When they snort and throw back their head while showing all their teeth, horses seem unquestionably happy. But can animal facial expressions be that easily translated into the ways humans display emotion? Do horses laugh?
Unfortunately, not really. Chances are good that if you saw a horse pulling a facial expression that could be described as smiling or laughing, what actually happened was the so-called flehmen response. This is a position in which horses scrunch up their face by pulling back their upper lips so that their front teeth are exposed.
They then inhale with closed nostrils and hold this position for a few seconds. Sometimes they also lengthen their necks and lift their head in the air. All this helps the horses analyze smell by directing scents to the Jacobson organ, an olfactory sense organ located in the soft tissue around the septum.
Horses are not the only mammals doing this. Other animals you can catch doing a flehmen position are, for example, cats, goats, or elks.
Animals use this enhanced sense of smell for example to figure out whether females are in a reproductive state and it is the right time to mate. Mares – female horses – also tend to perform the flehmen response for a few hours after giving birth.
Just because horses do not laugh does not mean that they have no sense of humor, though. Like most other animals they exhibit playful behavior and do things that serve no necessary practical purpose for survival, just for the joy of it. Dr. Sarah Ralston from the Animal Science Department of Rutgers University says that in her experience, mares tend to be more serious than geldings (male, castrated horses), who like to engage in mock fights or play tag.
Do Horses Sleep Standing Up?
Not really – horses can doze or nap while standing up, but to enter the deep REM sleep phase they need to lie down. They can go a few days without this kind of deep sleep, but every four to five days at the absolute minimum they need to lie down for a while. Ideally, they get to sleep lying down every day.
Horses are able to rest standing up because they have a stay apparatus, a group of muscles, tendons, and ligaments that makes it possible for them to relax their muscles without collapsing. The reason for their ability to sleep standing up is that as a prey species that evolved in open plains horses needed to quickly flee when a predator was nearby.
Do Horses Really Need Horseshoes?
When you think about it, it seems a little strange that horses are the only animal species that we expect to wear shoes. Is that really necessary? And if so, what did horses do before they met human blacksmiths?
The center of a horse’s hoof is softer, but its outer side is hard and feels no pain. Horseshoes are nailed to this unfeeling part. This part of the hoof can be compared to human fingernails. The outside part of the hoof wears away when the horse walks, a horseshoe, therefore, helps to protect the sensitive inner part.
Since, like fingernails, the outer layer always keeps growing, in wild horses, there is a continuous balance between the hoof wearing away and growing back. When it comes to domesticated horses, though, their feet have to deal meet demands that untamed horses are not confronted with.
Whether domesticated horses need shoes depends on the kind of surface they usually walk on. A horse that has to walk on concrete or tarmac will benefit from this kind of protection. Working horses that have to carry unusually high amounts of weight also benefit from horseshoes. Shoes also give horses better traction on slippery roads covered with snow or ice.
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All these advantages notwithstanding, shoes also have their own dangers. When a horse accidentally pulls a shoe off itself it can tear up a hoof wall or strain a tendon. A nail that has been hammered in at the wrong place can cause pain and even abscesses.
In the end, the answer to the question of whether a horse needs shoes always depends on the individual horse, its overall health, muscles, and flexibility, as well as the environment it lives in and the jobs it does.