Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride,
Friendship without envy,
Or beauty without vanity?
Here, where grace is served with muscle
And strength by gentleness confined
He serves without servility; he has fought without enmity.
There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent.
There is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.
~Ronald Duncan, "The Horse"
Okay moving on, this post is going to be a little different than normal.. (But I will add that Donna and Gracie are doing very well and are looking sooooo fluffy and cute in their winter woollies ;))
Today I am going to talk a bit about behaviour and also negative effects that domestication has had on the horse and its health.
And, yes there is a perfectly reasonable explanation to this topic.. See, currently I have been buried under a number of assignments (hence the lack of updates, do forgive me I can never seem to find enough hours in the day anymore...) and one of the current ones that I have been working on, is exactly that topic, now normally I struggle to meet the minimum required words, because once I have said what is needed that's it, I'm not one to waste words.. But for this topic I found myself with far too many and much more depth than the question actually required.. So I thought that this would be interesting, and really this is stuff that every horse owner should be aware of.
I apologize in advance if any of my views seem harsh or I offend anyone, these are my own thoughts and views, not expert advise, if you are in doubt after reading this, then go out and do some research! Don't just rely on one side of the story, get as much information as you can from both sides before you decide.
But the overall message that I am trying to convey here is Really think about, and do what is best for your horse from a completely non biased point of view! Because that's really what all horse owners want in the end, to give the very best to our horses? But, sometimes what we do is not always in our horses best interest.. this can be through ignorance or whatever, that's not the point. The point is that it's really easy to get caught up in what everyone else says "You shouldn't do it like that!" or "You need to do it like this!" Everyone has their own views, and in the horse world especially so, as so much of it is based on tradition. This is a double-edged sword; tradition doesn't always mean its right. What worked 50, maybe 250 years ago isn't always going to cut it today. Horses are incredibly honest, if we are doing something wrong they will tell us, but sometimes we just don't listen, and if we don't listen to what our horse is trying to tell us for long enough; then for your horse it is like you are ignoring them and he will probably get frustrated after a while. This often results in him resorting to a more drastic approach of trying to get the message across (when this happens, its because he is screaming at you to listen). And what happens after this?
"My horse is so naughty" or "I don't know what is wrong with him, he never used to behave like this." the list goes on and we run into all kinds of behavoural problems! Which a lot of the time are our fault because we aren't listening, and then we blame the horse!!
Okay, have a think about this example for a moment: You go to the person you trust the most in the world with something really important to say, now imagine the first time you tell them, they ignore you so you repeat it, and then again and again, but still they ignore you. Not only would get pretty frustrating, but you would start to lose your trust in them after awhile wouldn't you? So you begin yelling at them trying to get them to hear you- when a horse starts yelling at you that is when we get in to trouble...
But not all behavioural come from your horse yelling at you: sometimes you get a horse that is burdened by somebody else’s mistakes or misunderstandings. Any of you had a horse that is supposedly is a ‘trouble’ horse, you start working with this horse gain their trust and have a major break though and everyone is amazed? Its probably because this poor horse has become so tired and sick of yelling to get someone’s attention, and then amazingly someone comes along who is willing to listen and try and understand their whispers, after all that yelling, wouldn’t that be such a relief?
Our horses can be very patient with us most of the time, but sometimes it can get to a certain point that our horse loses trust in us. For horses in the wild its all about trust within the herd, its trust that keeps them alive: the herd members trust that the lead mare will make the right choices and lead them to safety: the lead mare knows that the herd members will follow her and trusts that herd's stallion will not only protect the herd from threats, but also follow from the rear and make sure that none of the herd falls behind...
Trust goes both ways; for a good partnership with your horse: you need to have as much trust in your horse as he does in you. But that is pretty obvious right? Well, the reason I bring this up is that lack of trust in a partnership can be another factor in misunderstanding your horses behaviour.
now I'm not just talking lack of trust in your horse, I'm talking lack of trust in yourself. Now horses can be great confidence builders, that's why most of us get a great old schoolmaster as a first horse- these kind of horses get it and don't normally take advantage. But just like people their are some horses out there who have strong personality's or need some one to guide them (yep I've had both.. the former seriously was a nightmare, who taught me a lot of things the hard way. I wouldn't recommend being taught like this, but I am grateful because in the long run she has helped me to become a better horsewoman today.) These kind of horses need you to take the lead, because if you don't have trust and confidence in yourself then why the hell should they follow you? Horses need a leader, and if it isn't you, then it has to be them.
Carlos Tabernaberri says that horses have a BS meter, I agree with this. Horses are so honest that they can often be a reflection of our self. I can really understand why horses can be so beneficial in therapy programs; horses teach us about ourselves. But the truth can hurt and we humans are a very prideful bunch at times. Sometimes we find it quite difficult to accept that our horse is acting a certain way because they are reflecting back at us stuff that we just don’t want to acknowledge, so we either pretend that the behaviour is not happening and ignore it, or we get upset and blame it all on our horse...
Okay that feels really good to get off of my chest, now the topic that sparked the idea for this post: I'm going to briefly touch on 'The negative effects that domestication has had on the horse'. If you anyone wants me to go into more depth please leave a comment and I will happily do a follow up post.
Now, this may seem a bit harsh, so please forgive me, okay? ;)
We, as owners place great deal of unnatural conditions on our horses, sometimes we don’t even realize that we are in fact compromising their health! Now about 55 million years of evolution have shown that Equus is excellent at adapting to changes in the environment and conditions, but domestication has really placed some concerns on the horse’s health, because we are trying to change what millions of years of evolution has created mostly for our convenience. There is no doubt about that the horse is an amazing creature, and the footsteps of every great civilization ever built had hoofprints of the horse right beside them (no, that is not totally original… but I can’t think for the life of me where I got it from…) but the simple fact is sometimes we mollycoddle our horses - easy food, water, they are stabled, soft sand arenas and easy exercise, shoes to ‘protect’ their feet from hard surfaces, we only want to make it easy for our horses but in fact we are making it harder, by not treating our horses like a ‘real’ horse, they can suffer for it. We have a terrible habit of projecting our own emotions on to our horses, instead of looking at it from a horse, a REAL horse’s point of view.
First we need to look at the ‘whole horse’ and recognise that everything is interconnected: The hooves for example are an excellent gauge of the horse’s heath- as everything comes out in the hooves. If you are having lots of unexplained problems with your horse’s hooves, then instead of focusing on that one problem take a step back and examine the ‘whole horse’ because it is more than likely that the ‘problem’ in the hooves is the result of something else, not the cause (like for example a mineral deficiency).
Equus evolved to cover vast grasslands; as a grazer a horse only has a very small stomach and it’s digestive system was developed to always have food going though it: Now what happens if we confine a horse to smaller area (or a stable) and we only feed maybe one large feed each day? Well, the answer really depends on a number of things:
· Is the horse getting enough ‘enrichment’ in his daily routine?
· Does the horse have company? (horses are herd animals so they need to socialise, even if it is only a donkey, goat, sheep etc.)
· Is the horse getting enough exercise? Horses are built to move, when confined to stables or small areas with not much to do are likely to suffer from boredom and at risk of developing stereotype behaviours- Wind-sucking, Cribbing, Weaving, Wood-chewing, aggression are just a few of the destructive psychological issues that can arise. Horses need to move, movement keeps them healthy in body and mind. Movement also allows the hooves to develop properly so there isn’t a need for shoes. Wild horses travel over so of the roughest terrains and have never had a need to wear shoes, on the contrary their hooves are perfect and far superior compared to most domestic shod horses, don’t believe me? For a start go and check out Jamie Jackson’s wild horse research, and then the study that Brian Hampton did on Australia's brumbies. Our little herd of five rescue ponies (Please check out the rescue page if you wish to know more) are basically running as a semi wild herd and have free range in fairly big paddock which has varying terrains (its got hills, creeks, and lots of hard stony areas and they have never had their feet touched touch by a rasp in all the time we have owned them. They have never had any problem with their feet, and they keep them self-trimmed and are in perfect condition, what does that tell you?
· Does the horse have access to enough forage? (This is quite a major one, if horses go without food for a period longer than a couple of hours that are at risk of developing ulcers) Horses with restricted food also get rather grumpy. Also it is advisable that all horse owners have at least a basic knowledge of how the horse’s digestive system works and nutrition rather than just relying and trusting what it says on the feed bag (honestly at first glance, those things can be pretty confusing until you work out how to read them.) Dr. Juliet Getty’s ‘Feed Your Horse Like a Horse’ is a wonderfully informative book that will tell you everything need to know, I highly recommend it to any horse owner. You can check out her site here: www.GettyEquineNutrition.com
I’m not suggesting you throw your horse out in the paddock and let him fend for himself, What I am suggesting is looking at adopting elements of a ‘wild horse’ into your management- check out ‘Paddock Paradise’ and I am going to have to stop here before this post gets WAY too big, but if you need any more information or ideas then please contact me.
My next post is going to be on my new favorite subject: The hoof! so please stay tuned, its exciting as I plan to illustrate too! Want to see a sneak preview? (also if you like the look of my art, I do animal portrait commissions- if you want more info please drop me a line)
Thanks very much reading and I hope you enjoyed today's topic, please feel free to comment or if you would rather send me an email please do.
Till next time :)