Ever wonder what it is like to be a horse? Although horses and humans both have five senses, what we perceive is very different. Take an anatomy-based tour of the horse’s senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch to learn more about how they experience the world. Learn about what part of their nervous systems facilitate learning and healing. This information will help you to become a more effective and compassionate partner with any horse.
Yesterday I had the fun of presenting a 45 minute talk on this subject at the US Pony Club Symposium in Seattle. This post has links to several short articles I wrote for the Equine Wellness column of the Northwest Horse Source magazine, including 3 about equine senses. The research I did for these articles formed the basis for my presentation at the USPC Symposium. I have included other articles of interest plus 3 videos I hope everyone will watch giving us ideas about how horses actually see. It may be the sense most different from ours due to their eye position which gives them both monocular and binocular vision. At the end, I’ve included my summary from yesterday about what we can do with this information.
Northwest Horse Source magazine articles:
“The Body Language of Horses – How to Speak Horse“
“The Autonomic Nervous System – Understanding Your Horse’s Reactions“
“Horse Nature – Why Horses Think and Feel as They Do“
“Through Your Horses’ Eyes – Understanding Equine Vision“
“Horse Sense(s) – How Horses Taste, Smell, and Hear“
Horses’ Sense of Touch – Equine Sensitivity Requires Our Thoughtful Handling
On the differences between human brains and animal brains – highly recommended, and available at the library
Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin
Videos illustrating equine vision:
Contrasting horse & human vision this is on Facebook
How a horse sees jumps
Understanding How a Horse Sees a Jump
More interesting articles:
“Understand Your Horse’s Eyesight” by Karen Hayes, DVM – includes the fields of vision illustration
“The Equine Mind: Top 10 Things to Know “ summary of presentation by Robert Miller, DVM
“The Basics of Equine Behavior” by Carey A. Williams, Ph.D
What can we do with this information?
- Every horse is an individual. Effective partnership with your horse begins with this understanding, and curiosity about them.
- Consider that horses are herd-oriented prey animals—not like us—many of them living in stalls in barns, not on open ground where they evolved. Keep in mind that they react 7 times faster than humans, faster than any other domestic animal. Being quick meant getting away and learning fast to stay alive.
- Horse language IS body language. Pay attention, and your horse will teach you. You might also find some of the writing about equine calming signals to be interesting with practical applications. Search on Rachael Draaisma and also Anna Blake both have written about calming signals in horses.
- Horses feel us when we stand next to them. It’s how they track potential threats in their environment. They don’t care what we know, they care how we feel to them. When our insides match our outsides (we are not pretending to feel differently than we do, which is called being congruent), horses feel safer, and more relaxed. Horses live with their vulnerability and can accept ours.
- Learning and healing takes place when they (and we) are in the Parasympathetic Nervous System, the place of rest/digest/relax.
- Touch with respect, speak quietly, move more slowly
- Patiently observe body language, look for ‘calming signals”
- Touch softer & lighter OR slower & firmer if ticklish
- Practice ‘less is more’
- Don’t shave whiskers – they need them to find food in their buckets and other things, too
- Their muzzles are exquisitely sensitive sensory centers with a blind spot underneath
- Check your noseband, loosen your tack – is your horse more relaxed?
- Remember that horses need to see something with BOTH eyes to understand it
- Pay attention and get to know your horse. Be Curious!
- Learn more about anatomy & how horses behave in nature
- Be aware of how your mood influences your horse. Practice good self care. How we deal with our thoughts, emotions, and energy affects our horses’ health AND our relationship with them.
My hope is that you have learned something here that will benefit both your horse and you. I believe that through better understanding horses’ physical, mental, and emotional natures, we can keep our beloved equine friends happy and healthy and doing what we enjoy doing together for longer.
If you are interested in reading more about how I approach equine bodywork and life in general, you might enjoy reading the blog posts immediately prior to this one: Foundations of “Equine Bodywork”, and “Why I Teach”.
Thank you for your time attending the presentation and reading this post. I am always happy to hear from you here in comments, or on my Movement in Balance Facebook page.