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Horses Their Ability to Feel and Their Sense of Touch

Updated on October 24, 2014

A Horse Can Sense When a Fly Lands Anywhere On Them

The sense of touch is very sensitive in a horse. Touch is the most direct form of communication between horses and people. It is important that people understand and be aware of how a horse responds to touch. Horses respond to pressure by moving away in a predictable response.

From a horse’s skin, to their lips, their hair, their nose, and their muzzle, touch is their most acute sense. A horse is so sensitive to touch, On a single hair on their skin, a horse can sense a fly anywhere it lands on them, and twitch that particular muscle to get the fly off of them. A horse’s skin is filled with nerve endings that can sense the tiniest touch. On a single hair on their skin, a horse can sense a fly.

Horses Need to Touch Each Other

Sense of touch is very important for horses ability to socialize and communicate with other horses in the herd,
Sense of touch is very important for horses ability to socialize and communicate with other horses in the herd, | Source

Older Horses are Less Sensitive to Touch

Touch plays a part socially for these herd animals. They need contact with other horses through daily rituals of nudging, playing, and grooming. Touch plays a part in their happiness, their general well being, and their sense of security.

The skin is the largest organ on a horse’s body, just as it on person. Their skin has several jobs from providing a protective barrier, regulating temperature, and provides a sense of touch. Different breeds have different thickness of skin. The skin has three layers, the epidermis, which is the outermost layer, the dermis, which is the middle layer, and the subcutis, which is the innermost layer.

Different breeds have different thicknesses of their coats. Some breeds are more sensitive than others. A Thoroughbred horse has the thinnest skin. A draft horse has one of the thickest. This will make some horses more sensitive to touch than others.

How sensitive a horse is, depends on the age, the training and the breed. A horse that is highly sensitive to touch with gentle and light training will usually stay that way. Older horses tend to be less sensitive to touch. Touch has a lot to do with training and riding horses. Horses learn to stop on cues, to go, to turn when rider shifts their weight.

Horse's Sense of Touch is Highly Developed

Horses can sense pressure, pain, vibration, heat, and cold.
Horses can sense pressure, pain, vibration, heat, and cold. | Source

Some Information about a Horse's Sense of Touch

Horses show affection with people and other horses by touching, grooming, and nuzzling.As herd animals, horses need to touch, to know that other horses are at their sides. Touch, it is believed, also helps them move along together and helps them to be more cohesive in times of danger. Horses also initiate touch for mutual grooming among each other.

Horses will accept a new or strange object more readily when it is allowed to touch the item with their nose or their foot.

In addition to being responsive to pressure and pain, horses can also sense vibration, heat and cold.

The horse usually prefers to be stroked rather than patted by gently massaging their head and going in a circular motion.

The horse uses their lips as their sense of touch to avoid eating certain foods.

The muzzle has nerve endings, making it highly sensitive to touch.

Horses and Their Sense of Touch

Horses learn about their environment through touch.
Horses learn about their environment through touch. | Source

A Horse's Muzzle and Whiskers

The horse learns more about the world around them through their mouth and muzzle. A mare will brush her foal with her muzzle as a gesture of reassurance.

It is through their mouth and muzzle that horses use their sense of touch. The muzzle whiskers of a horse are extremely useful to help them navigate themselves around objects. Their whiskers help a horse estimate the distance between their muzzle and objects around them. Since a horse can’t see angles below their head, the whiskers help guide the horse and help the horse to explore and identify objects. The muzzle whiskers also help protect the horse’s nose and lips from touching things that may harm it.

Muzzle whiskers work with the horse’s sense of touch. Thoroughbred horses have the thinnest skin of all breeds of horses, making them the most sensitive to touch. Their whiskers help them identify objects that are beneath their nose and to feel the texture of food. They also have whiskers above their eyes, which help them know if there is anything close to their eyes.

When a horse eats, their whiskers together with their lips guide them towards the food they like to eat, and away from undesirable food or things that are around it.

Horses use their whiskers on their upper and lower lip to explore environment.Concentrated sensory receptors by the lips help a horse discriminate between textures.

Horses whose vision becomes impaired rely on their other senses to compensate. Their muzzle whiskers help them understand their surroundings, map their landscape, and pick up detail about their environment that make the horse feel safe and give it security among familiar things.

The whiskers, known as vibrissae around the horse's eyes and muzzle have a lot of nerve endings. Vibrissae let the horse know how close they are to something. Through their whiskers and lips, a horse gathers a tremendous amount of tactile information.

Sense of Touch and Horse Communication

Horses communicate by touching.
Horses communicate by touching. | Source

Horses Communicate with each Other

Horses use touch between horses when they are within close range of each other. Touch encourages and maintains bonding while horses are grooming each other. Touch is also a form of social support when horses feel stressed. Foals press their bodies against their mother when they get frightened.

Horses scratch each other, especially in areas that the other horse can’t reach themselves, with their teeth, in a sign of friendship.

Touch is important in the courtship ritual between horses. Herd relationships are reinforced with mutual grooming.

Touch and Socialization

Horses socialize through their sense of touch.
Horses socialize through their sense of touch. | Source

Grooming a Horse

Domesticated horses usually like to be groomed and massaged because it raises the production of their hormones and benefits their nervous system. Some horses are uncomfortable when being touched.

Grooming a horse is a bonding experience for both the person and the horse.

The area of the horse that is most sensitive is the head. Some areas of the horse are more sensitive than others. The crest of the neck and the upper portion of the tail are less sensitive areas to touch.

The most sensitive areas to touch on horse are near the eyes, ears, and nose and their head. The reason these areas are the most sensitive is because seeing, hearing, and smelling are important senses the horse uses to protect themselves against predators. The horse is also very sensitive to touch by the withers (the ridge between the shoulder bones of a horse), back ribs, flanks, stomach, and legs.

Between human and horse, touch is the main way to communicate. A horse can feel each movement of rider on their back. They can tell the difference of subtle weight shifts or the slightest of movements of the reins.

Grooming a Horse

Horseback Riding

Riders use touch to communicate with horses.
Riders use touch to communicate with horses. | Source

Horseback Riders Use Touch to Communicate

Horses are so sensitive to touch that they react to pressures too light for people to feel. Horses are prey animals, and are very sensitive to anything touching their bodies. Innately, they will react by quickly moving away to something touching them. The horses sense of touch is highly developed.

The sense of touch is important between a horseback rider and the horse. When a person is riding a horse, touch becomes a key communication tool between the person and the horse. A horse’s sense of touch makes them sensitive to pain, pressure, and temperature.

When a horseback rider uses their legs to get a horse moving, they are using the horses' innate sensitivity to touch to communicate. .A horse is very sensitive to weight shifts by the rider. Exaggerated weight shifts can throw the horse off balance. Sitting up straight and sitting deep in the saddle is necessary, which is why the riders position is very important..A horse’s sense of touch is their primary method of communication with other horses and with each other. Understanding this is important and useful in our interaction with horses. A rider uses leg pressures to tell a horse the direction they want to go, and how fast or slow.

Horses can easily become desensitized if they are mishandled and continually treated harshly in the areas they are sensitive to touch.

In training a horse, touch and hearing are the two most used senses.

Horses and Their Sense of Touch

Horses have a strong need for touch
Horses have a strong need for touch | Source

Horses are More Sensitive to Touch than People Are

Horses use their sense of touch with their noses to explore objects.

In a several studies done in 2002 and 2008 to see how sensitive horses are to touch, it was found that horses reacted to tactile stimuli that was too light for a person to feel.

People communicate with horses through touch. Horses are respond and are trained by gentle but firm touching, mostly through pressure in the sensitive areas on the horse’s body.

Horses can feel energy from other horses and from a person. Horses will often mirror the feelings of their rider and respond. People view emotions differently than horses do. We may mask our feelings. But in the presence of a horse, these animals can sense they way we really are. When a person interacts with a horse, they become part of the horse’s environment, and that person utimately becomes a herd member.


Did You Know?

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Horses are Amazing Animals

The horse has a tough skin, tougher than people's skin, but a horse's hide is filled with nerve endings that make touch an important sense for equines.

The epidermis of a horse, like that of a person's is the largest organ of the body. Horses are extremely sensitive to pressure, vibration, pain, heat, and

Horses in addition to their acute sense of touch, also feel a full range of emotions. Because of this sensitivity, horses work well with adults and children in therapeutic settings to help people physically and emotionally.

Horses are amazing animals. They have superior use of their five senses. Their sense of touch give them the ability to explore their environment, protect themselves from predators, and know where a fly precisely landed on their body to shoo it off. Their innate ability to sense the emotions of other horses and of people serves them and us. This ability to sense emotions makes horses wonderful useful as service animals and as man’s companion.

Mares and Foals

Mares and foals rely on their sense of touch.
Mares and foals rely on their sense of touch. | Source


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    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      Hi Jaye, All of the senses of horses are amazing. Touch has a lot to do with their socialness with other horses and with people. Their whiskers are similar to a dog's an a cat's too. The whiskers of tell an animal if their body will fit in a certain area.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      5 years ago from Deep South, USA

      This is very interesting! I'm especially intrigued to learn the importance of a horse's muzzle whiskers to enable the animal to map the environment. (This is also true of a dog that goes blind.) That horses respond positively to touch from other horses and (if touched appropriately) from humans shows that they share this sensory need with humans.

      Voted Up++



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