Horses’ ears are controlled by 10 muscles (humans only have 3 muscles) and they are constantly moving them around to pick up sounds in their environment. You may also notice that horses can move their ears independently, which also increases and heightens the number of sounds they hear and analyse.

386 Horse profile

The ears and poll are a very sensitive area on a horses body and we must take great care not to damage the muscles and nerves that are concentrated around, on and between a horses ears. For this reason you should not use an ‘ear twitch’, to control a horse: it can lead to permanent damage and behaviour problems.

A horse’s sensitive hearing can also be used for training. You can give training commands at a very low volume, there is no need to shout. In fact, a horse will respond more to the tone of your voice. For instance, if you wish a horse to move up a gait from, say, walk to trot you would say ‘tuh_rot’, with the last syllable inflected up. If you want the horse to move from a trot to a walk, you would say ‘wa_alk’ with the last syllable inflected down. This is also the basis for ‘clicker’ training.

Because of their heightened senses, horses rely on much more than just sound for their communication. However, they will understand your verbal commands if they are given clearly, consistently and thoughtfully.