Horse Communication Might Have Little to Do With Neighing

We’re finally getting deeper into the complex minds of horses. In the process, they are helping us be better people. Let’s hope that the positive research continues, so we can put a stop to the cruel way horses are treated.

s About the Eyes and Ears

According to National Geographic, we are getting closer to understanding horse communication, and it has nothing to do with neighing. Apparently, horse ear mobility can help other nearby horses know where to pay attention, where to find food or where dangerous predators might be.

A new study out of the United Kingdom revealed that horse communication revolves around the ears and eyes. Jennifer Wathan, a Ph.D. student at the University of Sussex who led the new horse communication study, says their research is unique. It’s one of the first times that researchers are exploring communication modes that we lack. For instance, a lot of animal communication studies have revolved around animal body language.

Like us, horses have evolved to develop very social and close-knit bonds. While we rarely see it anymore, horses evolved to live in large herds, so communication was a must. Even though horses have excellent vision that surpass dogs and cats, they don’t solely rely on facial expressions the way we do.

Then again, if we had the ability to rotate our ears almost 180 degrees, would we be so big on facial cues? According to the University of Minnesota, horses also hear much better than us. They use ten muscles to rotate their ears as opposed to our three muscles. A horse’s ability to flex those ten muscles means that they can focus on the exact direction of where the sound is coming from and run towards or away from it.

Wathan wanted to make sure. According to National Geographic, her hypothesis was “that horses could use ear direction as a cue for where to look and if they should pay attention to something in the environment.”

Testing the Hypothesis

The first step was to take pictures. Wathan and Karen McComb, her adviser, took pictures of horses looking at one of two buckets filled with food. There were three sets of photographs: 1) the horses’ ears were covered with a mask, 2) the horses’ eyes were covered and 3) a normal horse head.

The researchers then blew up those sets of images to true horse sizes for a living horse to look at. Early research revealed that the horses recognized that they were looking at another horse.

The most successful set was set three where the eyes and ears were normal. Around 75 percent of the time, the living horse picked the bucket of yummy food that the horse was looking at.

The horses picked much more randomly with sets one and two. Yet, the horses seemed to perform better when the ears were bare versus when the eyes were unmasked.

As told in National Geographic, Wathan concluded that: “The horses actually looked at the photographs of the [horses with masked eyes and ears] less, which indicated there was less information there, and not enough to change behavior.”

How-To Horse Style

Like most highly evolved social beings who had to communicate with each other, horses are really smart, too.

As Horsetalk reports, there’s a current hunt underway to find the most innovative horses. Researchers from the University of Nürtingen in Germany have placed the call to find horses who have developed unique behaviors on their own to solve particular problems.

The submissions have been rolling in. One horse learned how to open the bolts of her stable and feed bins, and another has learned how to use a stick to get the extra hay that fell under his hay rack.

Horses Have Big Hearts

Hopefully, the German team can collect enough anecdotes to conduct their scientific study. It’s time to recognize horse intelligence. While researchers are taking a deeper look at the mind of our equine minds, there’s one thing that they don’t need to study. Ask any horse lover, and they’ll tell you: horses have the biggest hearts.

As UKAg News reports, over in the University of Kentucky, researchers are using horses’ hearts to make human nurses more emotionally intelligent and more competent leaders.

While we’re learning more about horse communication and horse intelligence everyday, it’s important to remember that we still have to right a lot of wrongs by them. People are still trying to justify the often cruel and always unnecessary use of horse carriage rides. And there’s no such thing as humane horse slaughter. According to The Humane Society, in one year, 160,000 horses were sent to slaughter, and 92.3 percent of them were well enough to lead happy and long lives.

The list of injustices could go on. But if you need an extra reminder about why horses are worth protecting and saving, then here’s an epic clip that captures their breathtaking beauty. Enjoy!

Know an epic horse? Tell us about the horses you love or why you love horses in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Moyan Brennr


Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Alexandra G.
Alexandra G3 years ago

amazing video, thank you

Donna F.
Donna F3 years ago

fascinating. ty

Pat Button
Pat Button3 years ago

I had the privilege of working with a horse "Miracle" at a horse rescue. Miracle had been a polo pony for a university polo team but was sold at the age of 13 because of injuries. The family that bought her kept her for a few years then decided they didn't want her anymore. So instead of finding her a new home, they had a family friend take her to the desert to kill her. Even though the guy shot her in the head several times, she survived. He left her to die in the middle of the desert. Miracle managed to walk many miles to a remote ranch and knocked on the door of the home with her bloody head. She was rescued and lived out her life at a horse rescue. However, the bullets had done a lot of permanent damage and she died around 3 years later due to the medical problems created.

Betty Kelly
Betty Kelly3 years ago

Horses are magnificent animals.

Jane Davidson
Jane Davidson3 years ago

We underestimate all animals. They are superior to us in so many ways. If they could talk and defend themselves, we could not abuse them so much.

Antonella Bacchini

La bellezza e la nobiltà che trovo in questa magnifica creatura, raramente l'ho trovata in un essere umano!

Pamela Bacon
Pamela Bacon3 years ago

Interesting article but not impressed with the video. Shows overbreeding of horses and chasing them to create drama. Not cool.

Sherri S.
Sherri S3 years ago

Horses are beautiful and a symbol of the American West. The more we know about them , the better is should be for their survival. If it can be proven that animals have intelligence, ability to communicate and feelings, I would like to think anyone with half a heart would be less likely to kill them.

Mark Donners
Mark Donner3 years ago

I'd like to round up the horse kill buyers and slaughterhouse workers and all the scum who manage that criminal enterprise. Send all of those human demons to slaughter, make them pay for their crimes.