Category: behaviour

When Retirement Isn’t The Kindest Thing

A vet once said to me By the time the horse shows pain, the damage is already severe. Those words sent me down the road of wanting to fully understand equine body language, instinct and psychology. I have now adapted those words to fit what I believe is true, which is By the time a human identifies pain in the horse, the damage is already severe. The horse is very good at hiding injury or illness because it is a prey animal. A lion hiding in tall grass never steams into a herd of zebra, but selects the animal it is most likely to succeed at killing. No animal will want to expend energy for a useless cause. The likely target will be a zebra that is old, young, weak or injured. Therefore if a horse is retired that is quite obviously lame then I am certain it must know it is vulnerable to attack. Thankfully there are usually no free roaming large predatory animals hunting around the country side of Great Britain. Considering the amount of times I have either stopped, or managed a bolt, I am fairly sure evolution has yet to tell our equine friends this fact. It is evident that the domestic horse has all the same instincts as the wild horse. Of course Homo Sapiens is also a predatory animal, probably the worst, most destructive animal on the planet. Albeit horses can have some trust in their human handlers, some more than others, it will never be 100%.

If a horse is showing catastrophic lameness through an injury, condition or disability then it should be put to sleep, rather than retired. If mother nature herself has decided not to tell the horse he is safe in his paddock, then it could be considered cruel for the horse to live with the stress of knowing he is vulnerable to attack 24/7. Horses generally operate as a herd, the herd is the entity, not necessarily the single horse. In some ways the herd does not care about the single horse, but only the survival of the herd itself. Observe the hierarchal  system, when a person hays a paddock the weakest animal can often not eat. The weakest, most least dominant horse will either only eat the scraps, or eat when the more dominant horses have had their fill. This ensures only the fittest, strongest animals survive, the herd itself stays strong. It may seem harsh but the horse does not care if a weaker animal does not eat, even dies. In the wild the weaker animal is not just a threat to the survival of the herd, but rather its more advantageous to the survival of the equine to build a herd of strong animals. Horses with colic and other life threatening conditions die so it is less common for wild/feral horses to pass on genetic defects.

Therefore it could actually be a very stressful life for a horse with obvious lameness to be retired. Not only does it have to live with the stress that it understands its vulnerable to attack, it will be identified by its herd as weak. There just won’t be a crippled horse in a domestic herd that is the leader, or even 2nd in command, it will be the lowest. The lowest that isn’t getting hay over winter, is sent away from the lush grass over the summer and an animal that is constantly badgered by the higher horses. The very core, the very thing that makes a horse a horse is the ability to run. Nature dishes out specific tools to every species to give it an advantage. The horse was given lightening quick reflexes and the power to run at speed at a moment’s notice. Now imagine for whatever reason that ability is taken away from the horse. The human is prolonging the suffering of the animal for their own selfish reasons, because we love the horse.

No-one wants to be the Grim Reaper. No one wants to face the realisation that the very animal you have loved and cared for over many years will now die from your decision. But horses hide pain to ensure their survival. As harsh as it is, once a horse is showing obvious weakness it already knows its defenceless and vulnerable. The horse you love should not spend its time being in pain and feeling defenceless, the stress of this is unfair, and both physically and mentally cruel.  Those that pass the horse around as a companion, or even worse as a foal factory are not people that love horses. Horses that are riddled with arthritis, and  disorders of the musculoskeletal system will be in agony if forced to produce offspring, they also pass on genetic defects.

If your horse is showing visible signs of discomfort and/or lameness, it might just be kinder to let go. Do not prolong the suffering to protect yourself from a broken heart at the detriment of your equine friend.

Just let go.

Winter Grumpiness? Food Is Not The Answer!

Every single one of the horses caught my attention, in terms of equine behaviour there was a lot to observe. Most of the behaviour was instigated by a human walking through the gate that led to the paddocks. All 7 horses whinnied and most of them ran to their own fence-lines. Being early December the grass was almost depleted, snow and a few hard frosts will ensure the paddocks will soon be decimated. The horses were overly spooky, they only needed a very minor excuse to take flight while kicking up their heels. One of the horses was continually walking the fence line, creating a track that had turned to mud. Those very worn muddy tracks appear in every field, at every yard every winter. Instinct is telling the horse to move on to pastures new, but being restricted by fencing, the legs continue to walk a journey that leads to nowhere. The behaviour in all these animals is driven by a lack of food, they are either hungry or are aware resources are becoming scarce.

On yards all over England this time of year liveries will be complaining their horses are rude, impatient, even feisty. People find themselves frantically clutching lead-ropes while their horse drags them either to the field, or to the stable. Others are dreading having to deal with several kicking, spooky horses at a very muddy gateway while trying to retrieve their own horse out of the field. The majority of these owners will understand that their horse is feeling hungry. The majority of these owners will also very likely do something about the situation, by giving the horse more food.

This is a mistake. Continue reading “Winter Grumpiness? Food Is Not The Answer!”

The Planned Spook

There is only one good reason why my terrier would suddenly go from lounging on the carpet to suddenly leaping up and running under the sofa at break neck speed. Being fully aware of the reason, the human sat on said sofa jumped up and ran fearfully to the living room door. For the past 20 years this particular arachnophobe has made sure to train her dogs to perform a very important duty. Terriers it would seem are far more talented in this role as opposed to larger dogs that struggle to successfully squeeze under sofas, armchairs or beds. 3 seconds later my pint sized tri-coloured saviour emerged with it caged between two rows of teeth, and it was enormous. I don’t like to see any living thing on this earth hurt, or unnecessarily killed, but my phobia runs deep. I would actually prefer to throw a pint glass at a spider rather than catch it humanely. I’m very sorry for this. Continue reading “The Planned Spook”

Irresponsible Horse Dealers?

The deal was done, money was exchanged, hands were shaken and Charlie was loaded onto the trailer. The family had done their homework on finding an appropriate pony for their child, in size, temperament, training and experience in both the pony and the child. On the face of it, it was an ideal match. The dealer was well known, certainly in England, probably in Britain maybe even overseas. Therefore a  well known horse-dealer is unlikely to destroy their reputation by selling a dangerous pony to a child. So in this case, it is certain there had been no shady shenanigans in terms of selling a dangerous, unsound, insane or unhealthy animal by a greedy and  unethical  seller that had bought the horse just 2 days before from a knackers yard. Yet in just six months this pony had thrown the child so many times that it was considered too perilous for the child to continue riding, not without risking serious injury. If after 40 years of riding and one day I fell, breaking my neck, it could be considered a freak accident. Yet if I was bucked off on a weekly basis some might suggest it was inevitable. So it is understandable that the parents decided to send this pony back to the dealer.

So did the dealer sell a dangerous animal?

Continue reading “Irresponsible Horse Dealers?”

Training Without Due Care and Attention

Darcey skipped across the yard with all the joys of a spring lamb and flicked up both heels as she jumped the narrow concrete drainage gutter. In her mind she was not a 9 year old child, nope, she was Ellen Whitaker competing on her grand 16.2 hh bay steed. The fence before her was over 4 feet high and as she got close she counted down the approach 3…2…1 and takeoff! The gutter was jumped clear, guaranteeing her a place at HOYS! Darcey threw up her hands in jubilation and waved to the cheering crowd. In this moment a high-pitched whinny quickly disintegrated her fantasy and the crowd abruptly faded away. Continue reading “Training Without Due Care and Attention”

Why Your Horse Could Kick You

When somebody is about to walk behind my horse and they ask Does your horse kick? I always feel a bit tongue tied. Obviously I would like to say no, but in truth all horses kick. Although I am almost certain my mare wont (this time) because I am aware she has seen the person approach her. If she’s not eating, stressed, frightened, in-pain, half asleep, or being eaten by flies, then yes, I am almost certain sure she will not kick you on this occasion.

Horses have taught me many valuable lessons over the years, even the painful lessons have been important as these are the ones that have kept me safe. The speed, accuracy and power of a kick is something to behold. I was kicked twice in a fraction of a second 2 inches above my left knee cap many years ago, the dent in my leg will be there permanently. I regard this as physical reminder of my stupidity. Continue reading “Why Your Horse Could Kick You”

An Open Letter Reply – Motorbikes

Horses are complicated animals, very complicated. Less complicated to an expert perhaps, but only after years of dedication, observations, gaining knowledge and working around them does an expert understand equine behaviour and psychology. In this respect a novice has no clue to the complexities of the equine brain. To a person that has no knowledge of horses whatsoever they must seem very uncomplicated, perhaps just a four legged mammal that people ride. This is why I write about horses, if I live another 40 years I will still not have even scratched the surface of the many subjects relating to equine behaviour. It’s a harrowing journey in some respects because as I gain more knowledge, I am also haunted by the mistakes I have made in the past. My aim now is to spend the next 40 years striving to get things right. I write because if I could help just one person avoid my mistakes and help someone understand their horse better, I know at least that horse will have a better life.

Continue reading “An Open Letter Reply – Motorbikes”

Too Windy For Turnout?

Turnout was cancelled. I was keeping my horse on part-livery which included hay, bedding and a groom that would do all the turning out and bringing in. 20 plus years ago part-livery used to include everything apart from someone exercising the horse. You could expect all the mucking out to be completed, the horse groomed, even the tack would be cleaned. If an owner is doing more than actually tacking up and riding, then yards have no right to call it part-livery.

It was a tall young woman who was striding past my stable that yelled out the news the horses would spend the entire day and night stuck in a 12 by 12 feet wooden box. I had only been at this yard for 2 days, and had chosen the place specifically to get extra help with my horse. I was looking forward to having more quality time, rather than spending time doing all the chores.

Continue reading “Too Windy For Turnout?”

The Fragile Horse

Slate grey mountainous cumulonimbus clouds had been rolling across the valley toward my location for the last half an hour. I hastened my attempt to remove every trace of manure from the paddock as the aerial equivalent of the Atlantic Ocean projected angry towering waves of water vapour high up into the stratosphere. Continue reading “The Fragile Horse”

The Equine Mind Map

The stable had been prepared for the new livery with a thick bed of fresh straw and a hay net hung in the corner. The horse came off the lorry and walked into the barn filled with anxiety, he was head-high with flaring nostrils and eyes as round as dinner plates. Even after a good 45 minutes the horse was still extremely anxious. The once neat bed of straw was tossed to the side of the stable walls as the horse frantically circled the stable, the circuit was only broken when he rushed to the stable door to whinny and rear. Sweat made his bay coat glisten as steam started to rise from him. Continue reading “The Equine Mind Map”