Why do Horses..? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 13 Old 12-15-2017, 12:08 PM Thread Starter
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Question Why do Horses..?

Hello, this is my first time on this forum so let me know if I posted in the wrong spot.

I'm working on a Green Certificate book to increase my horse knowledge and I have a truck full of questions. Here are a couple:

- Why would horses smell something and react by flaring their nostrils
- What would a horse keep sniffing something for?
-Do horses mark their territory and if so how do they react to it?

-Horses depth perception? Is it bad/good?

And do how would horses react to these smells:

-skunks, coyotes, other wildlife
-pigs, donkeys, other farm animals

Thanks for reading my long list.
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post #2 of 13 Old 12-15-2017, 12:24 PM
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- Flaring nostrils increases the amount of chemical information that can be brought to the scent receptors per unit time because it increases the airflow. It's like widening your pupils in the dark.

- Whatever it's not familiar with. Horses consider unfamiliar stimuli as threat unless proven otherwise. Of course there are also known threats, such as the scent of a predator.

- Horses are not territorial. They are more interested in herd hierarchy than acquiring territory like a squirrel.

- Horses have monocular vision, thus they have limited depth perception where they can see with both eyes at the same time. That is why they get startled easily by sudden movements to their left or right, even if it's just a sparrow. On the flip side, they can look behind themselves with a slight turn of the head. Unless you sneak up on them and they get startled - then they'll kick first and look later.

- Prior exposure to any stimulus - sound, sight, or smell - will be the determining factor in how the horse interprets it. How sudden and how intense it is determines the horse's reaction: ignore, concern, spook, or bolt. (Fight is the last resort when the horse feels cornered and sees no other way out.)

Disclaimer: Stallions can be an exception to any of these. They do exhibit marking behavior, though I doubt it's territorial. They are also more willing to take you up on the offer if you try to engage them in a fight.
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post #3 of 13 Old 12-15-2017, 12:45 PM
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1. Flaring helps the horse draw in scents.
2. To try to identify the odor, identify where it is coming from... Is it this pocket or that one?
3. Because of the way they see it is typically not as good as a human but then again I have none so my horse has better depth perception than I do. They react quickly to movement in their line of vision depending on their exposure (desensitization).
4.Really depends on the horse and what they are used to. Mine have no reaction to coyote or bobcat as they share a pasture. Right now they are up in arms over the deer that are mobbing their hay bales. A first for us and they blow and go when they come across deer poop. Farm animals (even wild pig) they are used to and cause no concern. Then again my big mare would stomp anything she considers a threat so if they didn't act like they belonged she'd be after it. I've fixed more fence in this one week than I have in a lifetime it seems. Mine could also care less about fire as we do controlled burns. Blood doesn't bother them. Neither does anything else on the list with the exception of strangers mostly human. They'll sniff to see if they detect a threat and go from there. Storms don't bother them either.

That said I do have one that challenges anything that comes into "his" field and will even take offense to the turtles. He's ticking me off as there is just no reason to stomp a turtle or terrorize the squirrel population. Another absolutely hates to be rained on. Any kind of rain. But she sucks it up and tucks her head under someone else. If her face isn't rained on then the consensus is she must not be getting rained on.

As for marking - my stallions typically do when there are more than one on the property or new horses move in on the other side of the fence line. My Belgian stallion doesn't but his pasture mate (an older Belgian mare) does.
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post #4 of 13 Old 12-15-2017, 12:58 PM
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Stallions do mark their territory. Ride out west, where there are feral hroses, and you see stud piles
Horses are as prey species, and as such, their survival instincts has them programmed to react first, then evaluate
A keen sense of smell, is one of their senses they use, to warn themselves against predators. A strange smell is one to avoid, until the hrose learns it is of no threat
Horses have a way wider vision range then we have, and can thus see almost all the way around themselves. This allows them to see predators, even when grazing. They do have a blind spot, directly in front of them, and behind them
To focus on a distant object, a horse will raise his head, and has to lower it, to see directly in front of his feet
They have poor depth perception, and thus a puddle can look like a bottomless pit
Normal horses can see in dim light way better then we can
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post #5 of 13 Old 12-15-2017, 01:01 PM
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Here is a good link, far as the vision of horses

Understanding Equine Vision | TheHorse.com
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post #6 of 13 Old 12-15-2017, 01:12 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you for all the responses! My question is thoroughly answered, but I have many more coming. ;)
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post #7 of 13 Old 12-15-2017, 03:03 PM
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I have a question for you, @AllAboutHorses . What is a Green Certificate? I googled it and got something about electricity being renewable and this:

]The Green Certificate Program is an industry driven training program. Its apprenticeship style of delivery ensures that participants learn through actively performing the skills required. This means going out into the barn, field or corral and getting dirty. It means having a trainer who is knowledgeable and vested in the trainee’s success.


Since 1975 the Green Certificate Program has provided an excellent opportunity for young people to gain experience and training in one of the prime industries of the Alberta economy.

On June 9, 2000 Alberta Education made the Green Certificate an approved complimentary program of study available to all Alberta high schools. Becoming a competent farm production technician (completing a Level I Green Certificate) requires taking three courses and upon completion, receiving 16 credits.

The Green Certificate Program provides trainees with opportunities to enter a variety of agriculture-related, structured learning pathways as a part of their senior high school program and to earn a credential leading to a career in agribusiness.

Students learn on the job, under the direction of experienced farm personnel and under the supervision and administration of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF) and Alberta Education. Students completing all three courses in a specialization, to the standards specified, would earn the technician level Green Certificate for that specialization, which is issued by AF.

Sounds like it is this one. Is it?
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post #8 of 13 Old 12-15-2017, 03:11 PM Thread Starter
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Green Certificate

Yes, that is what Green Certificate is. There are many more agricultural training they give such as table egg production, poultry, sheep, and cattle.
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post #9 of 13 Old 12-15-2017, 05:17 PM
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Horses have a mix of monocular and binocular vision.


"The horse has a "visual streak", or an area within the retina, linear in shape, with a high concentration of ganglion cells (up to 6100 cells/mm2 in the visual streak compared to the 150 and 200 cells/mm2 in the peripheral area). Horses have better acuity when the objects they are looking at fall in this region. They therefore will tilt or raise their heads, to help place the objects within the area of the visual streak."


That suggests horses have decent vision in their visual streak, and poor vision outside of it. My THEORY is that much of their vision acts like a motion detector. Once alerted by the motion detector, they move their head to actually SEE what caused the motion. If the motion is too near them, they will move first and then look.

It also suggests they have good binocular vision and depth perception IF they can use their heads to adjust their vision. I have the same issue sometimes wearing bifocals....

"The researchers found that horses, when using both eyes, could perceive a depth difference of about 10 centimeters when viewed at a distance of 200 centimeters. Cats and pigeons show about the same ability." - The Nature of Horses, Stephen Budiansky, pg 122

The same source says horses could be trained to respond to differences based on depth while wearing 3D glasses.

I spend a fair bit of my riding twisting between cactus. While I said before that their eyesight seems to function as a motion detector over much of the range of vision, their behavior dodging cactus indicates I'm wrong. I've had my horse continue looking ahead while placing his feet and body within inches of cactus while twisting back and forth. I have no idea how he manages to be so precise. I can understand it with his front legs, but I've watched cactus spines pass within inches of my legs and inches of his hind legs, while turning, and no errors yet.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
- Hamlet

Riders ask "How?" Horsemen ask "Why?"
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post #10 of 13 Old 12-15-2017, 06:46 PM Thread Starter
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Horses are interesting indeed, the finest details of their vision might remain a mystery for a while. I do think that I have all the info I need.
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