The Sense of Smell

...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.

Picture your favorite smells in the world. Cooking smells like Italian spaghetti and simmering sauce, or pizza baking, or freshly-ground coffee beans and bacon with pancakes, come to mind. My favorite smells in the world are things like a freshly-mown hay field, autumn leaves, baking bread, the green leaves on a tomato plant, any kind of fresh flower, or coal smoke from a steam train.

In Disney’s “Ichabod and Mr. Toad,” Mr. Toad steals a steam train and is seen whiffing coal smoke out of the stack as it chugs along. When the Flintstones’ Barny Rubble catches a whiff of some good cooking smells, he is seen floating along in the air until he finds the source.

When I was in Brazil, there was an open-air butcher shop that slaughtered the animals on-site. The dressed carcasses of pork and beef were hung for display right next to the sidewalk. That place had one of the most horrible smells I have ever encountered, enough to make me want to hurl. I used to take the long way around, just so I didn’t have to walk down that street.

I had a good laugh at some of my riding students one time when the blacksmith was doing some hot-shoeing for some of my Morgans.

That huge cloud of burnt-hair smell blew out from under the horse where the smith was working, just as the kids were rounding the door into the barn.

They politely and very quickly said they had to go talk to their Mother, and ran out. I laughed; I thought they were gonna toss their cookies.

Smells can evoke memories in us, both good and bad.

I can remember the smell of certain school rooms, down at the old North Shenango Elementary School. The cellulose-smell of books, publications and papers lent a feel for learning. Mrs. Dickey smelled like fresh, clean linens, and Jeannie Talbot ran the old mimiograph machine, with purple ink. If the copies were fresh, the purple ink had a certain chemical smell that emanated off of the papers. Mrs. Mendenhall was the cook, and she had this bottled-butter-saucey- stuff that went on the mashed potatoes and stuffing when she served turkey. I don’t care what it was made of, that concoction smelled (and tasted) so good I could have eaten mountains of Mrs. Mendenhall’s mashed potatoes or lived on them for months.

My grandparents’ homes had interesting smells, too, like seafood and fish cooking from Wholly’s Fish Market at one, or home made Polish kielbasa at the other. Sometimes, Pap would make us balloons from the gas valve in his basement, and the smell of the gas would sometimes linger there as we played with the balloons.

Happy memories, all.

Horses have a very keen sense of smell. I have tossed sliced apples into the pasture before, but the horse didn’t see them. But he sure did find them, a foot away, because he caught a whiff on the air. It was amazing watching him locate the slices in the tall grass.

Each of the horse’s nostril consists of three delicate bones called the “turbinates,” which are covered by a soft, thick, mucous membrane. The mucous membrane is a brownish-yellow color.

The Ventral, or lower Turbinate, and Dorsal, or upper Turbinate, are long, traveling the length of the horse’s long face. They are roll-like, shaped like a scroll and have many penetrating holes in them, like a very fine screen or sieve. (1)

With the mucous membrane covering them, the Turbinates work in combination to help the very accurate sense of smell of the horse, by offering a large surface for warming and filtering air.

The highest-placed Turbinate, the Ethmo Turbinate, is actually a group of plate-like projections that go into the back portion of the nasal cavity, lodged in the Ethmoid Bone. (2)

The surface of the mucous membrane that provides the covering for this structure is filled with penetrating rods that are narrow and long. These are the “Olfactory Nerves,” that actually give the sense of smell.

These nerve cells sit just beneath the surface of the mucous membrane and they present fine, hair-like cilia into the nasal cavity. It is because of these cilia that a chemical reaction occurs with the environment, a mutual action is performed, and a bioelectric impulse is then fired and sent up the nerve that registers in the Olfactory Bulb in the brain of the horse.

He smells his sweet feed with molasses, he smells his carrots, his peppermint treats and his water in the trough.

Each side of the nasal cavity is connected to four air sinuses, either directly or indirectly. These pockets are in the bone and sit directly beneath most of the surface bones of the horse’s forehead, and also in some space under its facial bones, directly beneath its eyes. (3)

The fine Epithelium tissue lines the interior walls of the sinuses, these can become inflamed if the horse becomes ill with “sinusitis.” The sinus does not perform in the sense of smell for the horse, rather, it is thought that perhaps, because they are light-weight in nature, that it aids in making the horse’s head lighter or helping to round out the facial areas of the skull, giving the horse a completed appearance. (4)

The nasal cavity itself gives a very good opening for the Veterinarian to examine the horse in the event of sickness or injury. Through flexible fiber optic instruments called “Endoscopes,” the Vet can see into the airway, guttural pouches, esophagus and eventually the stomach, for viewing where problems may lie. (5)

Also, the Vet can pass flexible plastic tubes through the nasal passage, to administer medications to the horse that would otherwise be impossible to get the horse to take.

These nasal passages and their tissues are highly delicate and sensitive, and are vascular in nature. Extreme care must be taken to avoid injuring the animal. The Vet may sedate the horse or otherwise restrain it, to help prevent injury.

Even when care is taken, it is not uncommon to see the horse with a nosebleed after these procedures, but they soon end and are not considered serious.

Bees wax and bees wax furniture polish smell wonderful, tack rooms with leather always smell good, and so does a handsome cowboy after he’s cleaned-up. An apple-wood fire is nice, so is BBQ on a grill, and my Mother’s pork roasts can spark an appetite the size of Meadville.

Leaving you to float along, Barney Rubble-style, to the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”

1-5: “Horseman’s Veterinary Encyclopedia,” by Will A. Hadden III, DVM