Tag: behaviour

The True Nature of Horses, Peace Loving or Formidable Killing Machines? 4

Kicking

By now, and if my readers have read the previous 3 articles in this series, it should be accepted that a horses defences are used in different ways, depending on the situation and environment. It is an over simplification for a bite to be a bite, or a strike just to be a strike. The force used, the intention and the meaning can vary greatly. Therefore kicking with the hind legs also has multiple purposes, and is not always used to deliberately inflict damage.

The Double Barrel

The double barrel is a term used to describe a manoeuvre in which both back hooves leave the ground simultaneously in an upward and outward motion. While all kicks can cause catastrophic injuries, the double barrel could be the most lethal.  Horses have several methods of kicking, yet this manoeuvre would be the most powerful of all of them. The rump of the horse is made up of several enormous deep and superficial muscle groups. These muscles can be utilised for both speed, and employing a kick while in motion i.e. cantering or galloping.  This is completed by first powering their upper body off the ground to gain height without compromising forward momentum. During the downward motion of the leap the horse raises his rump to kick out. It is a fluid motion which allows the horse to utilise his defences while still moving at speed. Also of course, the double barrel can also be performed while the horse is stationary.

Image – The Double Barrel

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Faux Double Barrel

This manoeuvre can also be performed to demonstrate a warning. In this motion both back legs are brought up but are not fully extended outwards, but with the hooves staying vertically below the hocks. This is a threat, and owners of domesticated horses should read this as the horse saying Go Away. This brings us back to the earlier point in that horses do not always kick or bite to deliberately inflict damage. Horses are quite capable of discerning the level of threat, and responding with the appropriate level of defence. In most cases when a human is kicked it’s because they have not read, or missed, or even ignored the previous warnings and signals the horse has given out, and leading up to a kick. Horses can also kick as a warning or even a reprimand, yet again, with no intention of causing harm. Mares often reprimand an exuberant foal with a non-damaging kick, horses also give field mates a ‘slap’ to move another horse away.

Image – Faux Double Barrel

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Unfortunately, humans are too feeble to withstand a warning kick, we break too easily. Of course there are cases where a horse has kicked a human to deliberately cause massive damage, but in some cases the horse is giving the human just a ‘slap’. Sadly the horse will be labelled as dangerous, and only because the human missed the signals. If anyone can survive a kick, then the horse never intended to kill that person in the first place, because if the intention was to kill…they would have been killed.

Single Barrel

This is probably the most usual form of kicking that people are aware of, and seen most often. The horse extends just one back leg, either with all three still on the ground, or as with the double barrel, lifting the hind-quarters off the ground but only extending one leg. Also, similar to the double barrel, this action can be performed either stationary or while in motion. Often favoured if the intended target is off to the side of the horses hind-quarters. While horses are agile enough to twist their back/pelvis to deliver a double barrel it’s unlikely the off side hoof will make contact due to the angle and position of the target. Quite often the double barrel is attempted but only one hoof hits the animal with the other hoof missing entirely, although this could also be intentional.

Cow Kick

This manoeuvre is performed by one back hoof moving up, and forward towards the belly, or off to the side. This can be used in defence but it’s also a very useful motion to remove anything irritating from the underneath of the horses body i.e. biting insects/flies and vegetation such as burs or cacti. Horses often cow kick when showing symptoms of colic  as the horse is aware something in that area is hurting him, so attempts to remove it. This is not an early sign of colic however, if the horse is cow-kicking in pain because of colic, then potentially it’s already in the late stages.

The Panic Kick

It is a manoeuvre and it is for defence, but technically this type of kick is more to do with instinctive reaction, than an intentionally well aimed kick at a specifically chosen target. Moreover this is another reason novices, children, dogs and non-horsey people get kicked. Horses can kick out of surprise, they can quite literally do it in their sleep, in fact, a dozing relaxed horse is more likely to kick if surprised. Alert horses are fully aware of their surrounding and environment, and have already identified what is a threat or not. So for example, if an owner suddenly drops a bucket behind a relaxed horse this could potentially trigger the kick instinct. Touching a horse that hasn’t seen/heard someone coming can again result in the animal kicking from surprise. Horses can kick out merely by someone or another horse running by, and especially behind them.

Image – Panic KickC

It’s likely the horse kicking out in this image is not doing so to inflict serious damage. It is either kicking out from surprise at the two horses running behind him, or he’s demonstrating disgruntlement at having his space invaded. There is but a narrow gap for the mare and foal to pass, but they do so anyway, and at their own risk. It could be that the foal has run ahead of mum, and she’s had no choice to also run past, in order to shield her foal from being kicked. It’s more likely however they both needed to pass this horse even with no room to spare so rushed through. I also know there is a water source nearby, and their intention was to reach it. Driven by this incentive, the danger of getting kicked is less than their need for water. Either way, the horse doing the kicking deliberately aims low, if this was full on aggression he could have, if chosen to, double barrelled the mare. Simply put, he’s punishing insubordinate behaviour with a slap, rather than intending to inflict serious injury.

Further reading;

Part 1

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

Part 2

The True Nature Of Horses, Peace Loving or Formidable Killing Machines? 2

Part 3

The True Nature of Horses, Peace Loving or Formidable Killing Machines? 3

Images – By kind permission of 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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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”

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”

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 EquiShrug

The only reason I looked up from the very important task of minding my own business was because I heard someone shout. You find yourself already looking in the general direction of the noise before it even occurs to you the golden rule of minding your own business has just been broken. The horse tentatively drifting about in what I assume was intended to be a 10 metre circle was wearing what is potentially a nightmare contraption in uneducated hands – a Pessoa. Fortunately it was apparent the horse was completely desensitised to the lunging whip that for some reason was been held high in the air gently swaying. If you had seen the same action from a distance while standing on a beach this person would have resembled a talented kite flyer. Being desensitised to a whip waving about is generally a good thing for horses, but they should also recognise when you are attempting to apply pressure.

From the ground the stick can be thought of as an extension of your arm to communicate with the horse. There is all types of pressure everyone should be aware of which will include your own body language and even the direction of where one is looking. I’m aware of what my feet are doing, my eyes, hands and the stick, and this is perhaps just 10% of what I could actually include in this article, but it’s not possible. This is the reason I hardly ever lunge, I see it as such a fine art to get everything correct that I don’t believe I am good enough. I accept it takes 100% concentration and only a skilled professional can properly lunge a horse. So take on board that if someone can say they have been around horses for nearly 40 years and feels they cannot expertly lunge a horse, then why are people doing it when they have owned a horse for the last 2 years?

They lunge because they are unaware of the fundamental errors they are making, the horse is going in a circle and that is all lunging means…apparently.

I am in something of a unique position having owned one of my horses for over 20 years. I can look back and somewhat painfully recall the mistakes I have made with this mare. Yet when I had professional training my horse transformed before my eyes, my horse didn’t become good as she was always a good horse. Unfortunately she was owned by an ignorant human that could not correctly communicate with her. She has taught me that horses are very forgiving creatures, because even after all my fundamental errors this mare is gracious enough to still have a ground and ridden relationship with me.

As I continued to look toward the horse in the Pessoa the owner brought that stick down and thumped it on the ground behind the horse, the horse took two steps forward and for reasons I don’t understand the person made snapping motions on the line causing the horse to stop. Again the lunge whip came crashing down, and the hapless horse took a tentative step forward. Nope, that wasn’t correct either as the line was again used in the snapping motion. I was confused as the horse! My eyes were darting between the horse and the person’s hands to attempt to understand what they were trying to achieve. I am of a species that is allegedly the apex predator, the most intelligent of this entire planets numerous species, yet I couldn’t understand…so what chance did this horse have!?

Well the horse had no chance of understanding. He’d tried forward and back none of which seemed correct. He did the only other thing that seemed an option, he gave up trying. This is the point I was rewarded for breaking my golden rule of not staring. The horse turned to the owner, sighed and planted himself. The human equivalent of this body language would be a human turning toward someone else, shrugging their shoulders and say ‘What?’ I have termed this the EquiShrug. The owner was quick to shout and call the horse stupid. I wish I could have told her the horse was a kind-natured animal that had done its best to understand the human. He didn’t rear out of frustration, he didn’t buck in anger, and he didn’t gallop in a circle with anxiety. No, he’d done his best to understand and his kind soul had responded with an EquiShrug.

The EquiShrug

Another example of this was again witnessed as I patiently waited for someone to turn their horse into the paddock. I was holding my own horse 15 feet away waiting to use the same paddock. The horse was asked to walk through the opening, which it attempted to do, but again the lead rope was banged under the chin. Different owner, different horse, it was even a different yard! The horse stopped, even backed up which I saw was a completely correct response after receiving such halter pressure. Unfortunately this isn’t what the owner wanted, and the horse was pulled forward again. I turned my back as the horse went through the gate to resume minding my own business. I had to turn back when I heard shouting and for some unknown reason the horse was back outside the gate! I can’t even imagine how this came about, I should have kept watching. The rope was pulled again to indicate to the horse to walk forward, at this point the horse planted himself with the EquiShrug response, to which I simultaneously burst out laughing.