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Study says horses 'talk' to other horses with ears, eyes

Horses 'Talk' To Other Horses With Ears, Eyes: Study

Animals often use different sounds to communicate, but one study says horses in particular use more: their eyes and ears. (Via Thomas Quine / CC BY SA 2.0)

National Geographic reports that until now, scientists didn't know how large a part they play in horse communication.

According to a recent study in Current Biology, horses' highly mobile ears are visual cues to direct other horses' attention away from predators or toward food.

Researchers set up an experiment with about 70 horses to see if they used visual cues to decide from which of two buckets of food to eat.

BBC reports each horse was led to two buckets below a life-size photo of another horse. Some photos showed a horse with its eyes covered, some with its ears covered and the rest without anything covered.

The researchers say the horses that were shown the photos with both eyes and ears uncovered most often chose a bucket depending on where the photo horse's eyes and ears pointed to.

As for the horses who saw the other photos - with either the ears or eyes covered - they chose a bucket at random. And according to National Geographic, the researchers say this is the first of such evidence that horses signal to each other about food.

Now, this doesn't mean humans have never looked at horses' ears to read their body language before. But the researchers say previous studies have only focused on the animal cues humans use.

Horseback riders often pay attention to a horse's body language, such as the position of its ears, to determine if it's attentive or angry, for example. (Via Equestrian Life)

The study was published in the journal Current Biology. The researchers say they plan to study horses' facial features to express emotion.

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scottee August 06 2014 at 8:03 AM

horse people have know this all along. I wonder how much the study cost? and who paid for it?

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1 reply
blackhorse1nc scottee August 06 2014 at 1:59 PM

LOL you took the words right out of my mouth. I have been in the horse world for over 40 years. You can basically have a whole conversation by reading the horses ears, eyes and body language.
That group of scientists spent a lot more time and money to come up with these conclusions. All you needed to do was grow up on a horse farm.

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tropicalriderceo August 06 2014 at 9:34 AM

they needed a study for this??? talk to a horse owner...good grief

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Brian Hope August 06 2014 at 10:12 AM

Cats and dogs have similar communicative gestures. I wonder if this makes inter-species communication possible?

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2 replies
blackhorse1nc Brian Hope August 06 2014 at 2:00 PM

Absolutely, people just need to learn the signs.

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Ashleigh Brian Hope August 06 2014 at 2:43 PM

It certainly does! I have been around cats all of my life & I am very close to my cats. They are like children to me. I know what they mean by body language & I know what almost every sound they make means. It's all about paying attention and making an effort to know them.

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tdw844 August 06 2014 at 11:31 AM

I've been riding horses since i was 6 years old and have known how to read a horses mood and signals through their ears, etc since then. How much did taxpayers pay for this study which any good horse person could have told them for free.

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1 reply
dubricus tdw844 August 06 2014 at 12:03 PM

Unless you're British, it wasn't your tax money. It was a study done at the University of Sussex, in the UK.

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pmed7777 August 06 2014 at 11:34 AM

i wonder how much TAXPAYER money was wasted on this study........ANY horse person would have been able to tell you this INFORMATION.......people would KNOW alot more if they'd get out of the cities and experience farm and ranch life

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dubricus August 06 2014 at 11:59 AM

I'm glad they mentioned that people, riders, look to horses' ears for signals.... but the reality is that any rider, any observant horse person could tell you that horses are communicating with each other with ear position, eyes, body, nostrils, sounds. When horses do those things, they are not doing it for the benefit of the rider, but because it's what they do with other horses.... we are incidental. All I can say is if you are a rider or around horses, you'd better be alert to ears & eyes.... & know the signals. The ears are the key to a horses' thoughts. The eyes are the key to the horses' emotions. & you always have to remember that a horse sees about 350 degrees. The only thing it can't completely see is you, on it's back, directly behind its head.

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hpycmpr155 August 06 2014 at 6:29 PM

From someone who has been around horses for 30+ years.....
We needed a STUDY to tell us this?????
Gimme a break.

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Scal8585 August 06 2014 at 5:57 PM

Obviously, the researchers did not study Mr. Ed.

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awcantor August 06 2014 at 4:06 PM

Are you kidding? We didn't need Nat't Georgraphy to tell us this since it's been known by anyone watching a horses in a pasture for 15 minutes.
Incidentally, the biggest horse will go to the feeder first and the others will eat according to 'their' pecking order and stagger themselves out in position. Doesn't matter you hang photos of horses! They can't smell 'em, can't see movement and would probably just 'snort' to make sure.

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larry August 06 2014 at 3:51 PM

The horses need to teach that "trick" to Barack Obama. Obama doesn't use his ears to listen to the American people or Congress. It's Obama's way or no way.

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1 reply
tmspitrow larry August 06 2014 at 6:41 PM


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