Equine audiology. Article from Barbara Paulsen Owner Equine Audio
When speaking about horses, we most often hear about the vision of the horse. How they see, their degree or radius of
vision. Rarely do we hear about how the horse hears. This article will shed some light on this rarely discussed topic.
First, we always know when a horse is listening as the motion of a horse’s ear clues you to their attentiveness. Since
horses’ ears are the most movable of any animal – forward, backward or sideways, and almost always active - the ears are
also a form of communication. You’ll know a horse is hearing you when their ears rotate towards you.
Just as their ears are shaped to locate, funnel, and amplify sounds, the musculature (ten different muscles) around equine
ears allow them to rotate each ear independently as much as 180 degrees. This allows them to focus on sounds without
turning their head and concentrate on the direction the sound is coming from. Horses can single out one specific area on which to focus and direct their attention to the noises of a possible danger.
Now, that doesn’t mean they will always follow the direction, instruction or request given. They do have minds of their own. Some horses require very little motivation to respond to requests while others may prefer to ponder. For those slow to react
to a request, my initial question would be “did she hear me?” because when a bond is formed, instinctively they like to please.
A horse's hearing is sensitive, but not very precise. A horse may hear a sound, but will have difficulty placing its exact
location and that may cause him to "spook." Professor Heffner says the rotation is because they are not good at locating
the source of sounds. She adds: “That is probably why they raise their head and rotate their ears when they hear a brief
sudden sound—they are trying to locate it. Other hoofed animals (but not pigs) have this same feature.” Remember, they are
fight or flight creatures. A calm, relaxed and reassuring voice can bring their concentration back to you and what you are trying to accomplish, the task at hand.
Horses hear a frequency range of 55 to 33,500 hertz (HZ) with their best sensitivity between 1,000 and 16,000 hertz.
Humans hear a frequency range of sounds from 30 to 19,000 hertz, a much lower range. When we work with horses, we
must keep in mind that we hear in lower sounds, while the horse is sensitive to high frequencies. So, if you’re speaking in
very low volume or tone, they may not hear you. They may, instead, be hearing a high-pitched sound that we don’t hear. It
is believed that horses can hear and react to sounds up to 4400 meters, which is equivalent to about 2.73 miles. Keep in mind, a horse is more sensitive to loud noises than people are.
In the wild, horses need to have good hearing as a result of the constant threat from a range of predators. As a flight animal,
they rely heavily on their hearing, which is much better than their sight. Interestingly, horses can hear in other ways.
Vibrations from the ground can be picked through their teeth and conveyed through the jawbone to the middle ear. They
also pick up low frequency vibrations through their hooves. This is a phenomenon linked to the act of hearing that alerts the horse to potential dangers.
“Barb’s article on the horse’s hearing brought some profound revelations to us here. We work with so many different horses
and are often aware of how they react to what they see – to consider their unique hearing has helped me understand that
adding this awareness to our “toolkit” will help us better help them. This is especially true during times of distress, when they
may be perceiving sounds we are unable to hear!” Katharine Chrisley-Schreiber, Dharmahorse
One last point, FETCHLAB data suggests that hearing loss (with age) is not as significant for horses as it is for humans.
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Sources: Prof Kathryn Bright, Professor of Audiology at the University of Northern Colorado.
Prof Bright works for the university’s FETCHLAB centre, an internationally renowned animal hearing and bioacoustics laboratory.
Prof Rickye Heffner, of the University of Toledo, to discover the importance of hearing for horses. Prof Heffner has studied hearing in about 40 different species of animals over the last five decades.
Katharine Chrisley-Schreiber NHC, RMT, Dharmahorse Equine Sanctuary Dharmahorse is a sanctuary licensed by the NMLA for horses (and humans) of all abilities where educational, therapeutic
and recovery programs are rooted in love, compassion, tolerance and understanding; lead to more humane compassionate
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