By Request: Fainting Goats.

It’s like Ungulate Week over here. It’s not quite as exciting as the Discovery Channel version, but there are a lot more hooves. Anyway! Julia asks:

The thing I find most fascinating about the article is that miniature horses apparently have almost 360 degree range of vision! Did you ever try to sneak up on your miniature horse and, if so, did she see you coming? Also, if you could blog about your fainting goat I would be very appreciative.

As it happens, horses have about 350 degrees of vision - their eyes are positioned on each side of their heads, so they have blind spots directly in front and behind them. What’s crazier, though, is that each eye is controlled by a different hemisphere of the brain, and unlike in humans, those hemispheres operate mostly independently of one another. So it’s entirely possible to be standing to the right of a horse, in its line of vision, and have that “eye”, as it were, realize that you were there. But if you were to walk briskly to the other side of the horse, the other “eye” wouldn’t know you were coming, and the horse would be startled. Now, about the goats.

When I was younger we had a Tennessee fainting goat as a pet. (Don’t ask me why.) This species is characterized by their unique reaction to being startled: all their muscles seize up and they fall over, stiff-legged, for ten or twenty seconds. (They do not properly “faint”, as they remain conscious.) The fainting is painless, although presumably not all too pleasant. These goats were often put in with flocks of sheep, so that when wolves or coyotes approached, the goats (which were quite cheap) would faint and the sheep (which were pricier) would run away.

Or so I was told. Wikipedia seems a little less sure. But our goat, whose name was Belle, certainly did fall over at the slightest provocation, and I’m somewhat ashamed to say that when she first arrived my friends and I did go around for awhile intentionally startling her into falling over. This was funny (really funny) the first couple times, but after awhile we just started to feel bad for the poor creature, and thereafter confined ourselves to only accidentally making her faint, by approaching too quickly or throwing hay at her or making any kind of sudden movements in her presence, really.