Method and Apparatus to Detect Equine Anger, to Warn of it, and to Reduce Equine Anger and Stress
Posted on July 25th, 2016
Note: This text would have been used in a patent application, but the Patent and Trademark Office has let us down. Lobbyists and Congress weakened patent protections with the America Invents Act, and patent trolls from big business simply litigate with individual inventors until they get what they want.1. At this writing, the PTO averages 16.1 months before it takes the first action on a patent application, and 25.7 months to process the average application. Over 500,000 patent applications are now awaiting examination2
A device that consists of an equine bonnet that is able to detect when a horse tries to pin its ears back, activating a buzzer to warn those nearby that the horse is angry. The ear pieces of the bonnet are made of sound-reflecting material, and each enclose a piece of acoustic foam shaped to fill the horse’s external ear (pinna), absorbing much of the higher frequency sound that passes through the bonnet. Reducing the high frequency sound that reaches the equine ear serves to reduce stress that the horse may experience. The bonnet restricts the movement of the horse’s ear, preventing it from pinning back, which may result in reduce anger which triggered the ear pinning. When activated by an ear that was moving toward a pinned position, the buzzer may serve as an aversive negative reinforcement.
A horse that feels threatened or angry may pin its ears back, providing a clear message to other nearby horses. But humans are not well attuned to a horse’s nonverbal signals, and may not know that a bite or kick is imminent.
The present invention is a horse bonnet that includes sound-reflective ear pieces, acoustic foam in the ear pieces, sensors that detect when the horse is trying to pin its ears back, and a buzzer that alerts those present of the horse’s attempt to pin its ears.
The pinned back position may be attempted by the horse, but fully achieving it is prevented by three factors: 1) the acoustic foam that is in the ear, which prevents the ear from flattening and restricts its movement; 2) the construction of the bonnet, which resists rear-ward movement of the ear; 3) the buzzer, which provides a mild unconditioned aversive stimulus and which may serve as negative reinforcement for both ear pinning and the mood which triggered it.
The sound-reflective construction of the earpieces of the bonnet and the acoustic foam within the earpieces both combine to block stressful high-frequency sounds, helping calm the horse.
Detailed Description of the Preferred Embodiment
Fig. 1. shows a side view of an angry horse, with its ears pinned back (1). It is preparing to bite the hindquarters of a fleeing horse.
Fig. 2. shows a front view of a calm horse, ears (2) in a relaxed position. It is wearing a bonnet (3). The browband (4) of its bridle is visible. In each of the earpieces is a piece of acoustic foam or other sound-deadening material that has been shaped to conform to the inner ear of a horse. The foam is placed in each ear, and the ear bonnet is then placed over the ears, on top of the horse’s head. The acoustic foam is particularly effective at blocking mid- and high frequency sounds, which Grandin (2016) and others report as being most stressful.
Fig. 3. shows the side view of an alert horse, attending to something in front of it. Its ears (5) are rotated forward. It is wearing a bonnet (3), held in position by a browband (4) and crownpiece or headstall (6)
Fig. 4. shows a rear view of the device. Behind the two earpieces are a pair of switches (7) that are activated by a very small operating force. The switches may be, for example, infrared proximity sensors or, for instance, low-profile, normally-open, momentary-contact wafer switches. They are depressed when the ears are pinned back, closing them and completing a circuit. Either button activates a small buzzer in the ear bonnet, a speaker for which (8) is shown.
This invention relates to a method for detecting when a horse is becoming angry, for immediately warning those present, and for reducing that anger.
This invention also relates to a method for reducing the stressful effects of loud ambient noises near a horse, particularly noises of higher frequencies.
Our invention is attached to a horse bonnet – a covering which fits the top of a horse’s head, from its poll behind its ears to its forehead, in front of them. The bonnet contains protrusions into which each of the horse’s ears fit. It is held against the horse’s head by the ears, and by the browband and headstall of a bridle or halter.
Our invention includes a means of lowering the volume of mid-range and high frequency sounds through the use of acoustic foam or other soundproofing material that is contoured to fit snugly in the horse’s ears within the bonnet. In one embodiment, the bonnet’s ear protrusions are made from a non-porous vinyl, leather, or acrylic-faced fabric that will reflect much of the sound energy reaching the horse’s ear. So the outer fabric reflects as much sound as possible, and the inner soundproofing material absorbs much of the sound that passes through, preventing it from reaching the horse’s inner ear.
In one embodiment, acoustic foam is used for sound deadening. High quality acoustic foam has more pores per inch than other foams, absorbing sound better. But it does not stop sound as effectively as high density non-porous, non-resonant materials such as “Quiet Barrier”. Any implemention of our invention will need to consider a variety of factors in choosing the sound reflecting and deadening products.
Our invention also includes a mechanism to warn people nearby if the horse becomes angry and attempts to pin its ears back. The warning mechanism consists of two switches mounted in the bonnet behind the ears. In one embodiment, the switches are infrared proximity sensors that is activated when the ear approaches the switch. In another embodiment, the switches are low-profile, normally-open, momentary-contact wafer switches. In still another embodiment, the switches are inductive proximity normally open switches that close at a short distance, such as 8 mm. These switches complete a circuit which includes a battery and a buzzer, both mounted in the bonnet, causing the buzzer to sound when the switch is closed. The switches are wired in parallel, so that closing either switch activates the buzzer.
In a preferred embodiment, the invention is able to detect an attempt to pin the ears back, and to alert. But in this embodiment, the invention prevents the ears from going all the way to the pinned back position. The position is prevented by three factors: 1) the acoustic foam that is in the ear, which prevents the ear from flattening and restricts its movement; 2) the construction of the bonnet, which resists rearward movement of the ear; 3) the buzzer, which provides a mild unconditioned aversive stimulus which may serve as negative reinforcement for both ear pinning and the mood which triggered it.
Prior art by Löschinger (EP2624752 B1 and DE102010038028 B4) has devised a contraption involving movement sensors, position sensors, and magnetic field sensors which feed information on a horse’s positioning to a computer, which in turn stores and analyzes the data, making inferences about the horse’s feelings and moods. Some will find the complexity of this contraption too great. Others may find themselves unguided by this art, as it lacks detail on what some combinations of positions or movements should mean.
A prior grant to Williams (US6857395 B2), which has since expired, suggested that restraining a horse’s ears in a forward position would prevent kicking, and would be preferable to hitting it in the face with a bottle or twisting its ears, but did not offer any explanation for why this might work to prevent kicking.
The Meaning of Pinned Ears
Communication between horses and people, or dogs and people, requires that humans understand the basic non-verbal signals of these animals to understand their mood and anticipate their behavior. The great amount of experience that humans have with dogs, and their long-term co-evolution, has come to mean that a dog’s mood is usually readily grasped. But for most people, horse communication is more mysterious, and the sheer size of a horse means that communication failures can lead to trouble.
Horses, cats, and dogs are able to rotate their external ears – the pinna – to face forward, to the sides, and rearward. For listening to sounds from two different sources, dogs, cats, and horses are all able to move their ears independently. In the case of the horse, 17 ear muscles are involved (Sisson and Grossman, 1975), in the dog, 18 or 19 are available for this work (Miller, 1979), and in the cat, 32 muscles move the ears. These muscles may also be used to flatten their ears in a rear-facing orientation, “pinning” them back.
Dogs often pin their ears back when they are running hard, inviting play, feeling threatened by another dog, threatening another dog, or fighting. Cats and horses pin their ears back under comparable conditions: when they are inviting play, feeling threatened by another, threatening another (or a human), or fighting. Pinning the ears back functions to protect the ears during playing and fighting, and surely has evolved for such protection. The reliable connection between ears back and emotion allows the pinned ears to serve as an important non-verbal clue to the animal’s state.
In the case of dogs, we have learned to read many non-verbal behaviors that help clarify intention, such as wagging tail, posture, how open the eye is, or mouth shape. In the case of horses, a “switching” or snapping tail indicates anger, but a kick or bite may occur without any evident tail action, so pinned ears may be a more useful indicator of anger.
Those who are experienced working with horses know to keep their eye on the ears of a horse they are working with, for ears that are pinned back often preceed a bite or kick. But those unfamiliar with horses do not always understand such language, and may be surprised by an unexpected bite or kick. After all, humans don’t use their six ear muscles to move their ears.
No one will get out of the way of a horse’s bite or kick if they are not aware of the meaning of the horse’s pinned ears, or if they fail to look and see the pinned ears, or if they are working under the horse and are unable to see them.
Our invention provides a warning system for those working with horses.
Preventing Pinned Ears
Psychologists understand that emotions are self-maintaining through feedback loops of various sorts. Depression, for instance, may suppress activity, and inactivity may contribute to depression. A means of altering a mood can be to behave in a way that is inconsistent with the mood. For instance, walking or running may lift depression.
This effect of activity on mood was understood by Anna, in the musical “The King and I” (Hammerstein and Rodgers, 1951). In “I Whistle a Happy Tune”, Anna sings:
Whenever I feel afraid
I hold my head erect
And whistle a happy tune
So no one will suspect
While shivering in my shoes
I strike a careless pose
And whistle a happy tune
And no one ever knows
The result of this deception
Is very strange to tell
For when I fool the people
I fear I fool myself as well!
I whistle a happy tune
And ev’ry single time
The happiness in the tune
Convinces me that I’m not afraid.
Make believe you’re brave
And the trick will take you far.
You may be as brave
As you make believe you are
When a person smiles, emotion might trigger the initial facial expression, but many sources of feedback enable the smile to impact the person smiling. One feedback is proprioception: we unconsciously perceive the muscles pulling our face into a smile. Our history of experiencing those muscles is recalled, and our prior feelings of happiness come to mind. That remembered happiness mingles with our current happiness into a useful blur, maintaining the happy state that triggered the smile in the first place. Of course there can be other feedbacks (for instance, our smile may trigger smiles in others, which we may see, or we may see ourselves in a mirror). But the simple perception of our active smiling muscles is likely an important source of information.
Charles Darwin (1872) wrote that “The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it. On the other hand, the repression, as far as this is possible, of all outward signs softens our emotions.” In their lyrics to “Smile”, Turner and Parsons (1954) argue “You’ll find that life is still worthwhile if you’ll just smile”
Research by psychologists on the “facial feedback hypothesis” confirms this reasoning. A number of studies have found that people enjoy situations more when displaying Duchenne smiles (in which the muscles at the corner of the eyes also contract) than not (Soussignan, 2002), that chanting smile vowels is more pleasant than chanting frown vowels (Böttger, D. 2010), that holding the mouth in a smiling position (by holding a pencil with the teeth) produced a more enjoyable experience than holding it with the lips (Strack et al, 1988), and so on. Other studies have used Botox to paralyze facial muscles that produce frown lines, and have found that in most cases, clinical depression is lifted.
In short, facial expressions normally contribute to the emotion that produced them. Facial feedback modulates neural processing of emotional content.
There is no reason to assume that feedback of emotional expression on emotions is limited to the face, or limited to humans. If a horse is angry, but unable to pin its ears back, it won’t receive the proprioceptive feedback that normally comes from pinned back ears. If that feedback is absent, the horse might feel less of the emotion that triggered the ears back in the first place. When a horse’s ears are prevented from pinning back, the horse’s bad mood may quite possibly pass more quickly. This is our speculation.
A happy horse is a good thing. A kicking or biting horse is not. Our invention will help deter biting or kicking by deterring thoughts of biting or kicking by not allowing a horse’s ears to pin back.
Warning about a Horse’s Bad Intentions
While we might like to hide a horse’s bad intentions from itself, we need to know at once that such a bad intention occurred, so that we can move out of the way of a possible bite or kick. Our invention will respond to the horse’s intention with an audible warning.
When a horse attempts to pin its ears back, it uses strong muscles to do so. As the horse begins to pin its ears back, they will press against the back side of an ear muff, depressing a low-profile, normally-open, momentary-contact wafer switch that is activated by a very small operating force. The switch will trigger a buzzer. When the ear is moved forward, the switch button will be released, and the buzz will stop. The horse will likely find the buzz unpleasant, possibly deterring some ear pinning in the future. But more important, the buzzer will warn those present that the horse attempted to pin its ears back, and that they should be careful.
While the buzzer will be located near the horse’s ear, it will be located outside of the soundproofing of the ear muff, and will be implemented at a decibel level only high enough to be heard by nearby humans (and, of course, the horse).
Blinders for the Ears
The horses in Central Park perform their duties with “blinders” or “blinkers”, which block their view of everything but what is directly in front of them. Drivers of their carriages will assure you of the value of the blinders in calming the horses. Falconers use hoods that keep their hawks, falcons, and eagles in the dark until they are ready to be released. They will assure you of the value of the hoods in calming their birds. Blinders and hoods must exploit the principle of “out of sight, out of mind”: the horse or bird doesn’t fret about what it can’t see.
What works for visual stimulation would be expected to work for auditory input as well: If a horse can’t hear a sound, that sound can’t stress it. Such a belief is likely widespread among those who work with horses, for there are many companies offering a range of ear plugs for horses.
Numerous studies indicate that in human, noise levels trigger annoyance in a dose-response relationship: the greater the noise, the greater the annoyance (Schulz, 1978, Miedema, 2001). The annoyance may include fear and mild anger (Cohen & Weinstein, 1981). If a noise can stress humans, it surely can stress horses, whose hearing is more sensitive than that of humans: horses can hear much higher frequencies, and can hear higher frequencies at much lower amplitudes (Heffner & Heffner, 1983). Horse “whispering” works just fine with the horse’s more sensitive hearing.
Some devices, such as balls of cotton and the ear protection apparatus of US7506720 B1 granted to Hicks, pose a risk that they will be lost in the auditory canal, or that insertion and removal might irritate or damage the auditory canal. Our invention will sit external to the auditory canal.
 A horse bonnet designed to fit the head of a horse, enclosing the ears and covering the area in front of the ears (forehead) and behind the ears (poll).
 The bonnet of claim 1 contains protrusions into which each of the horse’s ears fit.
 The bonnet of claim 1 is held against the horse’s head by the ears, and by the browband and headstall of a bridle or halter.
 The ear pieces of claim  are made from a non-porous vinyl, leather, or acrylic-faced fabric that will reflect much of the sound energy reaching the horse’s ear.
 A shaped piece of acoustic foam is placed in each pinna and is enclosed in the bonnet’s ear protrusions. The ear pieces of claim  enclose the ears and the acoustic foam. The acoustic foam serves to dampen sound – particularly mid- and high-frequency sound. And its stiffness prevents the ear from fully flatening.
 Two switches are mounted in the bonnet behind the ears. In one embodiment, the switches are infrared proximity sensors that is activated when the ear approaches the switch. In another embodiment, the switches are low-profile, normally-open, momentary-contact wafer switches. In still another embodiment, the switches are inductive proximity normally open switches that close at a short distance, such as 8 mm. These switches complete a circuit which includes a battery and a buzzer, both mounted in the bonnet, causing the buzzer to sound when the switch is closed. The switches are wired in parallel, so that closing either switch activates the buzzer.
 In a preferred embodiment, the switches of claim  are able to detect an attempt to pin the ears back, and the buzzer of claim  alerts those nearby.
 In a preferred embodiment, the invention prevents the ears from going all the way to the pinned back position. The position is prevented by three factors: 1) the acoustic foam that is in the ear, which prevents the ear from flattening and restricts its movement; 2) the construction of the bonnet, which resists rear-ward movement of the ear; 3) the buzzer, which provides a mild unconditioned aversive stimulus which may serve as negative reinforcement for both ear pinning and the mood which triggered it.
- Böttger, D. (2010) “To say “Krishna” is to smile – emotion psychology and the neurology of mantra singing.” In “The Varieties of Ritual Experience” (ed. Jan Weinhold & Geoffrey Samuel) in the series “Ritual Dynamics and the Science of Ritual”, Volume II: “Body, performance, agency and experience”. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz.
- Cohen S., and N. Weinstein Non-auditory effects of noise on behavior and health. J Social Issues 1981; 37: 36–70
- Darwin, Charles. 1872. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. London:John Murray, 366.
- Grandin, Temple. 1989-2016. “Behavioral Principles of Livestock Handling”. Online at http://www.grandin.com/references/new.corral.html
- Hammerstein, Oscar, and Richard Rodgers, 1951. “The King and I.” Published by Hal Leonard (HL.312227).
- Heffner, H. E., and Heffner, Rickye S. “The Hearing Ability of Horses” Equine Practice. March 1983, Vol 5, No. 3, 27-32.
- Miedema H. Noise and health: How does noise affect us? Proceedings of Inter-noise 2001, The Hague, The Netherlands, vol. 1; 2001; 3–20
- Miller, Malcolm E. Anatomy of the Dog. 1979 Saunders (W.B.) Co Ltd; 2nd edition (October 1979)
- Schulz T. J. Synthesis of social surveys on noise annoyance. J Acoust Soc Am1978; 64: 377–405
- Sisson, Septimus and James Daniels Grossman. The Anatomy of the Domestic Animals. Two volumes. W B Saunders Co; 5 edition (June 1975)
- Soussignan, Robert. “Duchenne smile, emotional experience, and autonomic reactivity: A test of the facial feedback hypothesis.” Emotion, Vol 2(1), Mar 2002, 52-74. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/1528-35126.96.36.199
- Strack, Fritz, Leonard L. Martin, and Sabine Steppe. “Inhibiting and Facilitating Conditions of the Human Smile: A Nonobtrusive Test of the Facial Feedback Hypothesis”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology May 1988 54 (5): 768–777.doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.528. PMID3379579.
- Turner, John and Geoffrey Parsons. 1954. Lyrics to the tune “Smile”, based on an instrumental theme in the 1936 film Modern Times.
Jürgen Löschinger “Method and apparatus for detecting the emotional states of a horse” DE 102010038028 B4 Publication date Jul 19, 2012
Jürgen Löschinger “Method and apparatus for sensing a horse’s moods” EP 2624752 B1 Publication date: Dec 3, 2014