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
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
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
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.