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Horse Ears and Hearing
 By Winniefield Park   •   11th Feb 2018   •   1,037 views   •   0 comments
Horse Ears and Hearing

Look between your horse's ears is something you might hear when you first learn to ride. But, once youíre on the ground, itís interesting to observe your horseís ears. Along with their keen sense of sight and ability to react quickly and run fast, ears are part of a wild horseís defense.

Those Ears Move A Lot
Horses ears are large and open and funnel sound down into their ear canal. That big ear flap we see is called the pinna and is cartilage covered in skin and hair. Unlike our ears, horses have 10 muscles in the ear and can swivel their ears around 180 degrees, tip them forward and lay them back. Their constantly moving ears pick up sounds all around them. We can only listen to one thing at a time. Horses can process the different sounds taken in both ears. But ear movement also indicates two other things. The direction an ear is turned in also indicates where a horse is looking. Other horses are able to Ďreadí where another horse is looking at the position of its ears. And, ears can indicate emotion. A horse with pricked up ears is alert, but a horse with laid-back ears is grumpy. Ears out to the side and slightly to the back mean they might be watching something coming up behind them. Ears to the side and floppy mean the horse is relaxed, or if its eyes are closed, is taking a quick nap.

Horses Hear Much Better Than We Do
They can hear sounds up to 2.5 miles or 4 kilometers away. You donít need to yell at your horse to make them hear you, but you do need to make your commands distinctive so the hose can distinguish one word from the other. Scientists have tested horse hearing and found that they can hear sounds from 14 to 33,500 Hertz. Our hearing ranges from 30 to 19,000. The lower the hertz, the lower the sound. So horses can hear much higher and lower tones than we can. That means that they can hear the echolocation sounds a bat makes. It also means that while youíre out riding, your horse is hearing all sorts of sounds that you donít notice. Thatís because a horse instinctively notices the sounds that might be made by an approaching predator, even though it may only be a squirrel running through the leaves. Some horses are so sound sensitive that ear plugs are used to help them being distressed and prevent spooking.

Horses also pick up sounds through their teeth and jaw. They can pick up very low-frequency vibrations, that are transmitted through their jawbones, to their inner ear. They can also feel vibrations through their hooves. In the wild this makes it possible to detect the approach of another animal, perhaps a predator, before they are even seen.

Hearing Loss
Like humans, hearing changes as they age, and they can lose the upper and lower ranges of hearing. Itís possible to test for hearing loss in horses. The University of Northern Colorado is one of two universities that offer courses in animal audiologists and holds clinics, called FETCHLAB, for dogs and horses. There is not much that can be done to treat hearing loss in horses, but a vet can check that it isnít caused by something like an ear infection or mites. Horses donít get ear problems very often, but during routine grooming, always check for injury or irritation that could indicate some sort of infection. Ears should be smooth and dry on the inside and out. Any redness, swelling, excessive waxiness or wetness could be a sign that there is a problem. Horses can be born deaf, or become deaf because of infection, drug toxicity or injury.

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Sources:
Practical Horseman Magazine
Laboratory of Comparative Hearing
Astonishing Facts About Horses
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