Horse sense

Horses developed in the wild as prey animals, so their senses are tuned to protect them from predators. They have the same senses as ours: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch but they work in slightly different ways.




Horses have the largest eyes of any land mammal and are found on the side of the head. This means horses have the widest field of vision possible when grazing and they can see from nearly every direction (see diagram below). Horses can not see what is happening directly below their nose (so their sense of smell and whiskers are very important) or above their head where they are often sensitive to being touched. Neither can they see directly behind them, which is why you should never approach a horse from behind. It is best to approach horses from the side so they can see you properly.


Field of vision


Horses can’t see as well as us, but if an object is visible to both eyes they have very good depth ‘perception’ which means they can judge how far away it is. They can do this much better than us which is why they are so good at jumping. The only other animal like this is the cat and they usually land on their feet when they jump too!




Horses have long ears on the top of their heads and the movement of the ears can tell you a lot about a horse. They use their ears to listen to what is going on in front and behind and can tell the difference between a lot more individual sounds than we can.


However, because they hear so well they don't like loud noises. If you approach a horse from the side you should speak in a calm, soothing voice and this way they can use their sense of hearing to tell that you are a friend.


Ears Back

When horses put their ears forward (like Cape Cross above) they are straining to hear and showing a keen interest in what is going on around them. When they put their ears back (like in the photo to the left) they are closing their ears to show they are feeling angry or aggressive.













Horses like to use their sense of smell as much as they can. To do this they will approach with their neck stretched out and their nose pointed towards the object they want to smell.


The sense of smell is very important to horses, as it is how they recognise each other. For example, a mare can identify her foal by its smell and pick it out of a large herd. Because horses have lots of teeth, they have a bigger area inside their nose to help them smell. This means that they can smell over a hundred times better than we can.


If you allow horses to smell the back of your hand and approach them with your arm out-stretched, they will know that you are a friend and can trust you.




Thoroughbreds have much thinner skin than other breeds of horse, which means they are quite sensitive to touch. They use their whiskers to identify an object below their nose and check out the texture of food. Horses also have whiskers (like eyebrows) above their eyes which protect them and warn them if anything is too close to their eyes.


Horses show their friendship by scratching one another with their teeth; you can make friends with some horses by scratching them in certain places where they can't reach, such as the withers. If the horse wants to return the show of friendship he will begin to scratch you with his teeth!