Function of the horse explained

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The horse is a herd and prey animal, meaning its herd mentality is very important, and this is something we can use to our advantage by becoming part of the herd, i.e., becoming its leader.

The fact that the horse is a prey animal means that it would rather flee when it is frightened. The flight instinct of the horse is very strong, and you need to be aware of this in order to handle the horse as safely as possible.

Being a leader does not mean that you have to be tough and severe, but that you should be clear, determined and consistent in order to earn the horse's trust. If the horse sees you as a calm and secure leader, who signals that everything is OK, you can get the horse to calmly inspect and accept things that frightened it at first. Never punish a frightened horse, this only reinforces the unpleasant experience and creates a bigger problem than you were perhaps dealing begin with.

The horse has extremely acute senses.

Sight

Since the horse's eyes are positioned on either side of its head, it has a very wide field of vision, however, its eyes are not very sharp.  This makes it easy for the horse to discover danger, both from afar and up close, in different directions. This can be compared to, say, a lion, which is a predator: its eyes are placed in the middle of the face and they have very sharp eyes, which enables them to focus on its prey and take it down.

Smell

Horses have a very well-developed sense of smell. We can see this, for example, in how a mare can recognise her foal based on its scent, or in how a horse reacts to a new ingredient in its feed before it has even tasted it. The sense of smell is also a way for horses to communicate, and they often have a quick nose-to-nose when meeting each other. If you meet a new horse, it is not unusual that it will sniff you for a good while to find out who you are. Many times, their sense of smell will alert the horse to danger and predators in the wild, which allows them to get to safety and survive. In windy conditions, the horse will have more trouble distinguishing different scents, and this may cause it to be more anxious and prone to flight as its instincts are telling it that they will not be able to smell danger on time. 

Taste

Taste is intimately related to smell. If you want to introduce your horse to something new, it may be a good idea to start by the new flavour. This may come in handy  if you have a horse that does not want to drink at competitions because the water tastes different. In that case you could get your horse used to you putting apple-cider vinegar in the water, which makes it taste more similar at home and away.

Hearing

The horse has an acute sense of hearing and it can perceive both higher and lower pitches than us humans. It can move its ears independently, allowing it to catch and localise sounds coming from different directions. The ears are also used to communicate if the horse is curious, frightened or angry.

Touch

The horse is the most sensitive around the head, and it uses the tactile hairs around the muzzle and eyes to compensate for its limited forward vision. The tactile hairs on the muzzle/lips also allow the horse to distinguish between food and other things. You must never remove these hairs.

You have probably figured out that horses have sensitive skin, seeing for example how they react to a fly landing on them. This is something that you should remember when handling the horse, sometimes we may be using excessive force when a simple push would suffice.

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