I don’t know about you, but on a busy day, when there is much to do, I can overlook the most significant things in my life. My husband would claim it’s him that gets less of my attention, but I am thinking of the detail; the little things that might touch the senses but that we typically don’t think about. Smell, our fifth sense and the one most taken for granted. Every once in a while I stop and try to reconnect with what is going on around me. And sometimes, I catch the smell of coffee, cut grass or deer in autumn and I am taken back; a memory might be remembered. What a powerful but often forgotten sense.
So imagine what it must be like to lose your sense of smell? In today’s world it may not cause undue danger to you, though once upon a time the smell of a stranger or of fire might have given you a head start, but can we say the same for horses?
Horses use their sense of smell like we do; but they are much more sensitive, and like most herd animals, have relied upon their olfactory powers for survival. Just think, when a horse greets a newcomer in the field, they arch and widen their nostrils, the snort with head held high after a speedy gallop or rather comical lip curling called “flehmen”. It is thought horses curl their lip to capture pheromone scents to analyse closely.
It is said that a horse’s olfactory system never switches off! So as the horses in our stables are bombarded with the scent of their stable mates, their bedding, their water and feed, the dogs on the yard, and us, just think how exhausting and stressful it must be for them. As their senses are assaulted by artificial odours such as shampoo, fly sprays, saddle soap, diesel and oil imagine how confusing a day on the yard must be!
It is thought that horses respond to this myriad of different and perhaps confusing smells by using their other senses even more! And it might be one of the reasons why some horses kept out in natural herds 24/7 have fewer behavioural difficulties compared with their more constrained counterparts.
So do we as horse owners give enough thought to how important our horses’ fifth sense is? Should we do more to consider the impact that smell and odour has on our charges? Could increased awareness improve our horses well – being?
So another reflection on the impact of our environment and our animals. How can you make a difference and be a little more mindful and perhaps respectful of our horse olfactory powers?