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Michael Dym, V.M.D.
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Category

Caring For A Horse With Hearing Loss

Whether you’ve recently acquired a deaf horse or your older horse has started to lose their hearing, you may be surprised at how well they adjust. Deaf horses can work, compete, trail ride, and do just about anything that a hearing horse can do.
There’s even a deaf horse named Smash who works as a mounted patrol horse on the Houston Police force. Smash and other hearing impaired horses are not slowed down by their disability. In fact, they’re immune to noisy distractions, putting them at an advantage in many applications.

Reasons Why Horses Become Deaf
Some horses are born with a congenital hearing impairment. American Paint Horses, particularly those with blue eyes and a coat with a lot of white or dilute colors are prone to congenital deafness.
As for horses that are born hearing, they can develop deafness from an infection or blunt force trauma that results in inner ear damage. Another cause of progressive deafness is temporohyoid osteoarthropathy (THO), or inner ear disease, a condition that affects a joint at the base of the skull.
Partial hearing loss or hearing loss in one ear can also affect horses. Horses with one-sided deafness may struggle to localize sounds. Partial deafness can be gradual, particularly in older horses, and may not be immediately apparent to the handler.
Some signs of potential hearing loss include not responding to their name and not reacting when you shake a grain bucket or clap loudly out of view. Their ears may not swivel or flicker when they hear your voice. Sometimes, training difficulties are a result of hearing loss, rather than stubbornness or selective hearing.
It’s imperative that you seek veterinary treatment if you suspect your horse is experiencing hearing loss. Many causes of hearing loss are temporary and treatable. Your veterinarian will need to conduct a brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) test to evaluate the extent of their hearing loss.

Training The Deaf Horse
A horse with hearing impairment may not respond to verbal cues, but they can still understand body language and hand signals. Their other senses, including their vision and their sense of smell, may be more acute to compensate for their hearing loss.
You can get your deaf horse’s attention by shining a light or tapping the ground to create a vibration. On the ground, you can use hand signals to communicate commands, feedback, on praise. On the saddle, you will need to communicate with your horse with the help of tactile feedback.
Many horse trainers are experienced with deaf horses. They can help you learn to communicate with your horse and set them up for success.