Your horse’s ears are large, shaped like a cup and act like a satellite dish to capture sounds and funnel them to his inner ear. This is one reason why you may think that everything is perfectly fine, but suddenly your horse spooks for no apparent reason. As a prey animal, hearing acuity in a horse is a form of an “early warning system” for any sounds that a predator could be approaching – the snap of a twig, the rustle of grass, or the creak of a tree branch.
Like humans and other animals, your horse can lose his ability to detect sound as he ages. Age-related hearing loss in horses can begin at age five, starting with higher frequencies and working down the scale. High-frequency hearing loss isn’t generally obvious in horses until they reach about fifteen. But because your horse has a wider range of high-frequency hearing than a human, he can lose more of it before you notice a lack of response to sounds.
If your horse develops hearing loss, you’ll need to make some management changes for safety. These tips are actually good whether you suspect hearing loss or not, especially when working around a strange horse. Always speak to the horse as you approach, so you don’t startle him. And be sure he heard your approach warning by watching the direction of his ears - one or both should flick toward you.
Understanding your horse’s hearing can help you anticipate and reduce his anxiety.