The Spring Winds are Coming: Understanding Horse Behavior

It's the season of renewal! Trees are budding, flowers are blooming, and the air is warming up. However, one feature of spring remains unwelcome to many. Yes, you guessed it – the unpredictable and often forceful spring winds. However, why are horses particularly disconcerted by it?

Nose Knows No More: How Wind Impacts the Sense of Smell

Imagining the world through the eyes, or rather, the nostrils of a horse, is key to comprehending their dread of windy conditions. A horse relies primarily on its olfactory senses to interpret the environment. As a prey animal, it continuously scans for potential threats, which wind-borne smells can signal. Unfortunately, when spring winds gust, vital scent-related information gets whisked away.

A light breeze itself complicates the horse's understanding of a smell's source. An object just a few feet upwind is unnoticeable to a horse, despite its remarkably dual olfactory system. However, place the same object a few feet downwind, and the concentrated smell will intimate the source as being much closer than it really is. The brisk spring gusts can exceed 20 to 25mph, ensuring a near-total sensory blackout for the horses when it comes to their primary sense - smell.

Feeling Winds' Effects: The Touch Sensitivity of Horses

But the wind doesn't stop at wreaking havoc with the noses of our equine friends. It hits their incredibly acute tactile senses too. Imagine the discomfort of gale-force winds pushing against you, and you get an idea of what horses feel, especially in spring. The winds assail horses from every direction, be it up their tail, under their legs, against their hindquarters, or in their faces. This overwhelming physical sensation can distress horses significantly.

Inaudible Instructions: Noise Pollution in the Wind

With their primary (smell) and secondary (touch) senses affected, horses must rely on their other senses in windy conditions. Regrettably, the gusting winds can cause a deafening commotion, making it nearly impossible for horses to hear instructions. Even patient, chiding trainers have to resort to yelling their orders to be heard, often to no avail – the horses can only hear the wind's tumultuous howling.

Visual Vertigo: The Challenges to Horse's Sight

You might think that sight, being a primary sense for humans, would come to the rescue. Yet for horses, vision is not as dominant as it is for us, ranking around fourth in order of importance, behind smell, touch, and hearing. Consequently, the sudden visual appearance of an object that remains unsmelled, unfelt, and unheard can be startling for a horse, often leading them to shy, scoot, or even bolt - and that presents a real danger to riders. Furthermore, the winds bring an arraying of unusual sights, like trees waving their limbs, dust flying around, or debris being blown about – adding to the confusion and distress.

In the face of these strong sensory challenges, it's understandable why many horses exhibit nervousness and resistance in windy conditions. However, with gradual exposure and a calm, trusted handler, they can learn to cope better. So, next time you see your horse spooked by the wind, remember they aren't just throwing a 'horsy tantrum'. They're bravely dealing with a sensory overload that would drive even the best of us wild!

This article is derived based on the experiences and research of Janet Jones, PhD, who explores the neuroscience of equine behavior. For more insights, refer to her book, "Horse Brain, Human Brain", where she shares more about horses' exceptional sensory acuity and other intriguing facets of equine senses.

Source: Janet Jones, Horse Network - Brain-Based Horsemanship Article