Tag: psychology

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”

The Bolt

All 3 horses spooked sharply. Conditions for a hack that December day were great, admittedly it was cold, but the sky was blue and the wind was busy ruining someone’s hair in another part of the country. It was quiet and frost still lay unthawed in the shadows of the hedge-line. These are the worst spooks, initiated by things you didn’t see or hear coming. This wasn’t a chip-wrapper gently blowing toward me in which I had time to communicate to my horse it’s okay. This wasn’t a florescent lycra-clad cyclist passing me from behind. This particular monster was silent and unseen.

The most dangerous kind. Continue reading “The Bolt”

Horse Blaming

The two ladies were heading down the hacking track toward me, they were talking loudly which caused me to look over. One of them was riding a horse, the actual owner was walking beside the horse holding onto both reins. It was apparent by the rider’s position that she was a novice. It begs the question why was a novice sat on a horse that needed 2 pairs of hands on its reins? Continue reading “Horse Blaming”

The Natural Born Killer

The gentle horse roams silently in the paddock while softly swishing her tail, two mouthfuls of grass are grazed and a hoof moves forward creating a steady rhythm that is soothing to watch. It’s a beautiful autumn day and a Red Admiral carelessly surfs the soft warm breeze. At least that’s how I like to remember this day, the reality is not quite as poetic. It’s an autumn day and there may have been a butterfly, a moth, maybe a few dung beetles kicking about.

My horse catches my eye because she is behaving peculiar. Her head carriage is relaxed, which somehow makes this even worse, and she is twisting her front right leg on the spot in semi-circular motions. Of course I go over to investigate and she doesn’t move, I also see nothing on the ground in the vicinity of this one hoof. The semi-circular motions continue and it’s quite a bizarre sight! I push against her to encourage her to move but she stands her ground so I reach down to pick the foot up. She resists me, but after a few pulls I have lifted the hoof and underneath… I see fur. At best I think it’s a patch of rabbit pelt, the remnants of a meal from a fox or kite. But as I lift the fur it’s heavier than expected, in fact I soon discover it’s an entire rabbit. My horse has pummelled this poor creature into the ground, and she has done it without a care in the world.

But our gentle equine friends don’t kill, do they?

I was enjoying a steady canter on this mare through an open field, my only other companion being my faithful labrador who would run alongside us effortlessly. We must have disturbed a hiding fox as suddenly one darted out in front of us, to which my dog took off in hot pursuit, unfortunately…so did my horse! She quickly outpaced the dog and I had to scream at him to get out of the way. Rather than being trampled he barrelled sideways down a ditch. It was too late for me to stop this rather bizarre ‘bolt’ as I had already been at canter, I had already wasted a few precious seconds trying to save the dog and I had never even for a second anticipated my horse would chase a fox. My mare’s head carriage was very low, rendering the bit useless. Her nose was 2 inches from the floor and 6 feet behind the terrified fox. Her ears were pinned flat to her head and she was without a doubt either going to sink her teeth into this fox or strike out. Eventually the fox used the same tactic as my dog and I lost sight of it as it also barrelled sideways down a ditch and disappeared into the undergrowth.

Other incidences of my mares murdering ways involve squishing rats in her stable and chasing dogs out of her paddock.

HORSE ATTACKS DOG IN UNLIKELY GAME OF CHASE

In all seriousness, it isn’t just my horse that kills, all horses can kill. In fact horses are somewhat formidable killing machines. But the horse is a ‘prey animal’ you may be thinking, maybe…for a lion. This term gives people the idea the horse is defenseless and will run away from anything. This couldn’t be further from the truth and horses will quite often stand their ground. A stallion will protect his herd, a mare will protect her foal, and these are the same instincts that are alive and well in that horse that stands in the stable eating hay.

I can understand my horse probably recognised the fox as a predator, perhaps she saw me and the dog as part of her herd, and she is without a doubt a dominant mare. Rats are creatures that scurry around her feet and perhaps she’s been nipped, perhaps not, maybe she is being territorial…perhaps she just doesn’t like rats! The killing of innocent rabbits in the field has me scratching my head however, is she protecting the limited resources or is she being territorial or both. It’s tempting to think she was just being aggressive for the sake of it, but animals rarely expend energy for absolutely no reason. Also when I saw her stomping the rabbit none of her body language exhibited aggression, she looked very calm in-fact. …answers on a postcard please.

I have never seen evidence that any of the animals she has killed have been consumed, not played with, or even chewed. I have only once witnessed a horse picking up a dead bird and began eating it. I will never know if this horse intended on swallowing the bird as the owner (understandably) removed the bird from the horse’s mouth. Although I have seen a video of a horse eating chicks and its uncomfortable to watch. The video shows dry dusty ground that is depleted of grass, so perhaps the horse has no choice but to eat them in order to survive. There could be evidence of miss-management in this case because rather than remove the horse to grass, or provide hay, or indeed save the hapless chicks from being consumed…videoing of the event was seen as far more important.

The Strict Routine

My horse was very strong on a hack recently, and while we may have only been walking, it was still necessary to correct the speed. I hadn’t asked for this fast paced walk, in fact I was looking for a nice amble across the English county-side. The walk she had chosen felt hurried and anxious, and when I applied pressure to my reins she totally ignored it. Now I could have got home 30 minutes earlier than planned, but this needed correcting. Situations like this are no more than a nuisance at walk, yet my horse ignoring my pressure and deciding her own speed at trot and canter could prove a lot more dangerous.

Very frequently situations in the saddle are not always just connected to riding, and situations such as mine are a consequence of everything else an owner does around the horse. Yet I see very little evidence of people making this connection, I often see just the opposite. Problems in the saddle are just that, it’s a schooling problem, a bad temperament, the horse is in season, it’s the spring grass, the saddle needs re-flocking or a stronger bit is required.

A very sad situation occurred recently in which a young rider was thrown from her horse and received a fatal head injury. I may not know the exact circumstances but the article I read stated that the girl had finished riding and put the horse in the stable. For reasons unknown she brought the horse back out the stable and mounted the horse again. The hat had already been removed, as the saddle and she mounted on the concrete base. The horse bucked her off.

This is a set of circumstances in which having a strict routine could get someone hurt or killed. We see the same routine every day in which someone has finished riding, untacks the horse, grooms and feeds, or some variation of that, but usually some sort of routine is established.

Returning to my own situation of my fast paced anxious hack; this was resolved by giving some thought to what I had been doing the last few times I had both handled and ridden my horse. I had done this very same trail the last time I hacked and when I had finished I untacked my horse, groomed, fed and turned her out. I had unwittingly trained my horse that if we just get finished she will get a bowl of feed and can get back to her herd sooner. Schooling wise, I did correct this pace while riding but this was just 10% of what I needed to do to change this behaviour. I didn’t want a stronger bit, and ideally I wanted my horse not to be anxious when hacking.

The next time I handled my horse I fed her first, then groomed and did some groundwork. Some days I didn’t provide any hard feed and I avoided riding the same trail if I had hacked that way the last time. Sometimes we didn’t hack but rode in the arena, or did some road-work. Fundamentally I always did things (everything) differently than the last time. My horse is now in a situation where she cannot predict what is coming next.

Is she anxious? No.

My horse is calm because she is not in control of the situation, and if she is not in control then the person who is calling the shots…is me.

Be wary of livery yards that seem proud to advertise their horses have ‘a strict routine’. No don’t be wary, just avoid them. Ideally you want a yard that lets you mind your own business, which is entirely possible in my experience. The horses you see and hear in the morning kicking the stable doors wanting to be fed are not calm and contented horses, they are anxious.

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A strict routine has a knock on effect with everything someone does with their horse which involves riding and handling. The added danger is when you do something that suddenly breaks this routine. If you have ridden your horse at 4 pm every-day for the last 2 years then one morning decide to ride at 7 am, you may very well have a horse that throws a tantrum. It isn’t the bit, it isn’t the saddle, and it isn’t because your horse is mean. It’s because you have trained your horse to expect breakfast at 8 am and to be ridden at 4 pm.

I was made aware of a horseman a couple of years ago, although I do not know his name and I have never met him, all the same I tip my hat to him. He purchased a ‘dangerous’ horse. This horse was turned away for many months while the horseman just observed him. During this time the man could see nothing physically or psychologically wrong with this animal, so brought him back into work. In my mind and without a doubt I feel sure this man was bringing back balance to this horse’s brain. He was undoing years of bad horsemanship, routine, strong bits and uneducated handling…by just letting the horse be a horse for 6 months.

My partner hunted this horse several times after been cared for by this man, so you can believe me when I say this horse was not dangerous and was good as gold when ridden.

Throw that routine out, good horsemanship is not just about sitting in a saddle. Give some thought to what you do around horses. The rears, the bucks, the napping and being strong when led may just have nothing to do with your tack or because the horse is dangerous. It may just be better not to invest your money in changing tack, but investing your time in understanding horse psychology.