Is my horse deaf or does he have 'selective hearing'? Have you ever encountered a deaf horse?

“Stacy, I also have a 11 year-old deaf child, however he is of the ‘four-legged’ kind. I have had my 11 yr old APHA gelding for 3 years now and I’m still discovering to what extent he is ‘deaf’. I write that with emphasis because he too is subject to the rumor that he is deaf. The previous owners were NOT horse people but WERE animal lovers and took him in from a family member that had to move across state and could not keep him. The ‘not-so-horsey’ owners were trying to place him and warn me that he was deaf. I took him in for his forever home. Many people I have met since that new him and his original owners, have told me they ‘heard’ he was ‘deaf’ also. I have been riding for almost 10 years and encountered many horses with ‘selective hearing’. In the last 3 years I have learned that he is of the ‘selective hearing’. With questionable consistencies in the history of his training he is more responsive to visual and physical cues than vocal commands, but he does ‘hear’ some things. I learn ASL in an after school club at my high school and have considered brushing off my signing skills to help further his training. Tell me, have you ever encountered a deaf horse? or know of any one that has had experience in training one?-Kristen”

I have seen both horses with ‘selective hearing’ and those that are deaf. Most horses who choose to ignore some cues, like ‘Whoa’, will often give themselves away with listening to other cues, like a verbal cluck or kiss to ‘Go’. Popcorn, the horse I trained during the 2006 Road to the Horse Colt starting competition was very much like this. Months into his training he seemed deaf to the word Whoa. He would stop off the bridle reins and leg/seat cues but he completely ignored ‘Whoa’. I often joked that he could pretend very well that he was deaf….except that when I ‘kissed’ to ask for a lope, he took off like a race horse!

It was also obvious that he heard other noises;shake the grain bucket, crack a whip, etc and he could hear it even if the noise was coming from around a corner where he couldn’t see the noise maker. Deaf horses don’t do that.Gunner

Consider the following excerpt from The Quarter Horse News:

 “Although it’s rare among horses as a whole, deafness has become more frequent in the reining arena as Gunner’s descendants and relations show off their talent. Trainers who have ridden them say their schooling just requires a bit of creativity. A horse that can’t hear “whoa” needs to learn different cues than a hearing horse.

But the desire for a talented reining horse seems to outweigh the challenges of dealing with deafness. Gunner stands to a full book every year at a $7,500 fee, and mare owners are well aware of the chances of getting a deaf foal.” for full article click here


I have never trained a deaf horse but I have spoken with many trainers that have. As the article above made note of there has been a definite increase in the number of deaf horses in the reining events. Most of the trainers also agree that there are just some adjustments that need to be made when you are riding or training these horses.

Personally, I have been joking for several years about finding a deaf Gunner bred horse that wasn’t quite making it as a reiner…I would like to try one out as a mounted shooting horse!


  1. Carla on November 16, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    I own a very beautiful APHA deaf show horse (rides English and Western). I love him dearly. He stands 17H and I am constantly complimented on his looks. He sees the world differently from other horses and can be a little suspicious about things behind him, but otherwise, in all seriousness, sometimes I forget he is deaf. This past summer I rode him at the Pinto World Show in Tulsa. He is is an amazing horse and I will never regret buying him.

  2. Kristen on September 10, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    Thank you, Stacy for the link about Gunner. I never knew he was deaf! I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the research put into tracking down the ‘deaf gene’. I truly appreciate the response. I was told by my Vet there was technology to prove/disprove deafness with horses, but I set aside my curiosity long ago with the assumption that the testing had to be expensive. I can understand how my gelding’s laid back demeanor and sensitivity to physical cues could be mistaken for deafness. He’s never spooked at anything and I feel many times like I only have to think of the cue and he has already beat me to it. I was able to track down one of his past trainers to gather some history and he told me he was “deaf as a door knob” because he didn’t “listen”, just as you described Popcorn’s lack to ‘Whoa’. Combining my gelding’s well mannered behavior and responsiveness with an all white body (lots of chrome there, only one sorrel patch) and face with blue eyes, it was an easy jump to presume he was deaf. But as can be concluded from the article, not all white faces with blue eyes are guaranteed to be deaf, a developing stereotype yet to be proven or disproven by research. It has been my experience with my APHA gelding, that his ears give him away with a flicker and turn. He listens… with his ears, not his whole body.

  3. Terry Bass on August 29, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    Won’t spook at what he or she can’t hear always be on thr bright side

  4. Sharon McLeod on August 28, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    I own a deaf Gunner. Its a little tricky but not to bad. I agree just need to be a little creative. Oh and get one. We shoot off of him all the time. Actually he would make a perfect mounted shooting horse. We love trail riding on him. Knock on wood. So far he has never spooked at anything.

  5. Suzi Sturgell on August 28, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Stacy, I have a deaf colt– so if you want to take my 2 yr old Gunner grandson for your project, I’ve just barely started with him saddling, bridleing and roundpenning — you may train him for your own experience and use him as a shooting horse! Then when you’re finished, I just want to raise some babies out of him! He is out of Colonel’s Little Gun, and a Smart Ethyl mare. He is deaf and looks exactly like Lil’ Gun and Gunner. He is my dream come true horse I bought as a yearling, as I’ve adored Gunner for many years and actually wailed like a baby when news came of his passing. I didn’t care one iota that my boy was deaf, or that my future babies may be also! Its difficult to convince my husband of that, but Gunner offspring are not only beautiful, but marketable!

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