Would You Like a Rug?

Equine rugging study

Equine rugging study

Oh, rugging. That ‘hot’ topic that gets owners practically threatening each other with their hoof picks. After all, who can really tell whether a horse wants one on or not? Well, we know who. The horse. And guess what? Now they can let us know. A group of study horses in Norway are the world’s first experimental group to communicate, through gestures, whether they’d like to have a rug on. And once they’ve made their choice, they get their wish. Cecilie M. Mejdell PhD, of the Norwegian Veterinary Institute, and her team taught the horses to recognise printed symbols on sheets of paper. The symbols indicated either “blanket on” or “blanket off.” The horses learned the significance of each symbol and indicated what they wanted.

How do the researchers know these weren’t just random choices? Two things. First, there were many more preferences for blankets on colder, wetter days. And second, the thinner, saddle horses in the study requested blankets far more often than the stout, draft horses.

“The horses’ preferences were often very clear,” Mejdell says. The researchers plan to reveal details of their training techniques in the coming months.

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