Communication is a vital component of any relationship, whether between two people or a person and an animal. A spouse or friend who understands how their partner responds will have better communication. Trainers who understand how the horse thinks will have better results, as well as a better relationship with the horse.
In Part One of this series, I discussed several aspects of equine behavior. This article provides key insights into the mind of a horse. In the previous blog, we discussed the horse’s propensity for flight, its incredibly well-developed senses, and its ability to become desensitized to a non-threatening stimulus.
I had the opportunity to get Finn in the round pen last weekend. He wasn’t as compliant as our first time out this spring, but he was significantly better than last year. By the time I was able to get out to the barn, I was dragging. I made myself a cup of coffee and put it in a to-go cup. As Finn went around and around, I finished my coffee. His main hang-up this time was his unwillingness to walk all the way up to me when I called him in. Once he stopped about 3 feet short, and as I attempted to encourage him to complete the request, he whirled and headed back out himself! I guess he knew he wasn’t ready to comply!
The article goes on to state that horses have the fastest response times of all domestic animals. Anyone who has spent any time around a horse can attest to this. A hind foot can fire in milliseconds; front legs can come off the ground instantaneously. Our best defense is knowing good horsemanship practices and knowing how to keep ourselves safe. Standing close to that hind leg ensures you will be pushed away rather than caught by the lightning-fast hoof that will do damage. One of the first things we teach our children is to notify the horse that we are behind or around them.
Horses have incredible memories. Again, those of us who have spent significant time around horses know this to be true. This can be a good thing or a bad thing! It is a bad thing when it relates to bad memories, such as a bad experience in a trailer.
My childhood trainer always hauled my gray Arabian in the front right stall of her four-horse trailer. Since that was back in the dark ages, that was a four-horse straight load, with two in front and two behind. She never hauled him anywhere that I wasn’t with her. I had no memory of any trailer incident. For some reason, he started to panic one day when we loaded him into the trailer. We walked through the rear stall and I was about to tie him in the front stall when he panicked and tried to climb into the hay feeder. I was pinned on his left although the escape door was on his right. At the point in time that my gelding’s front feet were off the ground, my trainer grabbed my legs and pulled me out the door.
We had to have a veterinarian come out to tranquilize him. He developed a blood clot from the intravenous injection. He required stall rest and hot pack treatments until the clot resolved. The horse was not the only one with negative memories related to trailering. I panicked at the thought of hauling him anywhere. I once had a truck driver flag me down and ask if I knew that my horse “couldn’t stand up”? My parents bought a two-horse trailer. We removed the partition, and that was how we hauled him from that point forward. He still wanted to climb the wall, but there was no wall to climb…
You can use your horse’s memory to your advantage. When you build positive experiences you build positive memories. A website called New Scientist shares an article that claims horses can remember your facial expression the last time they saw you. Do you greet your horse with a smile and a pat on the rump every time you see him? I know when I am rushing to get out the door in the morning I may not be as interactive as my horses would like. Often my geldings will be the one to solicit interaction from me. I taught Kadeen to kiss me for a cookie and he is always willing to offer a kiss!
In the final part of this series, we will discuss the last four of the nine insights into a horse as described in this originally referenced article. We will talk about body language, controlling the feet, and who’s in charge?