Sometimes our horses surprise us with reactions to stimuli that we would never have noticed. As much as we would like to believe, it's not a "sixth sense" that leads our horses, but evolution. They are flight animals, and they react according to their senses. Stimuli are sent via nerves to the brain, and, if necessary, flight instincts are induced. In this article, we focus on the equine nose since it is not only important for the horse, but also for our product development.
Huffing, Snorting, Flehmen: The olfactory organs in horses are so highly developed, that they have two organs for it. Of course, horses take in scents through their noses, but aromatic particles can also be absorbed by their second olfactory organ, which is tucked in below the upper lip: the Jacobsonian organ or the vomeronasal organ.
Horses depend heavily on their olfactory organs, and it is important for them to absorb as many smells as possible. It is very likely that the large nostrils and nasal cavities have developed for that reason. The nasal cavities consist of several intervened parts. Furthermore, the elongated head and the deep throat support an intense engagement with all the odors horses are faced.
"Getting the news" – horsey style
It is interesting that horses have a long soft palate. They don' breathe through their mouths, they only use their nostrils. In the nasal cavities, you find a mucous membrane, which filters particles from the air and channels them to the brain via the nervous system.
A horse can identify and distinguish their fellow members only by smell. Even a young foal is able to recognize its mother. During the so-called "imprinting phase", the foal memorizes the smell of the mother so it can recognize her later on. This phase lasts up to two days. Therefore, it is especially important during this time to limit human contact in order to let this process unfold naturally.
Have you ever wondered why horses like to sniff their poops? Horses mark their territory with their feces, but they can also "read" it: They smell what poop belongs to which horse, who came by to say hi and whether that is friend or foe.
Stallions take the use of their olfactory organs one stage higher: Their sense of smell is so distinguished, that they recognize a mare ready to mate only by her smell, even when she's out of sight.
Flehmen: If something smells interesting
If you are observing horses, you will notice that they are sniffing each other extensively, especially when they meet for the first time. They put their noses together and blow on each other's nostrils. Then they decide whether they are like each other or not.
If a horse wants to classify a certain strange fragrance, it flehms. It takes a deep breath, pushes the neck and head forward and flips the inside of the upper lip up in order to seal the nostrils. This keeps any odor particles in the nasal and pharyngeal space, and the horse can focus intensely on the fragrances. This procedure occurs mainly when horses are confronted with strange or strong odors.
Horse vs man: The horse wins
People blow in a horse's nose to get the horse to accept them, and I bet you have also done it, right? Some riders swear that this strengthens the bond between them and their horse.
But if we compare the nosepower of humans and horses, we don't come off well. Horses recognize a human being by their body odor alone, just like they recognize their mates. They can tell by our smell that we are carnivores, and they can also smell our adrenaline levels. With their fine noses and due to pheromones, they can "sniff" emotions such as fear, anger, joy or a sense of rush.
Do you know now why you feel your horse understands you, or that you sometimes have a hard time convincing your horse of something when you are actually afraid?
Did you know that a perfume can mask the body odor of a person? If you are wearing too much or a strong perfume, your horse probably won't recognize you.
The equine nose and its importance for grooming products
We have to take all these factors into consideration when developing a product. I feel that we have a responsibility towards the animals, and we are convinced that grooming products should have no smell at all or only a natural one.
When working on a product, I always watch the reaction of my horses. I let them sniff it and then judge their reactions. If they don't like it, mostly I won't proceed with a product. Since the sense of smell in horses is much more developed and finer than ours, it's not our perception of a smell that counts, but the horse's. Even if something smells neutral to us, to the horse there is much more to it.
Kikolily: Natural odors during testing
For the first time I let you in on some Kikolily secrets. Because we really "listen to" our horsey test team, our products, such as the HorseWash (available starting August!) basically smell neutral to us. My horses, on the other hand, find the smell very pleasant and interesting. Perhaps that is due to the earthy smell of the Rhassoul clay. Or maybe they make out the subtle smell of the seaweed extract?
Our mane and tail spray is just as odorless to us as the HorseWash, and it's really exciting what's going on in our Kikolily manufactory at the moment. The mane and tail conditioner is our next product and we are in the middle of the testing phase. And most importantly: It contains no silicon or other synthetic softeners!
It's a different story with bug repellents: A bug repellent has to change the body odor of the horse in order to be effective. It prevents bugs from coming too close, since they are attracted to animal odors. That's why chemical bombs such as DEET and Icaridine work so well. But they cause harm to you and your horse. You can download or FREE e-book (just sign up to our mailing list) to find out what's so dangerous about them.
Our repellent, our "buggy spray" has a very fine smell to it, and the horses, as well as their riders, really like it. It also passed the first "stress tests" on sweating horses with top grades. The feedback of one of our testers: "I would buy this immediately." Super exciting for us. We will report again, once we advance to phase 2, the super test.
A happy horsey summer to you all, Nicole