Horsin’ Around 11-30-09 | TheFencePost.com

Horsin’ Around 11-30-09

We have covered a lot of information about horses and their ability, mostly for survival, and how they react and how we need to keep these in mind when working with our friends. Today we are going to talk about the memory

of horses.

Horses are considered to have an amazing memory, only second to elephants. In a wild state, if an attack came at a certain place, the herd avoids that spot in the future. This practice is still in affect today in wild horses and can be seen in many of our domestic horses today.

My old bay roping horse seems to be affected by this continuously because when I haven’t ridden him in awhile and go out he is constantly spooking at things. I think it is because we have had a number of mountain lion scares around my place. Some horses seem to enjoy the outing.

You may have known older horses that are considered very intelligent because he can open most gates. Idle horses need activity; otherwise they will be working on opening gates, latches, etc. Once a horse learns how to open a gate or latch, their memory keeps them trying to open gates, doors and all sorts. If a horse opens the door to a feed bin, they are rewarded. However they never seem to remember the belly ache and tubing that results.

Horses are gregarious by nature; that is they tend to want to stay together in a herd for protection. Wild horses in the center of the herd are safer from attack. I have seen the wise old ranch horse stay in the center of a remuda so he won’t be roped for a day’s work. This tendency can be used to an advantage when training young horses because group riding brings out a tendency to do what others do. If a lead horse comes to a stream and crosses the others will follow. My old bay horse is afraid of crossing a stream. He was raised in a barn, but if he sees other horses cross a stream he will follow.

The horse through his feet feels ground vibrations. This dates back to prehistoric times when this sensitivity was a part of early warning for the horse and can be a problem in today’s time. Beginning riders can suddenly be running when they least expect, because they did not see or hear the running horses. Many horses react to this taking a rider by surprise. One manifestation is to be overcautious about footing on soft ground. My bay horse is this way and acts like he is walking on eggs when on soft ground.

Horses can hear high and low tones not heard by human hearing, which may be the adaptation for survival. The finely shaped ears perched on top of the horse’s movable head on a long neck is an excellent adaptation for survival. Fear of parade bands, loud machines, and gunshot noises may result in actual pain to the horse. United States Cavalry mounts used on pistol ranges often lost their hearing after a few years service. I have gotten into the mounted cowboy shooting contests and try my best not to fire straight over my horse’s head, swinging my pistol back to the side. This has cut down on the number of targets I can complete in a run but in my mind protects his hearing.

Horses like all wild animals have a keen sense of smell. Domestic stallions have been proven to identify mares in heat from five miles away when downwind. Young horses being saddled for the first time should be allowed to smell the saddle and blanket before being saddled. This reassures them that other horses have used the equipment.

Smell may dictate grazing habits of horses on large pastures. However this does not always keep them from eating poisonous plants when foraging. To identify unfamiliar or enjoyable smells, horses can be seen lifting their upper lips and berating in very deeply. The somewhat comical act is often mistaken for a clownish act of making faces. Next time we will get into skin sensitivity.

The information in this educational article is based on information from the textbook, “Horses: A Practical and Scientific Approach” by Melvin Bradley.


Prior to his retirement, Roger Thompson was a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.

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