We know our horses ask for our help—research groups in Japan and Italy have both confirmed it. But another Italian research team is studying how horses “talk” to us or try to get our attention, and they say it’s all revealed in a simple flick of the ear.
“Horses are fully capable of dividing their attention, and we see that in the way they use their ears, which shows their focus,” said Paolo Baragli, DVM, PhD, researcher in the University of Pisa Department of Veterinary Sciences.
“They have a wide lateral visual field and ears that are able to move more than 180 degrees around,” he said. “So they can maintain their focus on the relevant stimulus (like a bucket of food) and at the same time move their ears, alternating from food to human, probably if they’re hoping to get that human’s assistance.”
In other words, horses can, figuratively, “keep one eye on the apple and one eye on us”—and that divided attention is clear in the way they turn their ears in different directions.
“Horses don’t need to move their entire head toward us to try to get our attention, as previous research has suggested,” Baragli said. “And they don’t necessarily just focus on one thing at a time.”
Baragli and colleagues put 30 horses from three separate riding schools in three simple tests.
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