Down to the Wire: 8.5.14 – The Ears Have It

Down to the Wire

Down to the Wire races to deliver the latest Equine and Equestrian news to Counter-Canter Culture

The Ears Have It

horse ears

“The ears have it.”

An article on the National Geographic website insists that ears are one of the primary ways that horses communicate.

A new study at the University of Sussex led by Jennifer Wathan took the unique approach of studying communication methods based on horse behaviors not human ones. Sounds obvious but it’s not apparently.

“Traditionally, Wathan explained, scientists studying how animals communicate with one another focused on traits that humans also have, such as body language.

But by thinking about the world as a horse experiences it, Wathan said, scientists can gain more insight into how these animals share information.”

And while both humans and horses use body language there is a key difference. Only horses have movable ears. Since ear movement is not used by humans, scientists had ignored their possible significance to horses in past studies.

Tests were designed using buckets of food set before 3 sets of life sized photos of horses indicating one of the buckets as more desirable. In one set eyes were covered, in the second ears were covered, while the third showed a normal horse head. While horses reacted best to the normal head by choosing the correct bucket, ears won over the eyes as indicators the horses would best respond to.

Katherine Houpt, an emeritus professor of veterinary medicine at Cornell University was impressed by the results.

“Since the study provides such a unique insight into how the animals think, ‘these results are really important to anyone who works with horses,’ Houpt said.

‘Experienced riders know to pay attention to a horse’s ears to help figure out what it’s thinking, so I’m not surprised that the ears were the most important cue,’ she added.’”

At Counter-Canter Culture, we are always happy when science finally catches up to equestrian understanding. Ride on! Full article here.

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