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Horse Ears by Ting and Mallory

We're Ting and Mallory, and we're all about horsing around! We've heard that our equine friends actually communicate with their ears, and we wanted to find out whether putting on fake horse ears will allow us to talk to the animals!

What did we do?
We created a set of fake horse ears with two positions: ears forward (signaling friendliness) and pinned backward (signaling aggression or domination). We put each style on Ting's head, and Mallory brought in a horse. We worked with twelve horses, including males and females of different ages. We did three rounds of tests: once with ears forward, once with ears backward, and once with no ears at all. We wrote down the kinds of reactions the horses had to Ting, including negative responses (grunting, pulling away, acting aggressively), and positive reactions (nuzzling, friendly whinnying).

What did we find out?
We thought that when Ting wore the ears forward, she'd be telling the horses to "relax," and that they'd show positive, friendly behaviors. But that's not what happened. Most of the horses were kind of agitated. In fact, there were very few friendly reactions at all. Our results showed six friendly reactions with no ears, three with ears forward, and only one friendly reaction with ears pinned back. Overall, we think that just wearing ANY fake ears stirred up the horses!

What can you do?
  • Have you noticed how your dog's or cat's ears indicate their mood? What will your pet do if you suddenly sprout animal ears? Make some ears you can wear that look like dog or cat ears, and see how your pet responds.
  • Some pets aren't quite sure what to do when they see their reflection in a mirror. Bring a mirror up to your pet bird, gerbil or fish, and see how it responds. Does it seem to be acting aggressively, or in a friendly way?
  • How does your pet respond to stuffed animals? Design an experiment to find out whether your dog or cat has a positive or negative response to a stuffed competitor.
  • Use this horse investigation as a science fair project idea for your elementary or middle school science fair! Then tell us about it!
more resources
More on animal behavior.

Go to the DFTV Boards, and tell us about your science investigation.
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