They say it’s good to try to see the world through someone else’s eyes - to imagine life from their perspective. We may not be able to get a horse’s-eye view of the world, but learning about horses’ vision helps us understand why they act the way they do. In this post, we explore horses’ eyes and sense of sight.
Horses have the largest eyes of all land mammals - 8 times larger than human ones. These huge eyeballs make objects appear larger to horses than they do to humans.
Horse eyes are generally brown but may also be blue, green, yellow, amber, or hazel. Having non-brown eyes is often linked to the horse’s coat colour.
Although people sometimes think horses are colour-blind, they can see green and blue. Red, however, may appear to horses as green or yellowish, grey, or brown.
Equine eyes have trouble picking up details. Horses typically have 20/30 vision, compared to humans’ gold standard of 20/20 vision. What that means is that, what a human with good vision can see in detail from 30 feet away, a horse can only see clearly from 20 feet away.
Like humans, horses can be nearsighted or farsighted. They can also suffer from other eye problems.
Horses do have better night vision than humans and even see better on a cloudy day than a sunny one. On the other hand, they take longer than humans to adapt to a sudden change between light and dark.
Unlike humans’ round pupils, horse pupils are horizontal. This feature of grazing animals gives them panoramic vision along the ground, helping them spot predators and see clearly while they’re fleeing. Interestingly, the eyes rotate as the animal grazes so that its pupils remain horizontal.
Range of Horse Vision
Horses’ eyes are on the side of their head, giving them 350° of vision. Most of that vision is monocular, meaning that they see separate images on either side of their head. Horses’ perception of peripheral motion is keen, and they can move their eyes independently to scan for predators.
It sometimes seems like a horse does not recognize with its right eye an object that it saw previously with only its left eye. Although the 2 parts of a horse’s brain do connect, the animal may not recognize an object seen from a different angle or with different lighting.
Horses do also employ binocular vision - vision that uses both eyes at the same time. The range is about 65° in a triangular shape in front of the horse’s face. Since depth perception works best with binocular vision, and horses’ vision is mostly monocular, they have some trouble determining relative distance.
They also have 2 blind spots: one directly behind them, and one in front of their face. The front blind spot extends from the horse’s eye level down to the ground. It’s hard for us to imagine, but horses can’t see the grass as they’re grazing, and objects faced head-on seem to disappear if they get too close.
To make up for their vision limitations, horses use their whiskers to sense objects in their blind spot. They also move their head to get a better view.
Did you learn something new about horses’ vision? Let us know in the comments!
You may have heard that horses sleep standing up. That claim is only partly true, but the reality of horse sleep is just as fascinating. In this post, we dive into horses’ strange sleeping behaviour.
Stages of Horse Sleep
Besides wakefulness, horses have 3 stages in their sleep-wake cycle. In the state of drowsiness or deep restfulness, a horse is relaxed but still easily roused.
Next, the horse enters slow-wave sleep (SWS), in which its brain is less active, with slow, synchronized electrical waves. Horses stay standing for both deep restfulness and SWS.
However, the animal must lie down for the deep rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep so that its skeletal muscles can relax. REM sleep is also known as paradoxical sleep because, counterintuitively, the horse’s brain is just as active as when it’s awake. As the name suggests, horses in REM sleep display jerky eye movements (with closed eyelids) and rapid, chaotic brain waves.
REM sleep is essential for horses’ well-being, as well as for learning and the creation of new memories. It’s likely that horses dream during this stage. They may move their legs while dreaming and probably dream about experiences from their day.
Horse Sleeping Behaviour
As prey animals, horses do most of their dozing standing up so that it’s easier to flee if a predator appears. Like several other large land mammals, they have a feature known as the stay apparatus, a system of tendons and ligaments that lets them lock their leg joints while sleeping.
When horses are sleeping, they distribute their weight among 3 of their legs and rest the fourth one, normally a hind limb. They also close their eyes, relax their ears, and droop their head, neck, and lower lip.
Before lying down, a horse wakes up for a moment to check its environment. It then lies down - likely on its side - and enters REM sleep via deep restfulness and SWS. It cannot lie down for too long since its weight restricts blood flow and puts pressure on its internal organs.
Among horses living in a group, 1 or 2 horses will typically stay awake while the rest of the herd lies down. These guard horses get their own chance to sleep when other horses replace them. Horses are careful to sleep in sheltered locations, preferably with their head pointing toward the escape route.
Horse Sleep Requirements and Issues
Horses sleep for only a few minutes at a time, alternating between dozing, lying down, eating, and moving around. Sleeping may occur during the day or night, although the nighttime is more common, especially among horses that work during the day.
On average, horses sleep only 3 hours total over a 24-hour period. At least 30 minutes of that sleeping should be REM sleep. Foals sleep for about half the day until they’re 3 months old, at which point they start sleeping less.
Although a horse can survive for several days without REM sleep, sleep deprivation can cause crankiness, issues with metabolism and body temperature, and even collapsing. Reasons that a horse might not get enough deep sleep include pain or discomfort at lying down and feeling uncomfortable in its environment.
Horses may also suffer from narcolepsy, a neurological condition in which they enter deep sleep frequently yet unintentionally. Horses with narcolepsy enter REM sleep nearly instantly, causing them to collapse.
Do you have a favourite fact about horses and sleep? Let us know in the comments!
You’ve heard of mules, donkeys, and zebras, but what about wacky combinations like hinnies and zonkeys? And do you have any idea how they all relate to each other? In this post, we explain the relationship between horses, donkeys, and zebras, then explore what happens when these different species are combined.
Horses, donkeys, and zebras all belong to the Equidae family, giving them certain shared characteristics. These herbivores are all herd animals and swift runners. They also walk on the tips of their toes.
Equids’ stocky, hair-covered bodies typically have a mane and forelock (a lock of hair on the forehead). They have a thick, long skull with a long nasal bone and between 40 and 42 teeth.
Pregnancy for female horses and other equids lasts 11 to 13 months. They give birth about every 2 years to a single offspring. Their typical lifespan is 25 to 35 years.
It’s possible to breed most types of equids with each other - and people have certainly tried to do so. However, the attempts are not always successful, partly due to the different species’ different numbers of chromosomes. Even if offspring do result, they’re often infertile.
The name for a cross between 2 different equids typically combines the first part of the father’s species name with the second part of the mother’s species name. For example, a cross between a male zebra and a female horse is often called a zorse. However, there are many exceptions to this rule.
The general name for a hybrid between a zebra and a horse or donkey is a zebroid. Hybrids involving zebras tend to use a male zebra, not a female.
Male donkey + female horse = mule
Male horse + female donkey = hinny
Male mule = john
Female mule = molly
Mules are traditionally used as draft or pack animals. They’re known for being strong, hardy, intelligent, and sure-footed. They look similar to horses other than having longer ears.
Crosses between male donkeys and female horses are more common. Hinnies are also possible but more difficult to obtain. In either case, male animals (johns) are sterile, while female animals (mollies) can occasionally reproduce.
Male zebra + female horse = zorse
Male horse + female zebra = hebra
Male zebra + female pony = zony
Hybrid zebras are typically easier to work around and ride than standard zebras, while still retaining zebras’ hardiness and disease resistance. Zorses and hebras display stripes on the parent horse’s background colour. On horses with white patches, the stripes only show up on coloured hair.
The stripes tend to be most distinct on the legs and face, with fainter stripes along the body. Other features include a stripe along the spine, an upright mane, and large ears. Male animals tend to be sterile, while females are usually, but not always, sterile as well.
Male zebra + female donkey = zonkey, zedonk, zebronkey, zebadonk …
Male donkey + female zebra = donkra
As you might expect, donkras and zonkeys (or whatever you want to call them!) have a striped pattern on donkey colouring. Like with horse-zebra hybrids, the clearest stripes are on the legs. There’s also the same tendency for male animals to be sterile and female animals to be sterile most of the time.
Do you have a favourite of the many hybrid equids? Let us know in the comments!
Have you ever watched people riding and wondered how they get the horse to do what they want? Or maybe you’ve ridden a few times but want to deepen your understanding about this topic. In this post, we explain the major riding commands and how they’re used to make a horse start moving, change speeds, switch direction, and stop.
Riders use a combination of different cues to signal to the horse what they’d like it to do. They use their hands, legs, seat or weight, and voice. Horses pick up on the slightest movement, so it’s important to be intentional with cues.
Most riding commands are based on the idea of pressure and release. The rider applies pressure, such as a squeeze with the leg, then releases that pressure when the horse performs the desired action. Start with the lightest pressure possible, then only increase the pressure if necessary.
Getting a Horse to Start Moving
Apply light pressure to the horse’s mouth with the reins to get its attention. Squeeze gently with your calves. If the horse does not start moving, you may need to squeeze more sharply. You also want to shift your weight slightly forward.
Riders often make a clicking sound or say a short word like “Walk” or “Go.” Use a quiet but firm voice when addressing a horse. Once the horse has started walking, release the leg pressure and some of the pressure on the horse’s mouth.
To make a horse move more quickly, squeeze with your calves with slightly more pressure than for getting the horse to start walking. Sit taller in the saddle to lighten the weight on the horse. Move your hips back and forth, following the horse’s rhythm or even moving faster than the horse to encourage it to speed up.
To get a horse to slow down, tighten your stomach muscles, which creates resistance. Maintain leg contact, but do not squeeze the horse. Consider using a voice command like “Whoa” or “Easy.”
When horseback riding, you might use direct reins or neck reins. When making a left turn using direct reins, you would pull with your left hand. When making the same turn with neck reins, you would pull the reins across the horse’s neck toward the left.
If you want a horse to turn, there are also other possible cues. Look where you want to go, turning your head, shoulders, and hips in that direction. Shift your weight slightly in the desired direction so that the horse moves to correct its centre of gravity.
Squeeze just behind the horse’s girth with your outside leg (if you’re turning left, the outside leg is the right leg). With your inside leg (in this case, the left leg), apply pressure directly to the horse’s girth. Once the horse has turned, return to your normal riding position.
To get a horse to back up, shift your weight backward. Try saying “Back.” If the horse is stopped, you can also pull on the reins.
To warn a horse that you’ll want to stop soon, tighten your stomach muscles, lean back in the saddle, and sink your weight into your seat bones. When you’re ready to halt, pull back on the reins. If necessary, use a voice command like “Whoa.”
Do you feel ready to ride a horse? Let us know in the comments!
No, a pony is not a baby horse. Although ponies and horses belong to the same species, Equus caballus, there are several key differences between them. In this post, we walk you through the major differences between ponies and horses.
Even when they’re fully grown, ponies are typically smaller than horses. Animals are generally considered ponies if they’re shorter than 14 hands for Western riding and 14.2 hands for English. One hand is equivalent to 4 inches.
There are many exceptions to this rule. Among some pony breeds, such as the Welsh pony, a few individuals exceed the height limit while still being considered ponies. In the same vein, some horse breeds, like the American Quarter Horse, include full-grown horses shorter than 14 hands.
There are even some horse breeds that are always “pony-sized,” like the Icelandic horse. The most glaring exception to the size rule is the miniature horse, which has a maximum height of only 34 inches. Mini horses are considered horses because they more closely resemble horses than ponies.
Ponies tend to have different proportions and bone structure than horses. Overall, ponies are stockier, with a wide chest and short legs, while horses have a leaner build. Ponies’ bones are also heavier and denser.
In general, ponies have a short neck and short, thick head with a broad forehead. They also have smaller ears than horses. By contrast, horses display a long neck and head with large ears and wide nostrils.
Coat, Hardiness, and Strength
Due to their origins in cold, harsh climates, ponies tend to have a coarser and thicker coat, mane, and tail than horses. Their coat is thicker in the wintertime and only sheds briefly in the summer. These hardy equines also have tougher hooves than horses.
On the other hand, horses typically have finer hair and a softer mane and tail. Breeds originating in warm regions, in particular, tend to have thin coats. Draft breeds may have thicker coats.
Ponies are very strong and call pull or carry a heavier load relative to their size compared to horses. They can even sometimes pull as much weight as a large draft horse.
Other Differences Between Ponies and Horses
The majority of ponies are easy keepers, which means that they do not need to be fed much and gain weight easily. In fact, ponies sometimes suffer from health problems due to obesity. Although some horses are also easy keepers, others struggle to gain weight.
Ponies reach their mature size rapidly, while horses grow more slowly. Ponies also often have a longer life span than horses. Although horses typically live until they’re 20 to 30 years old, ponies may survive beyond 30 and even into their forties.
Ponies are also often believed to have a different temperament than horses. They’re likely to be intelligent, stubborn, and good at avoiding work. Horses, on the other hand, are often quieter and more docile, although personality varies depending on the breed.
Did you gain a better understanding of the relationship between ponies and horses? Let us know in the comments!
Horses might not be the first animal that you think of when you think about Christmas. That honour would probably go to the reindeer. You may even call to mind the donkey before the humble horse.
However, horses have long been involved with Christmas celebrations and continue to play an important role around Christmastime. In this post, we’ll explore some of the many links between horses and Christmas.
Associations Between Horses and Christmas
Picture a traditional Christmas scene - perhaps on the front of a vintage Christmas card. The snow is softly falling as a horse or team of horses pulls a sleigh past a quiet village.
Besides horses’ association with an old-fashioned country Christmas, they’ve found their way into toys and ornaments, past and present. Think wooden rocking horses, plush and plastic ponies, Christmas carousels, and horse figurines dangling on Christmas trees.
More recently, you can find horses on Christmas pillows, mugs, and stockings. There are even horse advent calendars where every day leading up to Christmas you get a mini toy to add to your horse collection.
The strong representation of horses in Christmas decorations and presents likely speaks to little girls’ classic dream of getting a pony for Christmas. Unless their parents are as rich as Elvis Presley (who gave his friends horses as presents), they’ll likely have to make do with horse toys or riding lessons.
Treating Horses at Christmastime
It’s not only humans who get in on the Christmas fun. If you want to put a smile on your face, look up photos of horse Christmas costumes. Whether horses are staying in the barn or participating in a parade, their owners love dressing them up in festive red-and-green outfits or even transforming them into reindeer by putting on antlers.
Although horses might not appreciate these additions to their wardrobe, they’re unlikely to say no to extra treats around Christmas. In fact, for several years in early 20th-century Boston, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Animal Rescue League of Boston organized a special Christmas for the Horses. At the Horses’ Christmas Tree, located in a busy square, the city’s thousands of work horses could take a break from their hard, dangerous work pulling wagons to enjoy a free meal.
There’s a legend that barn animals, including horses, gain the ability to speak between midnight on Christmas Eve and dawn on Christmas day. As humans are enjoying family traditions and getting some rest before the excitement of Christmas, what do you think the horses talk about?
Did you learn anything new about horses and Christmas? Or maybe you can think of another connection between horses and this holiday? Let us know in the comments!
Pricked up, drooping, or swivelling rapidly - a horse’s ears are always up to something! In this post, we’ll delve into horses’ hearing to help you understand how horses perceive the world.
The large, cup-like pinna - a part of the outer ear covered in skin, fur, or hair - funnels sound waves toward a horse’s inner ear. Horses’ conical ear shape allows them to focus their attention on one sound at a time.
Horses tend to pick up frequencies between 55 and 33,500 Hz, and humans those between 20 and 20,000 Hz. Horses’ ability to pick up higher-frequency sounds helps them hear predators. Interestingly, horses can detect low-frequency sounds while they’re grazing since vibrations travel via their hooves and jawbone to their ears.
Horses can detect sounds up to 4 km away and within a similar decibel range to humans, although their ears are better at hearing faint sounds. Horses are also experts at noticing our tone of voice.
Horses’ ears contain 10 muscles, as opposed to 3 for humans. Their ears can each rotate 180°, allowing them to listen to 2 different sounds simultaneously.
Horses’ Hearing Behaviour
Once its ears have determined a sound’s approximate location, a horse turns its gaze in that direction. It may raise its head to get a better view, then freeze to avoid being noticed. If the noise came from anything threatening, the horse will bolt.
As prey animals, horses find sudden noises frightening - especially in unfamiliar environments. Some horses particularly react to sudden noises. You can buy equine earplugs at a tack shop or insert cotton wads.
As a longer-term solution, try desensitization (gradually exposing the horse to frightening sounds in a nonthreatening environment) or counter-conditioning (rewarding the horse after it’s heard a scary sound).
Like humans, horses’ hearing can start to go for various reasons. Some horses with a splashed (white) coat pattern are born deaf. Others lose hearing in one or both ears due to an infection, head trauma, insects like ticks, a disease or other health condition, or ageing.
Horses seem to suffer from less age-related hearing loss than humans, although that could partly be because we tend to be exposed to more noises and toxic substances. Since hearing loss tends to start with higher-frequency sounds, you might not realize right away if a horse struggles to hear.
In general, it can be difficult to notice a horse’s hearing troubles since it takes in so much information using its vision, smell, and sense of touch. To check for deafness, see whether the horse reacts to a sudden noise like clapping your hands, or try a brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) test.
There’s no way to cure horses’ hearing loss, although there may be a treatable issue like ear mites. However, deaf horses can get along perfectly fine, as long as their training and handling includes more visual and tactile cues.
Do you have a new appreciation for horses’ ears? Let us know in the comments!
You always knew horses were trying to teach you something, didn’t you? In this post (the second of 2), we’ll consider 12 proverbs that draw their wisdom from horses.
1. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
This proverb, which you’ve likely heard before, reminds you that you can only do so much to help a person or provide them with opportunities. The person must take the final steps on their own.
2. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
Another common expression, this one warns you not to be ungrateful if someone gives you a gift. The idea is that if someone happened to give you a horse, it would be rude to check the horse’s teeth right in front of them.
3. Don’t put the cart before the horse.
That’s a funny image, isn’t it? A horse trying to push a cart from behind! This idiom is warning you not to do things in the wrong order.
4. Don’t change horses in midstream.
In other words, don’t change your plans in the middle of an activity.
5. Don’t shut the stable door after the horse has bolted.
This expression warns you not to try to deal with a problem after it’s too late.
6. Live, horse, and you will get grass.
This proverb is reassuring you that if you keep going through a difficult period, you will eventually get a reward. The story goes that a farmer planted grass for his horse, then told the horse that it would need to wait for the grass to have time to grow.
7. There are horses for courses.
This idiom implies that since everyone is better at certain things than others, we should stick to the activities and tasks that we’re good at. The phrase is referring to the way that some horses are better suited for one type of racetrack over another.
8. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
This Scottish proverb reminds you that wishing for something does not make it happen. Rather, you must work to achieve what you want in life.
9. Give a beggar a horse, and he’ll ride it to death.
To continue with the beggar theme, this expression claims that a person who suddenly acquires wealth will use it irresponsibly.
10. A ragged colt may make a good horse.
This Irish idiom points out that, just because a person acts a certain way now, that doesn’t mean they will be that way forever.
11. If two ride on a horse, one must ride behind.
This proverb points out that, if two people are completing an activity, one must act as the leader.
12. Every horse thinks its own pack heaviest.
Imagine a horse, so focused on its own burden that it doesn’t notice that other horses are also carrying loads. Like horses, we tend to assume that our own problems are worse than other people’s.
Do you know any other horse proverbs? Let us know in the comments!
Howdy! How many expressions about horses can you name? In this post (the first of two!), we’ll explore phrases with their origins in horseback riding or horse racing.
A burr under one’s saddle - A source of irritation that won’t go away
Free rein - The freedom to do as one pleases
To get back in the saddle - To return to an activity that one previously struggled with or suffered harm while completing. This expression refers to getting back on a horse after one falls off it.
To get a leg up - To receive a boost, support, or encouragement. This expression suggests someone sticking out their hands for another person to use as a step for mounting a horse.
To keep a tight rein on - To maintain strict control over someone or something
To loosen the reins - To loosen your control over someone or something
To put someone through his or her paces - To make someone demonstrate how well he or she can perform tasks. This expression refers to a person requesting to see a horse display its different gaits before deciding to buy it.
To rein in - To start to control something, such as one’s spending, more strongly
To ride two horses at the same time - To try to do two things at the same time, even though those activities may conflict with each other
Dark horse - An individual or team that performs unexpectedly well in a competition, usually a sports competition. In the Victorian era, “dark” meant anything that was unknown, so a dark horse was an unknown horse that won a race.
One-horse race - A competition with only one participant likely to win. You also might come across the term “two-horse race,” meaning that there are two candidates who are likely to win.
Straight from the horse’s mouth - To receive information directly from its source. Members of horse racing circles like to receive information from those who have interacted most recently with a horse, like its trainer, to guess which horse will win. The ideal situation for these folks would be to receive information straight from the horse’s mouth.
To bet on the wrong horse - To support a person or effort that ends up failing
To champ at the bit - To be anxious to do something. This expression refers to the way that impatient horses tend to chew on their bit before the start of a race.
To have no horse in a race - To not care about, or be affected by, the outcome of something
To win by a nose (or whisker) - To win by only the smallest amount possible. This expression refers to a finish so close in horse racing that only part of one horse’s nose - or even its whisker - crosses the finish line before the next horse.
Do you have a favourite expression related to riding or racing? Let us know in the comments!
Have you ever wondered about the difference between a male and female horse? Maybe you think of stallions as being dominant and mares as being meek or moody. In this post, we’ll explain the key terms related to horse gender, then we’ll enter the murkier territory of the characteristics associated with each gender.
Filly - A female horse under 4 years of age
Mare - A female horse that is 4 years or older
Broodmare - A female horse, often between 4 and 16 years old, that is kept for breeding
Dam - A horse’s mother
Colt - An uncastrated male horse under 4 years of age
Stallion - An uncastrated male horse that is 4 years or older
Stud - A high-quality stallion, often at least 3 years old, that is used for breeding
Sire - A horse’s father
Gelding - A male horse that has been castrated, or gelded. Gelding often occurs between 6 and 12 months, although it can happen into a horse’s teens.
Rig - A male horse that has been improperly castrated or has one or both testicles undescended
Note that there’s some variation in the ages associated with different terms. For example, mares must be 5 years or older for thoroughbred racing, not 4 years old.
GENDER AMONG WILD HORSES
In the wild, horses live in groups with one stallion and several mares. The mares focus on their survival and the survival of their foals. Mare leaders guide the herd to food, water, and safety.
The stallion protects the foals and mares from predators and other stallions. If there’s a predator, the stallion fights to protect the group. If there’s another stallion, the stallion tries to prove that he’s stronger, faster, and tougher.
GENDER AMONG DOMESTIC HORSES
We often apply human stereotypes about gender to horses. It’s hard to know how many of our ideas about the difference between stallions and mares are based on their group behaviour and other inherent characteristics, and how many are based on our assumptions.
Nonetheless, stallions are often described as being more muscular and aggressive towards other horses, while mares are often more docile, though they may be ill-tempered. Due to changes to hormone levels during the gelding process, geldings tend to be calmer than stallions.
In horse racing, both male and female jockeys and horses compete against each other. British flat racing includes about 63% male horses and 37% female horses, with approximately 67% of winners being male and 33% female.
Racehorses of both genders have similar abilities. Male horses have an average rating of 69 out of 140, while, for mares, the number is 64. One factor behind the different number of male and female horses may be that successful male racehorses are valuable as studs, siring several foals per year, while a mare can only have one foal per year since her gestation period lasts for 11 months.
Have you noticed any differences between male and female horses? Let us know in the comments!
Hello, My name is Shelby Gatti, and I am the owner of Shelby Ranch. I love being able to share my passion for animals with you and your family. At Shelby Ranch you can expect a ton of family adventure from horseback riding to mechanical bull riding & axe throwing.