— Pete Townshend (The Who) from the 1969 album, "Tommy"
First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to my American blogger buddies. I hope you all had a wonderful day that included pie. Well, I guess anybody’s day could be wonderful and include pie, so the wish can be all-inclusive.
As mentioned in my previous post, we have known since birth that Daltrey is hearing impaired to some degree due to his extreme splashed white pattern (read about splashed white here, and look in the right column for links to all the color/pattern posts).
Not all foals with splashed white pattern are born deaf, but there’s a fairly high probability that they will be hearing impaired to some degree. Mating two affected horses will not necessarily produce an affected foal. Not all splashed white foals have blue eyes. It is inaccurate to attribute hearing impairment to the blue eye color; both traits are caused by splashed white in horses. Hearing impairment is caused by a lack of pigment in part of the inner ear.
Figuring out if your horse has a hearing problem and/or to what degree is not as easy as you might think. Like night blindness, some horses adapt better to it than others. Poco is night blind, but you'd never know it. Because Daltrey is so young, he’s still trying to figure out how his world works, and he has the double whammy of being both night blind and hearing impaired.
Some horses, like some people, are more reactive than others. One horse may spook at the slightest sound, while others seem to take everything in stride. Also like people, horses do not respond to every sound they hear. Although horses instinctively pay attention to the vocalizations of other equines, as well as sounds that are not part of their normal repertoire, they filter out much of what they hear. This helps them make sure that only relevant sounds are acted upon. We ignore most of the sounds around us even though we can certainly hear them. It’s this ability that allows us to filter out dozens of different conversations at a cocktail party and focus on only one.
I’m still learning what Daltrey can and can’t hear. I think that overall, his hearing is muffled or muted to some degree. For example, I have fed him in the run-in shed during rains and high winds, with acorns and stuff hitting the sides and roof. Sometimes he seems to acknowledge sounds, but isn’t startled or upset by them. What’s funny is when the other two bolt because of a noise, and he bolts because they do, though I know he has no idea why he’s running. I think the only sounds he perceives as sharp are percussive sounds like gunshots, car backfires, etc. I believe most of his impairment is in the mid-range. I know he can hear the sound of my voice when I call him, even if he’s in the back pasture. He can also hear things like the chain saw, weed whipper, electric saws, etc., that are higher pitched. He doesn’t react to a whisper or a soft voice inches from his head.
I’m not overly concerned about Daltrey’s hearing impairment. In fact, everything in my research pretty much brushed it off as being no big deal. Combined with his already laid-back temperament, it should be an asset for a trail horse. The biggest repercussions involve modifying training techniques. They can’t rely on voice cues, so must be trained using visual cues on the ground and tactile cues under saddle. The only other major consequence is learning to help your horse not be startled by the unseen and unexpected approach of people or other animals. But don’t most of us already do that, for safety’s sake?