Things Horses Can’t Do

Photo by author

“We may be put together oddly, but at least we’re not horses.”

There’s a few things humans can do that we take for granted that horses can’t, and I’m not talking about typing. As herbivores, horses are built quite differently from us and they’re evolved for a very different lifestyle.

There’s also one weird thing horses can do that we can’t, but lets start with the first.

Throw Up

Horses have no gag reflex. They can’t throw up. In fact, they can’t even burp…their system is strictly a one way path.

One problem this can cause is choke, where food gets stuck halfway down the esophagus. Sometimes this can make it look like they’re vomiting, but it’s not…the food never made it to the stomach. Also, the food will come out of the nose as well as the mouth.

(Choke is treated in a variety of ways, including medication to relax the esophagus, massaging the lump until it goes down where it’s belong, and sometimes using a stomach tube.

Breath Through Their Mouth

When you are struggling to get enough air (or your sinuses are blocked), you’ll start breathing through your mouth. (Breathing through your nose is better, though).

Horses can’t do this because they don’t have a connection between the nasal passages and the mouth. Their epiglottis is a flap which seals the mouth when the horse isn’t swallowing. We call this obligate nasal breathing.

This is why large nostrils are valued in Arabians and some other “fast” breeds of horse. It’s also why some racehorses wear nasal strips to help them keep their nostrils open.

And yes, horses “talk” through their nose too. If you observe a horse whinnying or nickering closely, you’ll see the nostrils vibrate a little.

If a horse can breathe through their mouth it generally indicates something wrong with the epiglottis, either from a birth defect or an injury.

Other animals that are obligate nasal breathers include rabbits and rodents.

Dogs, on the other hand, breathe through their mouths when they get hot…that’s essentially what panting is.

This gives horses the advantages of being less likely to aspirate food (it can happen when they have choke), and makes it easier for them to breathe while eating.

The disadvantage is that when a horse has a runny nose, they can’t switch to breathing through their mouths…

Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

See the Color Red

Humans and other primates have this amazing thing called trichromatic color vision.

Horses have dichromatic color vision. They can only see blues and yellows. Basically, all horses are red-green colorblind.

Their vision can distinguish between plants very, very well, though, which is an advantage when you’re looking for that one herb you really fancy right now. Or peppermint. (Peppermint is horse chocolate, just saying).

This is something you have to bear in mind when riding horses…and especially when jumping them. A green horse can see a pole painted blue or yellow better than one painted red, and that can help them learn faster.

Oh, and they also see in the dark better than we do. If you misjudge your trail ride and it’s getting dark, just drop the reins and let the horse lead all the way home.

So, there’s three things we take for granted that horses just can’t do.

I promised one weird thing that they can do, and here it is:

Horses can run and poop at the same time.

They really can.

(They might not want to, if they’re feeling safe. But they certainly can and if you’re competing, they aren’t allowed to stop).

So, there you have it.

Freelance writer, freelance editor, novelist and short story writer. Jack of many trades.

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