Posted 22 September 2014 by Andrew Gardner
Oh dear. Hot on the heels of recent groundbreaking research at the University of Sussex which concluded that horses communicate using their ears (no, really?) comes the news that scientists have worked out they are key to sheepdogs herding sheep. Apparently it comes down to simple things like, er, rounding up the sheep and driving them into one place.
Any horseman or woman worth their salt will tell you they watch horses' ears instinctively. Are they flat back? He's cross. Are they moving, or flexed towards you? He's listening. Are they too far forward? He's on full radar alert for that scary thing that you can't see. He suddenly pointed them backwards as you came into a jump? That's probably why you fell off. For full explanations I refer you to the classic Thelwell cartoons - wickedly funny but also searingly accurate. And as for the bond between shepherd and sheepdog - well, you'll see working dogs in the farmland around many of our country cottages (click here to view our rural selection) and it's truly amazing.
I know: people get paid for this sort of research, but I confess that if I were a student I'd love to be doing something like that if it meant I could spend all my study time out on the South Downs watching horses and sheep. Where the latter study has gone horribly wrong, in my book, is that they're talking about creating a robot that could do the job of a sheepdog. No! Tragedy! Can you see the Beeb running a Sunday afternoon programme called One Man and His Robot? Ah yes, me too. It wouldn't be the same though.
Mind you, if they were to take K9 as the prototype and merge the idea with Dr Who, perhaps they'd be onto something truly original. Some of the early episodes were filmed in old chalk pits around the Dorking area and they seem to like revisiting old ground, so perhaps it's time to bring the Tardis to Sussex. Daleks on Ditchling Beacon?