Can You Hear Me Now? Horses and Hearing
By Don Blazer
Horses hear and talk with their ears.
Plus their ears can tell you if they have a temperature and at times they are a good "handle."
Horses have an extremely good sense of hearing…we know that, but little else about how he hears…it is suspected his hearing is more similar to, rather than different from our hearing.
Humans hear a range of sounds from 30 to 19,000 hertz. Horses hear a range of 55 to 33,500 hertz. Humans hear a few lower sounds than a horse, but horses hear many more
Horse's hearing is sensitive, but not very precise. A horse may hear a sound, but will have difficulty placing its exact location and that may cause him to "spook." Spooking can be defined as "getting ready to get the heck out of here in case what I hear wants to eat me."
Spooking is a shared trait among prey animals. Predators, on the other hand, don't "spook" because they can usually "pinpoint" a sounds location.
While working around horses keep in mind that he may not hear you if you speak in very low tones, but may be hearing a high pitched sound that you can't hear. Because of this, even the most gentle of horses can and will spook.
A lot of sounds are irritating to some horses-clippers, for example. An irritating noise can actually cause a horse to lose his ability to concentrate on the performance you are requesting. For example, he may be perfect in the warm up area, but distracted by music in the main show arena.
Your calm, reassuring voice can help a horse to get his concentration back on the business at hand.
A horse talks with his ears.
By moving his ears about, he'll tell you exactly what he is looking at…where his concentration is. A horse's ears are forward, backward or sideways, and almost always active. A horse points his ears at whatever he is looking at. (More about eyesight in another column.) If both ears are forward, he is very attentive to something he sees. If his ears are casually moving about, he is relaxed and just checking things out.
If his ears are nearly flat on his head, he has "sour" ears and is telling the world he dislikes his companions, his rider, or what he is being asked to do.
Be very careful around a horse that puts his ears flat back on his head…it is very likely he is about to bite or kick you. Flat-back ears can also be telling you not to mess with him as he's not feeling well.
When a horse is not feeling well, and has a temperature, you can feel the heat in his ears; no need for a thermometer.
Luckily, horses don't have a lot of problems with their ears.
Two relatively common problems that horses do suffer with their ears are "wax buildup" and "tick infestation".
In both cases the horse will be very irritated, but can do little about the problem. He'll shake his head, lay his ears back and resent anyone touching his ears. In both cases, the best thing to do is have a veterinarian provide medication to kill the ticks or to dissolve the wax.
A lot of horses get flat gray warts in their ears. These are persistent, but usually don't bother the horse much; so treatment is usually not recommended. In most cases such warts are more bothersome to the horse owner than to the horse.
It is not uncommon to see a horse with the tips of his ears missing. Foals born outside in extremely cold areas can lose the tip of the ear to frostbite.
Ears are also subject to wounds. Split-eared horses are pretty common. Such splits are relatively easy to have repaired with cosmetic surgery.
Parotitis is a swelling and inflammation of the parotid salivary gland just below the ear and will affect the horse's hearing. Diseases of the guttural pouch can also cause hearing problems. In both cases, treatment by a veterinarian is the best course.
Finally a horse's ears make a good "handle" if it is necessary to restrain him.
A lot of people mistakenly claim "earing" a horse will make him ear or head shy. If done properly, earing is a satisfactory method of restraint which will leave no ill effects.
Correctly done, the handler gently grasps the ear, and then applies intermittent and powerful pressure with the fingertips. The ear should be released slowly. No pulling on the ear occurs. Did you hear that?