Horses, like people, have their own unique personalities. No two horses are exactly the same. Yet many share very similar qualities. Affectionate, cautious, patient, and courageous are all terms commonly used to describe horses. When horses and their humans spend a lot of time together, they often become inseparable and bonded for life. It is no surprise that horses tend to have the disposition of their owners.
To ensure that you and your horse have many pleasurable and safe years together, you should learn how your horse senses the world around them and how to effectively communicate with them.
Each horse is unique, just as each person is. He has his very own personality as a product partly due to his inherited traits and partly due to the experiences that he has had while on earth. Because of all of the factors that go into defining a horse’s personality, it may be safe to say that each individual horse is as unique as each individual human is. This individuality in horses is what distinguishes them as pets as compared with livestock, like cattle.
Smell, Hearing, and Sight
Healthy horses have an amazing sense of smell and acute hearing. In fact, horses can smell and hear much more than humans can and possibly more than dogs. A horse can easily smell a carrot that is tucked away deep into your pocket and nearly odorless to humans. A horse can also hear his owner driving home from a mile away down the path. Being aware of the strong sense of smell that horses have may help remind you to wash your hands after eating an apple to avoid getting nipped or to avoid wearing certain perfumes that may irritate your horse.
Just as a horse has a strong sense of smell and hearing, he also has incredible eyesight, albeit his eyes work a little differently than human eyes. A horse’s eyes are shaped differently than a human’s eyes in a way that forces him to have to move his head p and down in order to gain the right image. A horse will raise his head to see objects that are nearby and lower his head to see objects in the distance. When the horse is focusing on an object, he will have a blind spot that will be either just above or just below his field of vision.
The horse’s vision is complicated even further by the fact that he also has lateral vision, due to the widespread placement of his eyes. A horse will typically see two images at once (one on either side) when his eyes are not focused straight ahead. Race horses will often wear blinders that are designed to force the horse to focus straight ahead by preventing the horse from getting distracted by lateral vision.
A rider should learn to work with the horse’s unique vision characteristics so that he can use this forward binocular vision to his advantage. By letting the horse freely move his head from side-to-side, he can let his horse focus freely on both near and distant objects as needed. If a horse is not allowed to move his head so that he can see behind him and something approaches him from the rear, he may get spooked and react with a kick or a bolt, both of which can be dangerous for his rider and other riders nearby.
Horses communicate in a different manner than humans. Of course, they don’t use words, but what’s interesting is how often they actually use sounds and touch to communicate with other horses and with humans. When you spend even a small amount of time around horses you will learn quickly that a horse makes a very specific sound when he wants to communicate something with others. While one cry may mean that they are lonely, other sounds may signal that they are annoyed, in pain, or happy to be with you.
Just as humans might exhibit facial expressions or certain body language when feeling certain emotions, horses use a lot of body language to communicate their feelings as well. When horses are alert they will hold their head up high with ears standing straight up or twitching to and fro. If the horse pins his ears back, beware of angry nips. If the horse holds his tail in a relaxed position, you can almost undoubtedly rest assured that he is feeling calm and relaxed but if he is swishing his tail about violently, steer clear of his hind feet. Horses communicate a lot about how they feel through their body language and a good rider and attentive owner can learn a lot about their horse by paying attention to this body language.