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Horse Whinnies

June 21, 2006

A scientist is trying to decode the horse’s whinny.


The Dr. Doolittle of horses. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

After the racehorse Barbaro was injured in the Preakness, reporters asked his vet how bad the injury was.

DAVID BROWNING (University of Rhode Island):
And he says, it’s very difficult to tell because we can’t speak to them and they can’t speak to us.

That’s physicist David Browning of the University of Rhode Island. He and a colleague are trying to overcome this language barrier between humans and horses by studying whinnies. His preliminary study shows they are quite varied.

The frequency can increase quite rapidly at the start and then taper off slowly.

[Sound of whinny]

Or you can get this characteristic tremolo, you know, which you get in a whinny, (imitates whinny).

[Sound of whinny]

He hopes to determine what, if anything, the horses are communicating with this rich repertoire of whinnies. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.