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 2!), 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!
In a previous post, we explained the differences between Western and English riding. Both types of riding have their own disciplines, or activities, commonly associated with them. In this post, we give you a crash course in several of those disciplines so that you’ll know what people are talking about if you ever hear them mention cutting or hunt seat.
Barrel Racing - The horse must turn around 3 barrels at high speed without knocking them over. The fastest horse and rider win!
Cowboy Mounted Shooting - This relatively recent sport involves riding a horse while shooting blank guns at balloons in a set pattern. Participants are judged based on their speed and accuracy.
Cutting - The horse and rider enter a herd of cattle and separate one animal from the group. They must prevent it from rejoining the herd for a certain amount of time.
Reining - The horse moves in various patterns, including circles and slides. It’s judged based on its obedience and accuracy.
Rodeo - This event combines several typical cowboy activities, including roping and barrel racing. Participants also try to remain seated on a bronco - an untrained horse - or bull, for 8 seconds.
Roping - In this speed contest, the rider throws a lasso at a steer, or young neutered male cattle. The rope is attached to the horse’s saddle horn. The rider then dismounts and ropes the steer’s legs.
Dressage - In this competition, the horse must move in set patterns and movements, such as circles. The horse is judged based on its accuracy, obedience, and presence. In a variation known as quadrille, 2 or more pairs of horses move to music.
Eventing - This competition with military roots combines dressage, cross-country jumping, and standard jumping.
Hunt Seat - A person riding hunt seat sits farther forward in the saddle, both for jumping (hunter over fences) and on-the-ground riding (hunter under saddle). The horse is evaluated on its style. Due to the discipline’s origins in fox hunting, the jumps are often painted natural colours with plants around their base to mimic a natural hunting setting.
The opposite of hunt seat is saddle seat, in which the rider sits far back in the saddle, and the horse moves with a high-stepping gait.
Jumper - This discipline tests horses purely on their ability to negotiate jumps cleanly - the judges do not take the horse’s style into account.
Mounted Games - The pony and rider participate in a variety of tests of their speed and accuracy, such as picking up objects. The event takes place at a gallop and involves getting on and off the pony repeatedly. If the rider makes a mistake, they must stop and correct it.
Polo - This sport played on a grassy field involves 2 teams of 4 riders. They use mallets to knock a wooden ball between goal posts.
Who knew there were so many activities you can do on horseback! Do any of them sound like fun? Let us know in the comments!
Though grooming may seem like one of those tasks that’s nice but not essential, it’s, in fact, an essential part of horse care. In this post, we’ll outline the steps for grooming so that, if nothing else, you’ll have a better understanding of what’s going on around the barn.
Horse Grooming - The Basics
Brushing encourages blood circulation and spreads a horse’s natural oils. It’s also a chance to check for injuries and irritations and bond with the horse.
Ideally, a horse should be groomed every day. As a minimum, it should be groomed before and after riding. If the horse is not ridden often, once a week may be enough.
If you’re ever involved with grooming, you’ll come across a few supplies that may be unfamiliar. A curry comb, for example, is an oval-shaped rubber or plastic tool with short teeth. You’ll also use several different brushes and cloths or sponges, as well as a hoof pick and perhaps a spray or 2.
The grooming routine varies slightly depending on the person and on whether they’re giving the horse a quick or a more thorough treatment. In any case, however, you’d start by tying up the horse.
Currying and Brushing
Rub the curry comb in small circles to dislodge dirt and mud, starting at the horse’s neck and working toward its hindquarters. Do not curry a horse’s sensitive face, spine, or legs.
Next, use short, brisk strokes with a hard or dandy brush to remove the loosened dirt, again avoiding sensitive areas. Finish with long, smooth strokes with a soft or body brush, this time cleaning sensitive areas as well.
Cleaning the Face and Dock
Gently wipe the horse’s face and dock - around the tail - using 2 different cloths or sponges. Both of these areas can accumulate dirt and mucus.
Brushing the Mane and Tail
Run your fingers through the horse’s mane and tail to remove the worst knots, then brush small sections, starting at the bottom. Use detangling spray on a badly knotted mane or tail.
When brushing a horse’s tail, stand off to the side. Keep a hand on the horse if possible and talk to it so that it knows you’re there and will be less likely to kick you.
Picking the Hooves
Make the horse lift its hoof by leaning gently against its shoulder and running your hand down the back of its leg. Use a hoof pick to scrape toward the toe, removing dirt, rocks, and other debris. Do not dig deeply into the hoof’s grooves or scrape the frog, which is the sensitive V-shaped area.
Using Sprays and Creams
Other than detangling spray, you may apply a coat polish or a grooming spray, which protects the horse against the sun and makes its coat shine. You can also find equine sunscreen. Finally, fly spray is a good idea if flies are an issue.
Do you think you’d be able to groom a horse? Let us know in the comments!
Do you know what a horse’s hock is? You can probably name at least a few horse body parts, such as the shoulder, back, hooves, mane, and tail. In this post, we’ll describe some body parts with which you may be less familiar so that you can increase your understanding of horses and become more confident working with them.
Muzzle - A horse’s chin, mouth, nostrils, and whiskers. Since horses cannot see straight ahead, they use their whiskers to sense what is directly beneath their mouth.
Forelock - The part of a horse’s mane that grows between its ears, protecting its forehead from flies and rain
Poll - The potentially sensitive area behind a horse’s ears
Crest - The top of a horse’s neck. The horse’s mane grows from here.
Withers - The highest point of a horse’s thoracic vertebrae, just above its shoulder blades. A horse’s height in hands is measured to the top of its withers.
Barrel - The middle of a horse (around its ribcage)
Loin - The area between a horse’s last rib and its croup. This section is the weakest part of a horse’s back.
Croup - The top of a horse’s hindquarters
Dock - The living part at the top of a horse’s tail
It may be confusing hearing people discuss the parts of a horse’s legs since some of the names are completely different from human body parts, while others have the same name but a different location. In this section, we’ll clarify the major parts of a horse’s front and hind legs.
Elbow - Where a horse’s front legs meet its belly. This joint cannot rotate from side to side.
Forearm - The section of a horse’s front legs between its elbow and knee
Knee - A large joint in a horse’s front legs, below the forearm. This joint is similar to our wrist joint except that it cannot move from side to side.
Stifle - Where a horse’s hind legs meet its belly. This joint is similar to our knee and even has a kneecap. It allows the horse to move forward.
Gaskin - The section of a horse’s hind legs between its stifle and hock. This muscle is similar to our calf muscle.
Hock - A large joint in a horse’s hind legs, below the gaskin. This joint is similar to our ankle joint.
Cannon bone - A long, straight leg bone between a horse’s knee or hock and its fetlock
Fetlock - A joint that connects a horse’s cannon bone with its pastern. This joint is similar to the ball of a human foot.
Pastern - A joint that connects a horse’s fetlock with the top of its hoof. This joint is like our toe bone. The pastern’s angle and length affect the way that a horse moves.
Well, now you’re about ready to ace a pop quiz on horse anatomy. Let us know in the comments if you think you could point out the parts of a horse’s leg!
Can you name any Canadian horse breeds? These horses’ hardy, shaggy beauty is sure to pull at your heartstrings. In this post, learn about breeds that have developed to survive hard work and Canadian winters.
This breed originates from horses that King Louis XIV of France sent in 1665. The original horses - of several breeds, like Belgian and Dales Pony - developed to have thick, dark coats; long, wavy manes; and tough hooves. These calm, intelligent animals can pull heavy loads, carry a rider, or even perform dressage or jumps.
After thousands of Canadian horses were sent to the United States to fight in their Civil War and serve as breeding stock, the federal government started a breeding program in 1913. By 2018, the population had reached about 6000. The Canadian horse was named Canada’s national horse in 2002 and a heritage breed of Quebec in 2010.
Canadian Rustic Pony
This sturdy, athletic breed was developed in Manitoba as a cross between the Arabian horse, Welsh Mountain Pony, and Heck horse. Canadian Rustic Ponies tend to be dun, bay, buckskin, or grey, often with a stripe along their spine or zebra stripes on their legs. These kind, trainable ponies are used as pets, pleasure horses, and show horses.
Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony
This compact, powerful breed - probably the only breed developed by Indigenous people in Canada - is likely a cross of the Spanish mustang and the Canadian horse. These gentle, forest-dwelling creatures have a solid-coloured coat of any colour except for white or cream; a thick mane; small, hairy ears; and tough hooves.
The Ojibwe of northwestern Ontario and northern Minnesota used these ponies for winter transportation, then let them loose in the summer. The ponies’ population diminished to 4 mares by 1977, but the population has gradually attained 150 individuals. Today, these ponies participate in equine therapy, Indigenous heritage programs, and tourism.
The friendly Newfoundland pony has its roots in ponies that settlers brought from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. These agile equines have a thick mane and winter coat; short, furry ears; hoods to protect their eyes; and low-lying tails to allow snow to slide off. Their hair is often brown, although it can also be other colours, and sometimes changes colour depending on the season.
Sadly, many Newfoundland ponies were sent to meat plants in the 1980s. Their current population is less than 400. In 1996, this breed was declared a Newfoundland heritage animal.
Sable Island Horse
These horses are famous for living on narrow Sable Island, off the Nova Scotian coast. They have dark, shaggy coats and long manes and tails. They were once domesticated but now live in small herds.
In 1960, there was a plan to turn the Sable Island horses into dog food until many children wrote to protest to Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. There are currently about 500 Sable Island horses.
Did you learn about any new horse breeds? Let us know in the comments!
Neighing is one of the classic behaviours associated with a horse. Although horses mostly communicate using body language, they also use a variety of sounds to communicate basic ideas and emotions. In this post, we’ll describe some of the most common ones so that you can start to learn how to speak horse.
It’s not only humans who slowly exhale through their mouth and nostrils. Horses tend to sigh when they’re around humans and for similar reasons to us, like contentment or boredom at being asked to perform repetitive exercises.
Snort or Blow
When a horse pushes air through its nostrils, producing a loud purring noise, it may be excited to hit the trails. Watch out since an eager horse might make sudden movements, and its snorting can make other horses excited.
Snorting can also be a sign that a horse is anxious or about to fight another equine. Of course, a snorting horse may simply be clearing its nostrils or having air forced through its lungs while exercising.
When a horse makes this soft, affectionate noise, it’s probably saying hello or expressing excitement about being fed. Mares also make this sound to summon their foals, and stallions use it as part of their courtship ritual. On the other hand, a horse could nicker out of apprehension at a perceived threat.
Whinny or Neigh
This loud sound can indicate that a horse is anxious, such as if it’s in a new setting or separated from its herdmates. On a similar note, horses neigh or whinny to warn other horses about a new, strange element in their environment.
A neigh or whinny may also come from a confident horse demanding food. Whinnies have 2 frequencies, one that signals whether the emotion is positive or negative and one that indicates the emotion’s strength.
Like humans, a horse may groan to convey reluctance or satisfaction. There are also a couple of occasions when a horse is likely to groan naturally: getting up or down, which forces air from its lungs, and giving birth. However, groaning can also indicate that the horse is in pain, such as from ulcers or a saddle that does not fit right.
A horse may produce this short, high-pitched noise if it’s meeting another horse or angrily telling a horse to leave it alone. Stallions also often squeal when they approach a mare to check whether she’s interested in mating.
This deep, throaty sound is longer and louder than a squeal. Horses sometimes roar when fighting each other. Roaring can also refer to a respiratory disorder in which the horse’s larynx is paralyzed.
Hope that you never hear a horse make this sound since it tends to occur when a horse is dying or at least suffering intensely. A horse may also scream when it’s fighting another horse.
Which of these sounds have you heard a horse make? Let us know in the comments!
Some of the most beloved horses of all time live on the pages of books or the silver screen. Horses’ central role in literature and film is hardly surprising given their bond with humans and their cinematic beauty. At least one of these enduring horse-centred stories is sure to catch your fancy.
Black Beauty (1877)
This children’s classic by English author Anna Sewell was the first major story told from an animal’s perspective. Though Black Beauty starts out with kind owners, he faces increasingly cruel masters. Black Beauty has had numerous movie adaptations.
Smoky the Cowhorse (1926)
This novel by Will James won the 1927 Newbery Medal for American children’s literature. Set in the Western United States, it tells a similar story to Black Beauty of a horse that develops a trusting relationship with a human but then faces harsh treatment. Smoky has had 3 film adaptations.
National Velvet (1935)
In this book by Enid Bagnold - perhaps better known for its 1944 film adaptation starring Elizabeth Taylor - 14-year-old Velvet Brown wins a horse in a raffle. Velvet decides to enter The Piebald in the Grand National, a major English horse race.
My Friend Flicka (1940)
In this book by Mary O’Hara, imaginative 10-year-old Ken lives on a Wyoming ranch and wants his own colt. He ends up with a spirited filly named Flicka. My Friend Flicka has been the subject of several adaptations, including a 2006 movie with a female protagonist, Katy.
The Black Stallion (1941)
This popular book by Walter Farley is the first in a series of 20 books. It describes the adventures of young Alec Ramsay and Arabian horse the Black or Shêtân, starting with being trapped on a desert island. There have been movie adaptations of 3 books in the series.
Misty of Chincoteague (1947)
American writer Marguerite Henry based this fictional children’s classic on real people and ponies. In the book, the first in a series and adapted into a 1961 film, siblings Paul and Maureen buy Phantom and her foal Misty at an auction. Henry brought the real-life Misty with her to author events.
In this novel by British author Michael Morpurgo, horse Joey lives on Albert’s family’s farm until Albert’s father sells him to the British army. Joey courageously rides with kind Captain Nicholls, while Albert longs to reunite with his horse. Warhorse was adapted into a 2007 play and a 2011 Steven Spielberg film.
The Horse Whisperer (1995)
In this best-seller by British author Nicholas Evans, teen Grace has a serious accident while riding her horse Pilgrim. Her mother Annie takes her to “horse whisperer” Tom Booker in Montana in the hope that he can heal her daughter as well as Pilgrim. This story was made into a 1998 movie starring Robert Redford.
Have you read or seen any of these classic horse stories? Or maybe you have another book or movie to add to the list? 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.