Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse News

May/June 2007

Great Gaits


Horses Are Prey ©

by: Barbara Weatherwax

There is a natural tendency to assign human characteristics to our beloved horses. Unfortunately, this can lead us into difficulties. There are two categories in living creatures; hunters and prey. Humans are hunters and horses are prey. This seems like a simple statement; but the ramifications are enormous. Humans and horses are wired in completely different ways.

This doesnít mean, however, that horses do not have a rich emotional life. Horses develop attachments within their herd. A mare will mourn the loss of a foal. A stallion will have a "favorite" mare. Some horses bond with each other and some horses will never get along. There are times when a horse will bond with its human companion; and there are horse-human combinations that will never be compatible.

The difference with these equine "emotions," is in the motivation. Upper most in a horseís mind is preservation. Everything it does is to protect itself. Survival is at the heart of every single action taken by a horse. If we understand this, then we are not as likely to take its behavior personally. If a horse acts against us, it is because it perceives our actions as a threat to its safety.

Each horse is its own story. Each horse is unique. As with humans, the individual life experiences contribute to the whole of the horse. Genes do play an important part, but again, as with people, life experiences are a major component. If a horse is handled intelligently and with kindness, then the true genetic mapping is allowed to come through. If on the other hand, the horse is abused or mistreated, then it will develop as best it can in survival mode.

Gaited horse owners may have more difficulties with this concept because our gaited horses are bred to be companions. We tend to respond to them as friends and buddies. Itís hard to believe they are a completely different species.

Thoroughbreds are bred to run. Quarter horses are bred for performance in barrels, reining cutting and running the quarter mile. The Warmbloods are designed to accomplish amazing physical feats in dressage and jumping. The Gaited breeds have one major job Ė that is to be a comfortable ride and pleasant companion. Because of this, breeding concentrates on a gentle disposition.

Working with this gentle disposition, itís easy to see why we almost forget these are horses, and they are still controlled by their natural wiring as prey.

I had a stallion at one time that was the prettiest horse Iíd ever owned. He came from a gentle line of Mountain Horses. I had every reason to expect this horse would be a kind, easy horse. But as I was soon to learn; this horse had been abused and misused. To my horror, this horse was so defensive and threatened by everything, that he was a danger to anyone who put trust in him.

As frustrating as it was, this animal was in survival mode most of the time. All the wonderful kind genes in the world could not compensate for the destructive handling he had endured. His natural defense mechanisms were on constant alert, and he was looking at the world through the eyes of a prey animal. He was a compact package of fight, might and defense. Happily I placed him with a super trainer who fell in love with him and was able to adapt to his problems and keep him as her own riding horse.

Personally, I donít let the difference in our species stand in the way of my relationship with my horses. I am extremely human when I hug my horse Ė kiss her eyes Ė let her feel my heart beat. But all the while Iím "loving" on her, I know she is interpreting my strength as alpha. She isnít loving me back, but rather placing her trust in me. Somehow we manage to communicate because we are being who we are and taking from the relationship what we need as horse and human.


Please contact me on my email:  with your specific questions or thoughts about the Mountain Horses. And Happy Gaiting!