Do horses know what they look like?


Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 | Filed under Musings




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ORIGINALLY POSTED FEBRUARY, 2011

OK, you may think I’m off my rocker, but I had an incident the other day that made me wonder if horses know what they look like…  Here is a photo of the “incident” which we will get back to later.

The incident… we’ll come back to this.

REFLECTION POOLS?

I guess if you are into Disney movies, you’d know that all animals visit a reflecting pool to see their own image.  And, of course, they immediately know that the horse, owl, deer, squirrel… face peering back at them is indeed, themselves.

But, I’m not quite sure that happens around my place.  First of all, my reflecting pools are the water troughs, I guess.  And, truth to tell, if any of them took a good look, they’d probably only see a stick at the bottom, a few leaves and (depending upon the season) a dead bug or two.

So, other than a few parakeets I’ve known who, if they recognized themselves must be narcissists because they flirt with themselves in front of their little mirrors all day; I really doubt that animals can recognize their own appearance without some education.

But, maybe they know more than we think…

HOW DO HORSES DETERMINE HOW THEY APPEAR TO OTHER HORSES?

Well, their sides, feet, loins and butt/tail parts would be pretty easy.  All they have to do is look around at their back halves and they’d pretty much know how they look compared to the other horses.

Horse: ” Hmmm, I seem to be as tall as Flicka but not a big as Thunder.  And, I’m the same color as Smokey.  OK… now I know how I fit in the herd.”

–or something like that…

WHAT ABOUT THEIR FACES?

But how do they know what their faces look like?  This is how I imagine two horses chatting about their image…

Horse #1:  “What do I look like?”

Horse #2:  “You look like a horse.”

Horse #1:  “What horse do I look like?”

Horse #2:  “Oh, uhh, well, you look like your mother.”

Horse #1:   “I look like a mare?!”

Horse #2:  “No. OK, well, you are the same color as I am and you have a white spot on your forehead.”

Horse #1:  “Wait a minute… YOU are the same color as me and YOU have a white spot on your forehead!”

Horse #2:  “Except I’m bigger, taller, stronger and I eat first.”

Horse #1:  “Oh yeah, I guess you’re right about that, yes-sir-ee…”

–Or something like that…

Finn and BG – they look a lot alike…

HOW DOES THE ‘AH HA’ MOMENT HAPPEN?

For example, I have two Shetlands:  Slick and Dodger.  They are both typical Shetlands.  They have very thick manes/tails/forelocks, shaggy legs, stout little bodies and they are short.  Dodger is chocolate brown with white socks, Slick is a grey & white pinto with a pure white mane, tail and forelock.

They both already know that they are the only short horses here.

You know how I know they know they are short? Because Slick squeezes his little pony body through holes in the fences that the big horses wouldn’t dare – and then turns back and sniggers at them.  Being short can work to your advantage… sometimes.

Dodger knows he is short because he talks big but won’t take on a huge horse.  He’ll take on an average-sized horse (and usually win), but if a big horse – like our draft horse – challenges him, you can see Dodger say, “Ooops, just kidding, didn’t mean it, no harm/no foul, I’m backing away slowly, don’t mind me…”

Slick and Dodger

DO THEY MAKE FUN OF UGLY HORSES?

I once interviewed the owners of a horse with a wry mouth.  They said the other horses shunned it.

I then interviewed another owner of a wry mouthed horse and the owners said that all the horses got along.

Hmmmm.  Perhaps a horse is more likely to shun another horse if they think that horse cannot fend for himself or is ‘low man’ because of an affliction?

Or, maybe the first horse was really spoiled and a pill.  Dunno.

But, I don’t think they care if a horse is ugly – as long as it can kick predator butt.  ‘Strong, smart and ugly’ works fine in the herd!   I’ve never seen a horse be disliked because his mane was patchy or his croup was low.  Throat latches don’t seem to be a big indicator of popularity.  Neither do toplines…

But, a bully horse is loathed.

On the other hand, I’ve known stallions that preferred certain color mares over other colors.  People that study these things think that the stallion prefers a color that will help secure the health of the baby.  For example, in this case, the stallion preferred dark horses over lighter horses.

Since white horses can have complicated physical illnesses and issues, perhaps he was thinking ahead.  But, if you look at wild herds, there are plenty of light colored horses.  So, I wonder.  Maybe the stallion mentioned above just liked darker colored mares…  Maybe they reminded him of his dam or something.  Who knows, really?…

Wry mouth

NOT KNOWING WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE DOESN’T SEEM TO BOTHER THEM

Horses aren’t like us.  I’ve never known a horse with dysmorphic body image.  They all want to be fat.  They don’t care if their butt looks big.  They don’t care if they have a Roman nose or a hook or bump on it.  None of them dye their hair except maybe when they are covered in cakey, mud dingleballs.  They just don’t care how they look.  They only care about feeling good.

I don’t know about you, but I have tried, like a silly human, to show a photo of a horse to one of my horses.  Mostly, they try to eat it.  I’m sure they’d never connect the dots and see a horse in a flat, one-dimensional space.

WHAT HAPPENED TO ME THE OTHER DAY

OK, so back to what started this post…

A mirror.

The warped mirror with BG and myself – you can see my arm and my camera in the first panel

Have you ever ridden your horse in an arena with mirrors?  In the beginning, it kinda freaks them out.  And then, somehow, they come to the realization that the horse they see who is mocking them, is really themselves.  Perhaps it is because you, who they recognize, are on top of the horse they see and your horse knows there is only one of you.

Or, maybe that is what freaks them out… maybe the thought that there are TWO of you makes them a bit crazy.

Anyway, the other day, I was walking with BG at my side.  We passed a fruit stand truck that had a warped mirror attached to the side panel.  BG caught her image in it and flew straight up and started running in mid-air!  OMG!  She was freaking!

She kept losing sight of herself in the mirror and then would hopskip around the mirror to find the weird horse and then catch her image again and freak out!

Now, BG knows what she looks like.  She has seen a mirror in an arena and the other horses have told her that she looks very similar to her brother, Finn.  And, every human that sees her thinks she is Finn so that only confirms to her that she looks a lot like Finn.

So, when she saw this horse who looks like her but has a snakey, funhouse, wobbly back-end, she did not understand!  Was that her body melting and morphing in some weird undulating Seamonster or was that the Ghost of Horses Past coming to get her?  She was totally confused!

I looked at myself in the mirror and gasped as well.  My nose was to the left of my face and my teeth were someplace in Montana.  My neck wasn’t attached to my head and my shirt made the form of an “S”.

I pulled BG right next to me so that both of us were in the mirror together.  She looked and I looked and then we both laughed.  Somehow, she got it.  She looked at the mirror, looked at me and then back at the mirror and started to lick and chew.  I could almost hear her say, “Oh thank horsegod, I thought it was just me…!”

IN CONCLUSION

Horses know what they look like, generally.  They know they look like a horse.  They know the color and shape of their bodies and if they have honest friends, they may know what their faces look like.

But the wonderful thing about horses is that they really don’t care what each other looks like as long as they smell good, give off calm vibes, protect each other, and know how to touch them in that special way.

–Sounds pretty good to me…

I’m perfect!

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4 comments have been posted...

  1. Tracy

    I have a 5 yr solid paint mare, before I got her; her barn name was diva well, we changed her name and after spending some time with her we realized that she really was a diva, You call her pretty girl or beauitful and you can see her attitude change like shes prancing and smiling, everything she does just like a lady. It is quite humrous. She is very pretty and she knows it

  2. Nell

    OMG this is an amazingly fun and insightful post. My horse likes to look at himself in puddles and then stamp on his reflection face.

  3. Linda Hart

    Your imagination always slays me. We are snowbound in Missouri and I needed a good laugh.

  4. JM Friedman

    Funny you should post this. I often wondered myself. My animal communicator once told me that my Paint gelding was having self-esteem issues. He apparently told her that he wished he looked like my chestnut QH. He complained that he looked like “pieces of horses” instead of one, good horse. That suggested to me that he looked at his sides, recognized it as himself, and knew how he was different from the QH. Not quite recognizing himself in a mirror, but a hint that there’s some identification there. When we’re not under two feet of snow, I’m going to experiment. Fun project! :)

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