Friday, 9 October 2015

All About .... the other senses!

Last week I blogged about The Eyes and Sight, the week before The Ears and Hearing, this week I thought I would cover the last few senses.


As in humans horses smell through their nose.  However, it is worth noting that, unlike humans, horses' do not breathe through their mouths.  A horse's sense of smell is acute and is used to provide them with information on what is going on around them.  This strong sense allows a horse to tell whether a predator is near and so react accordingly.

Horses greet each other nose to nose and get to know each others' scent.  A horse's sense of smell affects their eating habits and they will often smell a plant before eating it.  They will choose the tastiest bits of hay based on the smell and avoid plants that smell bad.  Horses also pick up differences in their feed using this sense - Basil knows when there are antibiotics in his feed before he even takes a mouthful.   Horses will greet humans in the same way, when a horse first meets you they will reach out their muzzle to smell you.  Certainly Tommy always tries to smell anything or anyone new first by stretching his nose out as far as possible!  Allowing them to smell the back of your hand is a good way to introduce yourself.

The nostrils, which are able to dilate, lead into the nasal chamber.  This is long and contains membrane covered bones.  The membranes are moist and are the site of the olfactory nerves.  These nerves have tiny hairs which contain the sensory cells.  These cells detect the smell as it moves into the moisture. The smell is then sent converted into a form of information that can be communicated via the nerves to the Nervous System.


Horses generally like sweetness and saltiness but don't like bitter or sour foods.  If provided with a salt lick they will meet their own requirements.  Horses will eat when they are hungry but will not choose the most nutritious options.  Their grazing is based on smell, taste and texture, they will avoid poisonous plants if others are available and will also choose young plants before eating more mature grass or plants.  They are also generally fussy feeders and reject food with unknown tastes.  Basil is definitely a fussy feeder!  


The taste buds are found in the mouth.  They are groups of cells found at the end of a taste nerve fibre and most of them are on the tongue.  Some taste buds are located on the palate and in the throat.  The taste is communicated to the brain as degrees of salt/sweet/bitter/sour and this information along with the smell and texture give the brain a complete picture. 


This is an important sense to the horse, their skin, although tougher than a human epidermis still has many nerve endings. The entire body is sensitive  - they can feel a fly on a single hair.  Horses use touch to communicate with each other.  Friends will scratch each other's itches with their teeth, mares will reassure their foals with a touch of the muzzle.  Messages between horses are most often either visual or touch.  We can use the same method to send messages to a horse, gently rubbing, patting the shoulder or a massage in the right place will tell them you are a friend - and sometimes you get a scratch back too.

Horses' also use touch and the muzzle to explore new things and new people using the nerves in their muzzle hairs.  We use the sense of touch for riding and training.  Horses' can feel  any movement of a rider from a shift in weight to a rein movement or touch of the heel.

As I mentioned in my blog about the Skin, it contains specialist nerve endings.  These nerve endings can be divided to feel touch, pressure, cold, heat and pain.  The nerve endings are limited in some areas  and so an injection may miss a nerve and be completely painless.  However, the muzzle has densely grouped nerves.  Nerves are also found within internal organs hence the pain in the intestines during colic. 

Awareness of the body is another type of sense like feel.  This enables a horse to know what his limbs are doing and how they are responding to muscle contractions.  In addition the sensation that indicates bodily needs; for instance hunger, thirst, the need to urinate etcetera is a feeling.  Horse's are also aware of ground vibrations and  are often aware that you are approaching before they can hear or see you! 

The Sixth Sense

Horses are aware of certain things that human's are not.  They seem to be aware of approaching weather and I have seen a big group of horses all move together towards a hedge a long while before a storm arrived!  Horses also seem to be aware of human moods and certainly can sense someone who is nervous or unsure.

Understanding your horse and how their senses work can definitely make you a more effective rider and handler.  Taking these into consideration will help you build a better and stronger bond with your horse. 

Have you seen this week's video yet for a Tommy surprise?  
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Until next time!

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