Category Archives: Interesting Horse Facts

Horses are incredible creatures that have complex personalities and habits like humans, and they need to be kept interested and entertained at all times.

How interesting: Brace yourselves for the low down on the effectiveness of Topical Applications (hot and cold) for muscle strain relief


Exactly what is going on when you apply heating or cooling gels to your horses legs?

Horse Scout Blogger was watching the BBC’s The Truth about your Medicine cabinet last night.  Some very interesting items indeed.  However what caught my attention was the report on the use of topical muscle liniments to reduce reaction to strenuous workouts (obviously this was with humans).  Livery Yards (and competitive stables too) have tack rooms which are full of row upon row of expensive topical applications of hot and cold rubs to help muscle strain relief.  Diligently applied and expensively bought.  I am not a scientist but I am commenting “intelligently” on the scientific research carried out on the programme.

There were three groups.  For fifteen minutes Group One sat in cold (icey) water, Group Two sat in warm water and the third group rested.  In terms of recovery groups one and two felt an immediate benefit (distraction therapy it was called) group three continued to feel sore.  However, over the next three days the two water groups recovered considerably better than the resting group with only a 2-3% difference between the two water groups with the cold group thus marginally better recovered than the warm water group.

The conclusion was that using either cold or hot water treatment for 15 minutes increased recovery time.

They then went on to test both hot and cold topical embrocations from leading brands.  Whilst the subject definitely could feel the effect of the cold and the hot applications and the heat camera was definitely showing the difference in the skin temperatures, the effect had absolutely no effect on the deep tissue temperatures which both read the same and where a normal reading for resting muscles.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions with reference to the effect these topical cooling gels and heat linaments may therefore actually have on your horse.  Me? Well I always did think water was cool…..and pretty much free; especially if you can orgainise a pond or river to stand in.

Horse Scout Fact Finding Mission: Eye Eye Captain: Horses have 20/30 vision, but if you cant see their eye, they cant see you.


The equine eye is the largest of all land mammals–whales, seals and the ostrich are the only other animals that have larger eyes. How well do horses see? Can they see colours, depth, motion and how well do they see in the dark? These are tricky questions to answer seeing as we can’t get this information straight from the horse’s mouth!

A horse’s eyes are located on either side of his head which is a big advantage for them as a prey animal as it offers a wide, circular view, meaning they can detect stalking animals sneaking up from behind. This panoramic vision is ‘monocular’ (‘mono’ meaning ‘one’) which enables them to view their surroundings on both sides, with either eye. Their ‘binocular’ vision (with both eyes) is directed down their nose and not straight ahead and the horse actually has a blind spot in front of its forehead. When a horse is grazing, his vision is directed at the ground in front of him and if he is relaxed, his monocular vision will be at work. Should he see something that warrants investigation, the horse will raise his head to bring the binocular vision into force. If the object was spotted in the horse’s side vision, he will turn and raise his head, or even whole body to look.

A horse’s large eye is an advantage as it enables him to detect the slightest motion which is why windy days make most horses uneasy…too many moving things! The horse moves its head in order to bring the object into its binocular field, which also gives better depth perception. This offers a better view, as while the horse has both monocular and binocular vision, he probably can’t utilize both at the same time, hence he raises his head to switch to both (binocular) eyes. Say you are riding along, your horse nice and relaxed…he is probably using his monocular vision. Suddenly he spots an unusual object ahead and instantly raises his head and pricks his ears. This allows him to look down his nose and employ his binocular vision. If the object is on the ground, the horse will lower his head, again in order to look down his nose and use both eyes for a clear view.

Another reason horses move their heads up and down is that their visual field is narrow so objects seen the clearest are the ones that fall within this narrow area–the horse tilts his head in order to get as much of an object as possible to cast an image onto the eye. So if a horse needs to look down his nose to see where he is going, what happens when he is ‘on the bit’ as in showing or dressage? A horse who is flexed at the poll will have his head vertical (at right angles) to the ground and cannot see straight in front of him, only down his nose towards the ground. Recent research found this blind spot in front of the horse is about the width of his body and a horse ‘on the bit’ must rely on the rider for direction as he is almost working blind! If you watch showjumpers negotiating a course, you will notice they lift their heads when approaching the fence to get a better idea of height and depth with their binocular vision. Try walking quickly towards a wall with one eye closed, then open both eyes and you will see that the view with both eyes gives you better depth perception.

Alison Harmon from the University of Western Australia, who has been involved in research on equine vision, once witnessed a nasty accident involving two dressage horses practising a freestyle routine. They were cantering around the arena, on the bit, and collided head on…their vision was directed down their noses towards the ground so they simply didn’t see each other! (this did make me wonder what the riders were doing!)

Horses were believed to have poor vision and be short sighted but they actually have very good binocular vision with a tendency towards long vision. It’s logical to think that given a horse’s wide vision range, they are able to see a rider on their backs however a rider is in the horse’s blind spot. If you can’t see either of the horse’s eyes when mounted, then he can’t see you!

How much detail can horses see?

Using a method of placing rewards behind a trapdoor, a reseach team tested how much detail a horse could see by placing stripes on the door. The horse was trained to choose the striped door over the plain one for the food reward. They varied the thickness of the stripes until they were so fine, the horses could not distinguish the striped door from the grey. From the results, they discovered that horses see as well as we do…perhaps better! Using the Snellen scale to compare horse vision with our own, indicates that horses actually see well at a distance. The Snellen scale for humans is 20/20, meaning that a person can read the same line on an eye chart from 20 feet that the ‘standard’ person reads from the same distance. Using this Snellen scale, horses rate 20/30 while as a matter of interest (and by comparison) a dog is 20/50, a cat 20/75 while rats rate 20/300.

Night Vision?

Horses are mostly day animals although they will continue to graze at night which suggests they do have some night vision. Horse’s eyes are sensitive to weak light, so they can see fairly well at dusk, but they don’t have the ability to adjust their eyes to darkness quickly, which is why they will often refuse to enter a dark building or float from bright sunshine. One cross country jump at the Sydney Olympics situated in dim shade caused some problems and a few falls.

Colour Vision

It was once commonly thought horses were colour blind but in fact they do have the ability to see some colour. The eyes contain light-sensitive cells and there are two types of cells called rods and cones. Humans have three different types of cones which means we can see all colours. Cats also have three types of cones but they are weak compared to ours so they can only see in pastel colours. To a cat, a green lawn appears as a whitish one. Dogs only have two types of cones and see colour similar to a human who is red-green colour blind. Horses have only two types of cones as well, so their ability to see colour is also limited.

To learn how horses saw various colours, the research team had to find a way to test how horses could tell the difference between actual colours rather than them just picking a colour that appeared bright, for example, red looks bright while blue looks dark. To do this, they asked the horse to select a colour on a grey background that they could vary from light to dark. They discovered horses could always pick out red and blue regardless of what the background was like. However, horses would only reliably select yellow and green when these were brighter than the background. If the brightness of the colours was equal to the grey background, some horses couldn’t pick these colours as easily. A few could tell the difference between green and yellow while others could not, so the results for these were mixed.

Given this information, maybe where some horses are concerned that old saying should be amended to, “the grass is always a wishy-washy greenish-grey on the other side of the fence”! Stallions in the wild have often been observed to prefer mares of a particular colour and it’s thought this is probably related to their mother’s coat colour. Knowing how a horse views his world makes a big difference when it comes to handling. And given how well horses usually perform when we are restricting their vision by riding ‘on the bit’ should instill a responsibility to ‘steer’ thoughtfully.

It also displays how much trust horses show by allowing us to sometimes be their eyes!

Information from: Horse vision and an explanation for the visual behaviour originally explained by the ‘ramp retina’. ALISON M. HARMAN. BSc PhD

Is grooming a haze of hair for you? Four Pointers For De Fuzzing Your Horse


Spring may be sprung – but sometimes its quite hard to un stick your horses hair!

Alas, when it comes to helping a horse lose his winter coat there are no magical short cuts, and the only thing Horse Scout Blogger can offer – that is guaranteed to work is:

Daily grooming and an application of good old-fashioned elbow grease!

To make things a little less scary but no less hairy:

  1. Grooming after exercise when the horse is warm and the pores of the skin are more open is much easier and the coat will shed more quickly.
  2. Use a rubber curry comb, a dandy brush and/or a grooming mitt to remove dead hair then go over the coat with a body brush to help massage the skin and stimulate the oil glands.
  3. To help protect your clothing try wearing overalls and if you have an allergy it is advisable to wear a disposable paper mask (readily available in supermarkets and chemists).
  4. On a good note, there is nothing more satisfying or calorie busting than a vigorous grooming session that ends with the emergence of a sleek, smart horse. Welcome to spring!

After such a long, cold winter riders have been looking forward to the spring and summer so that we can get out and enjoy our horses more. However, with the onset of longer daylight hours and warmer weather comes the inevitable shedding of winter coats and many of us disappearing in a haze of loose hair and dandruff every time we groom! It’s funny how the horse ends up looking smart but we end up coughing and spluttering and covered in hair.

Like many animals, horses grow a thick winter coat to help protect them against cold weather. The long, fluffy winter coat stands up and traps pockets of air to create an insulating layer and retain the heat. It is common for a horse, particularly bays to appear to change coat colour in the spring and summer. Some bay horses have an undercoat that is almost black and others appear to have a lighter summer coat.

Several elements trigger hair growth and shedding and these include environmental, nutritional and hormonal factors. The longer, warmer days of spring help to stimulate the loss of the winter coat.

Failure to lose the winter coat can be related to several different factors including a hormone imbalance. Older horses can often develop a condition known as Cushing’s disease, or Cushing’s syndrome, which affects the adrenal glands and requires veterinary diagnosis and medication. Horses that do not shed their coats may need to in order to keep them comfortable in warm weather.

Parasites can deplete a horse of necessary nutrients and affect the coat, and so implementing a regular and up-to-date worming routine is vital. Adding a daily dose of vegetable or linseed oil to the horse’s feed may help to promote a shinier coat and speed up the shedding process.

You may notice that your horse rolls more or rubs against trees or fences to help work the old hair loose. A sweating horse becomes very itchy and uncomfortable and so grooming is very important, but excessive dandruff or greasy skin, can indicate other problems so check the skin and hair for signs of lice or skin disease.

There and back again – Ten Top Travelling Tips – Part 1


An Overview of travelling your horse and what you need to think about.

Part 1

  1. Many equines do not display obvious signs of stress but recordings of heart rates, hydration levels, hormone levels and body temperature show that travelling is a genuinely stressful experience for any horse and their body reacts accordingly. Your horse may seem fine but don’t assume he is.
  2. Horses learn quickly and have excellent memories so bullying uncooperative horses to try and get them to load is fruitless. All you will be doing is affirming to the horse why horseboxes are to be feared and avoided.
  3. A horse that is new to travelling should be exposed to the idea gradually. Start by leading the horse around the vehicle and let them see and sniff it at leisure. Raise and lower the ramp without loading. Putting some food on the bottom of the ramp will also contribute to the positive experience! Progress one step at a time for no more than 20 minutes.
  4. Driving or towing equines safely and comfortably is a special skill that sadly does not always receive the attention it deserves. Get used to the box or trailer before driving with horses on board.
  5. Reversing a trailer is a difficult skill; master it with an empty vehicle. Trailer towing courses are highly recommended for anyone starting to use these vehicles.
  6. Recent research has shown that stress in travelling horses is significantly reduced when they are provided with the company of another equine. A stable mirror, carefully positioned in relation to the travelling horse, can also help alleviate stress.
  7. Taking a companion for show-bound horses is well worth considering. (Redwings has a guardian home Shetland in a home where her job is to travel with dressage horses!)
  8. Air circulation in horse boxes is often poor so windows should be opened fully to allow for maximum air movement.
  9. Anyone who passed their driving test after 1997 must take additional tests to legally drive a horse box or tow a trailer but even if you passed your test before then, consider professional training.
  10. The implementation of new European legislation now means that anyone transporting livestock, including horses, for commercial purposes must hold a Certificate of Competence. Any horse owner paying someone to transport their horse should always ask to see their certificate.

If you want further information or to download the brochure visit Redwings website here

Stallion at Stud


Perfect British Riding Pony Stallion Littledale Bright Star

Graded with the Sports Pony Studbook Society Littledale Bright Star breeds up to height, introducing quality and movement to all his stock. He has been described as a “supremely talented horse in a ponies’ body”.Littledale Bright Star has competed in BSJA, but due to the lack of a suitable small jockey has only been very lightly competed under saddle.His wonderful temperament has enabled him to do a variety of disciplines including driving and vaulting. He has a wonderful jump and whenever the horses are being jumped Bright Star joins in too! He has wonderful, floating movement with tremendous ground cover, very quick and agile with an abundance of presence.His Sire, Catherston Nightsafe is one of the most famous pony stallions ever produced in this country. A prolific winner in-hand and under saddle, Catherston Nightsafe was the Lloyds Bank Supreme In-Hand Champion at the Royal Bath & West, Supreme Champion at the National Pony Show, West Midland Stallion Show, New Forest Stallion Show. Catherston Nightsafe had lifetime breeding permission in Germany where he was leased for 2 seasons and his first foals there included both the National Male and Female 2 year old champions. Nightsafe can be found in the pedigrees of most of the best dressage ponies in Germany.His dam, Gwersyllt Town Mouse, was a much loved lead-rein, first ridden pony of impeccable breeding with some of the best Welsh and riding pony bloodlines available.Botingelle Kingfisher was a prolific sire of ponies in the showring and Coed Coch Asa was probably one of the most famous Welsh Pony Stallions of his time.Like his dam, Littledale Bright Star has the temperament to be ridden by a child as can be seen here where he is being jumped by 10 year old James Whitacker. He was also ridden by Charlotte Dicker since she was 6 years old. Charlotte was vaulting on him as well as riding him at the Stallion Viewing Days at Hartpury and Addington when she was 12 years old.

Training to Translate…..Ear Movements


When it comes to paying attention to each other, it seems that horses are all ears. So if you are looking for a new trainer or a rider who will communicate well with your horse ask about ears!

Some horse’men can naturally read a horse, this comes from their long experience in dealing with an animal whose basic instinct is flight from threatening situations.  Learning these signals and putting them together with what is going on under you can help your riding improve dramatically.

If you are working with a talented and empathetic trainer they will be able to point out these cues to you.

Horses have very mobile ears, they can only swivel them round, point them forward, pull them up or flatten them back

When a horse’s ears are flopping down, it means the creature is relaxed.

But pinned back, and the horse is expressing anger.

When a horse is interested in something, it pricks up its ears and swivels them towards whatever has caught its attention.

The ability to read each other’s interest level is disrupted when the ears are covered up, the researchers found.

You can tell a lot from a horses ears when you are on the ground and, very usefully, when you are on its back too. Learning to read those signals is part of the key to a harmonious relationship with your horse.

In fact the signals are so important in the way that a horse communicates that when  Mammal communication experts Jennifer Wathan and Professor Karen McComb, whose paper is published on 04 August 2014, set up an experiment to see which cues horses relied on to judge the direction of another horse’s attention in a task where they had to choose where to feed, it was found that the ers were key to communication.

Each horse was individually led to a point where it was released and allowed to choose between two buckets. On a wall behind the buckets was a life-sized photograph of a horse’s head facing either to left or right.

The researchers found that if either the ears or the eyes of the horse in the picture were obscured, the horse being led made a random choice between the two buckets.  However, if the ears and eyes were visible, then the horse used these directional cues to guide their choice.

Jennifer Wathan says: “Previous work investigating communication of attention has focused on cues that humans use – body orientation, head orientation and eye gaze. But no one had gone beyond that. We found that in horses, their ear position was also a crucial visual signal. In fact, horses needed to see the detailed facial features of both eyes and ears before they would use another horse’s head direction to guide their choice.”

She adds: “Most people who live and work alongside animals with mobile ears would agree that the ears are important in communication, but it has taken science a while to catch up. We naturally have a human-centric view of the world and as we can’t move our ears they get rather overlooked in other species.”

Professor McComb says: “This study emphasises that animals other than primates are aware of subtle differences in facial expression and can use these to guide the decisions that they make. Fine scaled facial movements can indicate important changes in attention and emotional state and are likely to be crucial in determining social behaviour in a wide range of animals.”

The researchers’ paper, ‘The eyes and ears are visual indicators of attention in domestic horses’ is published in Current Biology, on 04 August 2014.

So add “How about the ears” to the list of questions you ask new trainer or a rider and you will know exactly how well they will communicate with your horse .