly and I have a good understanding of behaviorist principles, so thought it should be pretty easy to follow.

First, I found some scrap wood and cut it in to three pieces in the size laid out in the research procedure.  My research assistant (aka…toddler) helped me get the communication boards ready…then we started the training process.

Per the research procedure I was going to teach the horses each symbol one at a time.   Considering I had 4 horses, this was going to be a time consuming process.  But I started out none-the-less.
Want to know what happens next?  You’ll have to wait for the next installment to find out.  I’ll give you a hint….it was NOT what I expected.

Rachael is an educator and equestrian who is trying to figure how to blend the two.  She travels on this crazy journey with her husband, children, four horses, one dog, and one token chicken.  She dabbles in higher education, public speaking, essential oil caftery, and from time to time sits down to write a blog. You can find her at and on twitter at @rr_horseIf you’re the essential oil toting type, you can check her out here.

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