The true nature of horses, peace loving or formidable killing machines?

Part 1 – In this series I aim to cover all the weaponry horses have in their rather formidable arsenal. While predators may be seen as well-equipped killing machines, this particular prey animal is more than capable of inflicting serious and at times fatal injuries.

If you love horses, then undoubtedly you will find this image beautiful. Perhaps it will invoke feelings of calm, peace and serenity. Perhaps you may even imagine that these two are friends and are greeting one another, or maybe they are in love?  This image could feature in a horse calendar, perhaps for the month of July with a romantic caption…

A

Sarcasm aside, the real point here is that horses should not be viewed as placid, even docile animals living within a peaceful herd. Of course horses can be gentle, but about as gentle as a sleeping bear, or a wolf nursing her cubs.

Hoof Waving

This particular behaviour or action is not the same as striking, but could be thought of as a pre-curser to fully striking out, especially in this case. It also should not be confused with a similar action domesticated horses do when not communicating with another horse i.e. waving a front leg when expecting food. Reading body language is not as black and white as some may assume. Certain actions cannot be pigeonholed into meaning just one thing. The entire horse must be read, the circumstances and the environment. For example if you see a person waving from a distance, are they being friendly, asking for help, or merely batting a wasp away?

The raising of the front hoof is just one form of gesturing, and is often observed in the wild when one stallion meets another stallion. A watered down version of this can also be seen in domestic horses. In some ways there is less incentive for domesticated horses to demonstrate the same behaviour as seen in wild horses, at least with the same level of severity.

B

Males are routinely gelded, so there would be no incentive to find, steal or fight to keep mares. While there are stallions being kept for breeding purposes, or even in work it’s unlikely there are other stallions around. If a number of stallions were kept in a mixed herd, then undoubtedly fighting would occur. This behaviour is also seen in domesticated mares when meeting a new field companion, and again it is a show of strength and dominance. At times the position the new horse takes within the hierarchy of the herd is established quickly after a short period of gesturing and vocalising. In these cases the new horse has not pushed for leadership status, or at least not yet.

Gesturing is the equivalent of a dog raising its hackles, or a gorilla beating its chest, and this is just one of many ways a horse flexes its muscles in order to show his adversary he is strong and powerful. There are probably only 3 likely outcomes when 2 stallions have come to this hoof to hoof point. Firstly, one of the horses may bottle it on deciding the other horse is more powerful, so takes flight. Turning tail and running is unlikely to ensure he gets away unscathed however. The second stallion won’t waste the massive amounts of adrenaline coursing through his veins and will want to make absolute certain the weaker animal knows he is the leader of his herd. Therefore he could give chase in order to inflict serious injuries, even intending to kill the weaker horse. Weaker horses usually do get away however, probably a bit battered, but will generally survive to fight another day.

C

D

The second outcome is that both horses become distracted, even spooked and leave the area, both going their separate ways. The third and most likely outcome is that battle commences. This happens when all attempts at non-contact intimidation has failed, with each horse believing that they are more powerful than the other.

18

Image above – Very typical of the images shared on the internet usually with romantic, peaceful even inspiring captions.

Image below – The same two horses demonstrating the stark reality of completely natural equine behavior.

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Next time – When intimidation becomes physical!

Images: By kind permission of photographer Gary Odell

Paddocks-When Size Matters

When strolling through the undulating landscape of Dorset recently, one particular right of way cut its way through a very large paddock. I entertained myself by trying to guess the types of horses that had been here. The field had been poached over winter, because even in May the grass looked decimated and was littered with discarded spoilt hay. This now empty field would have been a winter paddock, but I wondered at this decision. This was a steep hillside with beautiful views of the sea, but battered by the winds coming of the English Channel, yet there was no shelter, either natural or man-made. Ten minutes later I spotted a large barn which was flanked by smaller paddocks, much smaller paddocks. One particular paddock was approximately the size of 2 tennis courts, and I counted 9 thoroughbreds in there. Ears were pinning, tails were swishing and noses were curling as they jostled for space in an attempt to graze peacefully. Again, I wondered at this decision.

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Why Do Horses Jump Rider-less?

We have all seen the videos in which a rider falls while show-jumping, and the horse continues to jump the fences. Most of the comments will have a very positive outlook on such an event. Most people will agree it’s because the horse loves jumping and has been trained well. The more ignorant comments will suggest that the horse is attempting to finish the competition without the rider. Actually, a well-trained confident horse would stop jumping once the rider has fallen.

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The Realistic Guide To Buying A Horse Part 4

#11 Buy a horse you already know

Many riders go on to become horse owners after sharing or loaning a horse. However I am not talking about loaning with a view to buy here, as that is something very different. But a rider that has been financially contributing to the upkeep of someone else’s horse for some time, without the sole intention of ever buying it. Usually however, it is common that when such an opportunity arises, the sharer advances into horse ownership. This would actually be the most recommended path to horse ownership in my humble opinion. The rider would already be aware of  the horse’s personality and level of training, experience and confidence. They should also (hopefully) understand the work and cost involved in the upkeep of the animal. Experience would have been gained in dealing with the farrier, dentist and vet, and of course the animals dietary and exercise needs.

Continue reading “The Realistic Guide To Buying A Horse Part 4”

The Realistic Guide To Buying A Horse Part 3

#8 Try out the horse yourself

When one particular family with limited horse knowledge asked for my help to try out a horse for their daughter, I was happy to oblige. On riding the animal in the arena I achieved 3 good paces before taking it for a hack through a wood. Even when jumping a fallen tree, the horse behaved impeccably. He was alert and forward going, and I saw no evidence he had been given a special treat to make him subservient. The teenage daughter of the family rode the horse in the arena after I had finished, but only at walk. After the horse was vetted and bought the family complained it would buck with the daughter. Again I rode the horse, and again he behaved impeccably. Later that day I received a phone call to say the horse had bucked yet again, and the daughter had fallen.

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The Realistic Guide To Buying A Horse Part 2

#5 Do not overlook the veteran horse

Do not be deterred from buying a horse that is over 12, 15, 18 or even 20 years old. If the animal is fit there is no reason why such an age should matter, or even be relevant. A 20 year old horse will hunt, show-jump, hack or even compete in dressage for example. Horse care has come on in leaps and bounds in the last couple of decades. They are afforded better dental, farrier and vet care, as well as improved feed and supplements, both of which can contain essential herbs and minerals to maintain good health. Most yards insist on fastidious worming programs, and flu and tetanus jabs. Manufacturers of equine consumables strive (and compete) to improve the quality of bedding in term of reducing dust and maximising absorption. Frankly put, there has never been a better time to be a horse, and 20 could be seen as the new 10!

Continue reading “The Realistic Guide To Buying A Horse Part 2”

The Realistic Guide To Buying A Horse Part 1

#1 Don’t be swayed by pretty names and good looks

My first horse was a 14.2 hh strawberry roan mare called Princess. 8 year old girls in particular will immediately want to own a pony that is strawberry roan, and called Princess. The child’s parents may also assume such a beautiful pony with an angelic, virtuous name would be appropriate for a little girl. As it turns out pretty ponies with pretty names are not as virtuous as 8 year old children think. Over a period of 2 years I had to endure bucks, rears and bolts and all the associated injuries and terrifying experiences that occurred during such events.

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‘That’ Post On Grazing Muzzles

Well I had an inkling that this subject may be controversial. There are many devices on the equestrian market that have been in use for so long that people become almost blind to whether such devices should be used. Certain objects become such a familiar sight on yards, or on horses, that they become accepted without question or thought. Spurs, bits, whips, draw reins, and grazing muzzles (to name just a few) seem to fall into the category of what is considered conventional. My main beef with this is that when certain devices are readily available and a familiar sight, no extra thought, research or effort is made to find another option, method or technique to remedy a situation or ailment. Of course this isn’t true of everyone, but novices in particular may unwittingly trust such devices simply because they are commonplace.

Others may also never question something they have been doing, simply because for so many years they assumed it was the correct thing to do. Many of us go through life doing things a certain way, and only question it when someone asks why? I am without doubt guilty of this myself in that I have never ridden bitless. It was never questioned as a child, and I never asked why I was inserting a lump of metal into my horses mouth. Yet riding without a bit is common in the USA, and unfortunately rare in my part of the world. However, in my case I can still learn and appreciate that sometimes there are better ways of doing things, and not always just accepting things, simply because they are normal.

Video – Straight From The Horses Mouth 😉

Grazing Muzzles Cause Misery

There appear to be various contraptions readily available to buy these days in which it seems evident that the designer of the product either had no love for horses, or was ignorant of their welfare. Moreover it appears the buyer of such contraptions willingly shares the same mindset of the manufacturer. There are a few things that cause me to grimace when I see a horse from afar. One is seeing a horse wearing a rug on a warm day, or just because it’s raining. The other is seeing a horse wearing a grazing muzzle.

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The Yard Sign Plague

Hard hats must be worn when riding, Poo must be picked up immediately, No smoking on the premises, Dogs must be kept on leads, Children under 12 years of age must have adult supervision! While there may be a few more I won’t bore you with the rest. These are the do’s and don’ts we see written on the large sign as we enter the stable yard. But it doesn’t stop there, we read that sign and think yep, got it only to be further bombarded with the offspring of the big daddy sign.

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