The big question is: DO HORSES RELY ON SMELL?
The answer is YES, they do.
Here are some facts why:
Remember, horses are prey animals. Our domesticated animals such as dogs and cats are predators. Horses can smell them when they are on the same property as well as when further away e.g. in the neighbourhood. Our dogs are relatives to wolfs ( predator!!!).
Horses can get used to our dogs as we all know, some better than others and based on experiences.
Its our job to remember, WE know that the neighbours dog is friendly when he barks, our horses might get nervous about that and feel threatened. So we need to make them feel safe and comfortable and be patient and calm.
One aspect to help them feel safe is, let your horse sniff objects of interest and humans or animals too if it safe to do so. If you are worried about your horse getting annoying sniffing everything you can train him with consistency in what situations he is allowed and in which not. As an example: sniffing with halter on is okay, under saddle with a bridle on is not okay. Sniffing is okay at home, but not when going to a competition or clinic or a trek with other horses. Horses are smart and will learn the difference.
A really interesting questions is: Can horses smell fear in humans?
There is no scientific evidence for that, BUT what we do know is that they can smell stress hormones ( cortisol and adrenaline) in us. They can smell sweat when we get nervous, before we even notice it. And we know that stallions can smell mares when they are in season but miles away. We also know that mares can smell their own foals and will notice the difference if another foal wants to come close to her and drink. That's why it is often tricky if we need to introduce a foal who has lost its mother to a different mare to nurse. There are some tricks people use to " manipulate" the sense of the mare for that reason.
Finally, some interesting facts of horses smell ability compared to a dogs sense of smell:
We all know how extraordinary a dogs sense of smell is. If we look at the dogs working as " bomb dogs" to find bombs, or the "drug" dogs at the airports, or the dogs that find people buried under an avalanche...the list is long. A fact is, a dogs sense of smell is about a 100.000times more accurate than a humans sense of smell. So what about our horses?
Science found out, horses have more or the same amount of receptors for smell than many breeds of dogs have. What a surprise!!!!
Compared to the visual pathway in a horses brain, the smell pathway is much much bigger.
Means, the horses brain processes much more information from the sense of smell than the eyesight.
Did you know?
Once again, it shown how extraordinary our equine friends are and that we often underestimate their brain and how they explore the world!
The next blog will be about the sense of smell. very important to know when it comes to food, but also the taste of water or even the different taste a bit has, what we expect them to take into their mouth and keep it there for as long as we ride.
One fact to finish here and make you curious about the next Blog:
80% of the sense of taste comes from the sense of smell, just like in humans.
Stay tuned for next time.
For the love of horses,
Some facts of a horses ear/ hearing first:
Horses' ears are primarily for hearing, but they are also utilised to express and communicate (body language).
To explain a horses ability of hearing it helps to distinguish between loudness, pitch and localization.
The easiest to describe here, is the LOUDNESS.
We all know that the noise of a sound is measured in decibels. Studies figured out, the lowest sound a horse can hear is 7 decibels which is comparable to the sound of a person breathing quietly. Think about that for a second.
Isn't that amazing! It also means , we don't need to yell at our horses. They can perfectly hear us when we talk normal....
Horses can respond to a training command given at a very low volume. We don’t need to shout to be heard. Also, horses are very sensitive to the tone of voice. We need to use a confident tone and avoid overly emotional tones such as shrill, high pitches.
Horses can pick up many low frequency sound. They notice them through the vibration in their jawbone and teeth and also in their hooves.
That's why they stop grazing, stop grinding their teeth, when they hear a sound. So the grinding does not interfere with the transmission of the sound they heard to the brain for analysis.
Horses have learned within evolution to pay much more attention to small noises than we do.
Another reason we are not hearing these sounds might be that our minds are always too busy " listening" to voices in our head making plans for dinner, worrying about work etc.
Photo credit to msdvetmanual.com
What really surprised me within my research was, horses can actually hear the ultrasonic squeal of a bat or dolphin, the silent dog whistle and the sound of an insect. All inaudible for human ears.
An example from a life with a horse:
Everyone has experienced this scenario with their horse at least once:
Your horse seems to freeze within his motion and listens to something while you are telling him "its nothing there". Sounds familiar?
So now we know, its probably a frequency that we humans cannot hear, as explained earlier. And again it shows, horses behaviour ALWAYS means something!!! There is not such thing as "nothing".
They are prey animals, they don't have time to focus on " nothing", if they would, the tiger would be happy for the meal :). They always communicate with what they do, and even if they don't do anything it means they feel safe and rest.
Horses associate learned sounds with sights, smell, touch, experiences and knowledge. We know that horses can link the special vehicle sound of the owner when its feeding time ( but ignoring other cars passing by), or the sound of the bucket when grains are mixed for them.
Horses brains are very good in interpreting the sounds of other horses when they snort, groan, nicker, etc. They know who is making that sound, what mood the other horse is in and what he wants.
That's why your horse gets upset, when a stressed horse close by is snorting or whinnying.
They also recognize their owner from the voice, good news! Their brain is connecting the vision and hearing, which was thought is unique to humans.
So, we learned the horses ear is more than just a furry attachment to the head of a horse.
It is very complex in function and essential for the horse to explore the world around them. It is also very sensitive to sounds as we realized.
We have to take this into consideration when we change the environment of our horse through moving to a different stable or drive to a competition. If they are in a new setting, not knowing the other horses, and new sounds everywhere, it is a lot to process for their brain!!!!!
It is a very confusing, overstimulating noisy environment for a start. So we should not be surprised, if they get upset by changes.
It is our job as their owners to give them comfort and make them feel safe in a gentle and a patient way.
For more happy horses!
I hope you enjoyed reading this Blog and got some new knowledge out of it. It is my goal to help you understand your horse better and improve the quality of your time being together.
Inspired again by the book " Horse brain, Human brain" by Janet Jones
and the videos and books of Dr. Steve Peters.
It is important for your daily management, training and riding to know how the senses of your horse work.
A lot of misunderstanding in interpreting the horses behaviour comes from a lack of knowledge about how their senses work and how their perception of OUR world is.
My aim is to provide more knowledge and facts here, so you can use this for your training, riding and approaching your horse in general. I hope this will help to understand your horse better and make the daily management easier. For the horse AND for you.
Enjoy the read and "see" your horse through different eyes afterwards.
The vision of a horse is quite different to ours.
Some facts first:
Overbending the horse is very very harmful!!!!!
First, it causes a big damage in the neck BUT also restricts the vision of a horse immensely. As a prey animal that cannot see properly it puts a lot of stress onto them PLUS the stress of the pain in the neck....Unfortunately we still see so many overbend ridden horses....Hopefully more riders educate themselves and question some training methods more as they gain more knowledge and get a better connection to their horse.
Some examples of how important the knowledge of vision is, is everything that includes jumping.
Please see these brilliant illustrations out of the book "Horse Brain/ human brain" from Janet Jones:
If you need a Christmas present idea, put this book on your wish list. Its great to read and includes a lot of useful and easy to understand information.
The accuracy for objects depend on age but also of the breed of a horse.
So, the best sight ability will be around the age of 7 years ( the time it has fully developed) for a horse, with older age is will decrease just like in humans.
Scientists found some breeds have a better acuity than others.
Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds with their long convex faces have a better acuity than Arabians with their short concave faces. This is not a general rule of course, you will always find exceptions.
Another interesting fact is, horses need much longer to adapt to changes in brightness. For example, when riding from an outdoor arena to warm up into an indoor arena for competing.
Eyes adapt to light by contracting the pupils and to darkness by expanding their pupils.
Human eyes need about 25min to adjust from bright sunlight to darkness.
Equine eyes ,in comparison, need about twice as long, approximately 45min to adjust.
Means: When you entering a dim arena from daylight, your horse will struggle with darkness longer than your own eyes have adapted. After adapted, his eyes are about 25000 times more sensitive than at the beginning. Now he can see, but unfortunately the 45min riding lesson or 10min competition time is already over by then...
Helpful for the horse will be
So, now that you know more about the vision of your horse ( there is much more, but too much for this blog...) you will probably act different now, when your horse spooks or raises their head while you train or ride them. Humans just have a smaller range of sight as illustrated in the picture above.
(Source is again : Horse brain/Human Brain from Janet Jones)
Our horses have much stronger accurate senses than we have, so we should consider this when they show a certain behaviour such as raising their head, freeze or turn their head.
They might have heard, smelled, or seen something concerning ( from their perspective!).So do not punish them for "bad" behaviour or not being obedient. They just act how their equine brain tells them to.
Think about it next time : )
I hope you enjoyed this little journey and stay tuned for next Sunday to read about the "hearing" ability of a horse.
For the love of horses,
Inspired by the book " Horse brain, human brain" from Janet Jones, Ph.D.
and "Understand horses" :courses.understandhorses.com/courses/understanding-the-equine-brain
and several videos, articles and other books I read about this.
This is the start on the journey of the horses brain and how it is similar, but also very different to our human brain. I am starting this journey here with some interesting facts.
Hopefully, these facts will give you some "oh "effects and will be helpful for you to understand some behaviour of your horse better. Enjoy the journey to your horses brain. : )
Why do I spend so much time on research and study?
As a horse bodyworker and Coach for riders it is essential for me to stay up to date to expand my knowledge. This is very beneficial for my work with you and your horse.
My treatments are successful and effective because I have the knowledge about anatomy, biomechanics BUT also the brain and nervous system of the horse.
Through my energetic work I am connecting to horses nervous system. I need to interact with the horse constantly, to get the the responses that the body needs to release tension, relief pain and get back into a balanced state for body, mind and soul.
So here are some facts about the horses brain you may not have heard of:
I hope you gained some useful information from these facts. Next time I will start with the senses of a horse. There is a lot to know about their eyesight, hearing, smell etc. that will help to understand why they behave the way they do in certain situations we all have experienced with our horses quite often.
More understanding results in better and more horse orientated communication and training.
For more happy horses and riders!
For the love of horses,