I really like this idea and I decided to try something with Nimo tonight when I went out to see him. I have not taught him any communication symbols, but I am pretty familiar with his communication signals after over 14 years of seeing them!:) In general, he does not like to wear a blanket, and he communicates his dislike by pinning his ears and doing the nose swing at me when I put it on. However, he does always stand quietly for putting it on and taking if off, regardless of his opinion about the blanket itself.
Tonight, temperatures are dropping to 12 degrees, which is unusually cold for December in this area and definitely the coldest it has been so far this winter. While I don't normally blanket Nimo in the winter, he still has remnants of the trace clip I gave him in October, so my tentative "rule" is to put a sheet on when the temperature is below 20 degrees. I use a sheet instead of a blanket due to some past observations that he generates a pretty good amount of heat under just a sheet, so a blanket would probably be overkill. And I picked 20 degrees because that is the coldest the temperature has been when I've been at the barn and have seen Nimo in his unblanketed state, so I know he's not shivering or hunched with cold at that temperature. I may revise it downward later in the winter, but for now, that is my baseline.
When I went out to the barn tonight to put his sheet on, I decided that instead of bringing him in from his field and tying him up while I put the sheet on, I would try to put the sheet on in his field with no halter on. Kind of my way of "asking" if he wants the sheet on. He would be free to leave if he didn't want the sheet, and I fully expected to respect his wishes if he walked away.
|I love how Nimo always greets me at the gate. I know it's mostly because of the treats he gets, but it's still nice that I don't have to wander all over looking for him:)|
Meanwhile, a fairly new horse in his herd was standing right behind him, very much in his space. Particularly when I'm around, the new horse tends to get too close and appears to ignore Nimo's clear (even to me, a non-horse entity) signals to MOVE AWAY NOW. So Nimo ends up chasing or making physical contact (more with his body than kicking or biting) to make his signals even clearer.
Normally, I would be really apprehensive in a situation like that, but Nimo has a perfect track record of never going after another horse when I'm in the middle or even nearby. He is very careful to wait until I'm clear before he moves. Still, I wasn't sure how it would play out because I didn't have a halter or lead rope on him, and I had to move around his whole body to get the sheet on. I kept a close eye on both horses and was ready to move quickly if I needed to, and I also made sure I strategically fastened the sheet so that I did the neck, then the surcingles, and then the leg straps, so that if Nimo did end up moving, the sheet was less likely to get tangled up.
I decided to take Nimo's stillness and lack of response to the other too-close horse as his acceptance of the sheet for the night. I should note too that the temperature was 28 degrees at the time, and Nimo did not necessarily know how cold it would be getting (although my sense is that animals who live outside do know when the weather is changing, at least to a certain degree).
Ideally, I could repeat this experiment several times during both similar and different circumstances to see if this was a case of Nimo behaving and doing what he normally would do in the barn because the act of blanketing has created a generalized response or if it is truly indicative of Nimo communicating that he wanted to wear the sheet (or at least didn't not want to wear it). I have definitely "asked" him if he wanted to stay in the barn or be turned out when there is bad weather, and there have been a couple of times when he chose to stay in and others when he chose to go out. (I ask by putting him in his stall for a few minutes with hay and then opening the door and literally asking if he wants to go out. If he turns and stays in his stall, I assume he wants to stay in, but if he moves toward me and walks out willingly, I assume he wants to go out.)
It's an interesting idea to further explore and I'd love to hear if anyone else "asks" their horse before putting a blanket on!:)