The Umwelt Concept

Chazot thoughts 46



“It is through science that we prove, but through intuition that we discover.”

                                                                                             (Henri Poincare)

I like the study too and totally followed his mind thinking, “Scientific magazines are like lay magazines. Articles are published only if they fit the beliefs or agenda of the editing committee.” The paper has been published within the university where the research has been done, but not in scientific magazines and this is too bad as it is a really good study. The study is about understanding our perceptual world and the author underlines the fact that in the field of our behavior, there are enormous gaps in actual researches. I like the sentence which underlines that our close relation with humans since millennia makes it hard to separate anecdotal wisdom from scientific facts. Knowing his thoughts, I can tell you that he knew intuitively and through experience most of the topics treated in the study but he always like the scientific proof as it clarifies his thoughts and further his knowledge


The concept of  “Umwelt” characterizes the particular perceptual world of a species.” There are great differences between each species due to sensory information that their visual, hearing, olfactory, tactile, chemosensory senses allow them to perceive and how the brain interprets sensory information. “Since primates evolve in an arboreal world amidst heavy vegetation, it is unlikely that they have the same perceptual capacity as a ground animal which evolves in open habitat.” (Carol A. Saslow, Understanding the perceptual world of horses. Psychology Department. Oregon State University Corvallis Oregon.)  


As humans, you interpret our reactions in respect of your species-specific perception of reality. You are prone to interpret or behavioral shortcomings or peculiarities as lack of intelligence or deficient obedience. The movement known as, “Natural horsemanship,” interprets our behavior in respect of our social order. These naïve theories take a very small component of our Umwelt and make up a whole philosophy that is pleasing human fantasies but demeans our mental capacities and learning abilities. The problem is that our only chance of remaining sound in the face of modern performances is processing, through the development and refinement of our intelligence, body coordination precisely adapted to the athletic demand of the performance.


Talking for instance about our visual acuity, there are major differences between our perception of the world and your human perception of the same world. The problem is that you rely heavily on your high-acuity daytime vision for distance information, object recognition and others information and you consequently theorize that we see the world the way you do. You largely overlook the fact that we use olfaction and hearing when you are using sight. When you are lost in the wood or the mountain, we bring you back home, if you let us do it, even if the night is without moon or the daylight vision is totally obstructed with dense fog. We do not see through the fog but with our nostrils separated and pointed in opposite direction we have some capacities of stereolfaction in location of olfactory sources. The advantage with olfactory stimuli is that they provide information both day and night and do not require that the originator of the odor remains present.


I love carrots but I hate medications. I will not eat the carrot if there is any smell of medication on his fingers. I ostensibly smelled his fingers before eating the carrot and he quickly understood that the odor of medication of produce like hoof care or saddle soap confused me. He washes his hands before giving me a carrot. We all are sensitive to odors and very often our reactions are misinterpreted. Caesar is very laid back but he absolutely hates the smell of cigarette. Caesar is usually interested by new comers but he will move at the end of the stall if he smells nicotine on the fingers of the new comers. One time a woman asked him if Caesar was sick as he refused her carrot and moved back in his stall. He asked her, “”do you smoke?” She says “yes,” and he told her “that’s why.” He took another carrot in the fridge and Caesar came back through the Dutch door and eats it. The interesting reaction is that this woman was annoyed because Caesar did not like the smell of cigarette.  


This is why the Umwelt concept is so important. The way, a member of one species tends to think is inevitably influence by one’s perception of the world. For you humans, Olfaction is very poor so you do not see odors as a valuable source of information. We can be concerned and even spook when the odor is associated in our brain with a painful memory He told me about his horse Bebe Blond. The horse was an international Three day event horse. Later in his life, he miraculously escaped form a barn on fire. 18 horses died on the fire. Bebe kept until the last day of his life a very strong phobia about any odor of burning.


Because of your excellent sight, you humans are going to look for a visual cause of our spookiness and you will misinterpret our behavior if nothing visual could justify our alarm. Beside odors that you might not notice, we have a different range of frequencies. We cannot go down to quite as low frequencies than you can but we can hear high frequencies sound that you cannot hear. We can hear 33,000Hz compared to your human limit that is 20,000Hz. Next to the training ring, there is a building where they do welding and other work. Sometime, when I don’t respond to the touch of his legs, he ask me, ”You are deaf or what?” I ask the same question when he does not hear these strident and almost painful sounds.


Talking about legs; his legs are very quiet and our dialogue is about subtle nuances in light pressures. At first I did not understand when Caesar and Manchester talked about the annoyance of unstable legs, kick of the heels and never the less the spurs. As they described these legs actions, I felt on my flanks the annoyance that such legs action must create. He published recently a study named “Quiet legs.” It was a quote that I am going the repeat in my own discourse. We have very high tactile sensitivity in the area of our flanks situated under your legs. I can easily imagine how annoying it must be having a rider with unstable legs. “Using stimuli developed for gaging human tactile sensitivity, we were surprise to find that horses sensitivity on the parts of the body which would be in contact with the rider’s legs is greater than what has been found for the adult human calf  or even the more sensitive human fingertip. Horses can react to pressure that are too light for the human to feel. This raises the possibility that human instability in the saddle results in inadvertent delivery of irrelevant tactile signals to the horse. And a consequent failure in teaching the horse which signals are meaningful. Horses deemed insensitive to the legs (dead- sided), may simply have never had the chance to respond to consistent, light and meaningful signals. Similarly, the seeming ability of a well-trained horse to have extrasensory perception for his rider’s intentions may be instead its response to slight movement or tightening that the rider makes without awareness. “ (Carol A Saslow, Understanding the perceptual world of horses, Applied Animal Behavior Science, 78 (2002) 209-224) ,

JLC