The Horse Ears
In horse anatomy, the ears have to be one of the most expressive parts of a horse. They can transmit so much information to you about a horse’s personality and his mood. They can even alert us to things in the environment that we cannot hear or see.
The reason that the ears are such an expressive part of the horse is because, unlike humans that have only 3 muscles controlling the ears, horses have 10 muscles.
Human ears really cannot do much in expressing emotion through body language but horse’s ears can. Observing the placement and movement of the horse’s ears can tell you what a horse is perceiving from the environment and what a horse’s attitude is like at that moment.
If a horse is in an environment where he is familiar with all the sounds of his environment, then he will normally hold his ears in a position that is generally customary for him. This is a good indication of his personality.
For instance regardless of what is going on my Lusitano stallion Xantel will always have his ears alert and attentive moving this way and that. He is by nature very keen and sensitive. On the other hand the gelding, Homer is just a good ole boy that couldn’t be bothered with much and always has his ears at half mast ( drooping to the side and relaxed.) He is a very easy going guy that needs to be prodded a bit to get his attention or make him interested.
Horse anatomy – Facts about The Ears
- Horses have binaural hearing much like humans. Binaural hearing means he can hear several sounds concurrently.
- The horses external ear is called the Pinnae.
- The Pinnae , cuplike in shape can capture sound and transmit it to the inner ear. This cuplike shape is one of the reasons horses can hear better than we can.
- Each ear of the horse can rotate approximately 180 degrees because of the 10 muscles that control its movement.
- A horse’s ear will be pointed in the direction that a sound is coming from. This movement is called the Pryer Reflex. Each ear can work independently of the other detecting and focusing on more than one sound.
- Horses, compared to humans, have a wider field of hearing and wider range of the frequency they can hear. This means they can hear low to very high frequency sounds which the human ear cannot detect.
- The horse’s hearing is so highly developed because as a prey animal, the horse relies on it’s hearing to detect sounds that could mean dangerand pinpoint the direction the sound is coming from … so it can run the other way!
Horse anatomy – Hearing & Communicating
Understanding how horses hear, can help us communicate positively to the horse.
Lets say we are riding and our horse hears a noise that is unfamiliar. He perks his ears in the direction of the sound and maybe raises his head to listen, his body tenses. Remember that the sound may not be audible to us. Knowing that the horse has heard something unfamiliar and that he is checking it out, helps us to remain calm and unperturbed in our body language.
If on the other hand we ‘react’ to the horse’s inattentiveness to us by tensing up or punishing him, he will begin to associate this noise to something to be feared and flee from.
We have communicated this to the horse through our actions or body language.
But by staying calm and confident about the horse’s reaction, our body language is indicating to the horse that what he is hearing is of no consequence and not of danger to him.
This positive experience has taught him:
- to accept something new in his environment.
- that we can be trusted to keep him safe.
- that we can be respected as a herd member that is wise and knowledgeable.