The Merging of Horses and Humans
Convergent social and communicative characteristics drew humans and horses together. In a sophisticated blending of group survival, a curious and social clade of horses merged into humankind's social structure ten to twenty thousand years ago or so.Our contemporary relationship with horses as companions and performers can be aptly appreciated through an understanding of the evolutionary processes that impelled horses and humans to merge together in the first place. The shared social traits and communication abilities continue to facilitate a mutually beneficial existence. These days horses sustain our dreams, and maintain man's connection with nature. To better understand the social sphere of horses is to better understand one's relationship with horses. Horsemanship remains slipping into a horse's social circle, to pair bond with the horse.
The domestication process began tens of thousands of years ago when groups of horses and Neolithic people began sharing the grasslands of northern Eurasia. Before merging their groups together, horses and humans and dogs independently developed the communication and social skills to enhance group survival. Similar social goals facilitated a merging of the three species. Group survival became shared group survival. Dogs provided protection. Dogs and people cleared the grasslands of predators. Interested horses came closer, and became more tolerant, reaping the grazing safety. The hunting of horses shifted to the herding of horses, and in time this led to milking and stabling, breeding and riding, the most delightful animal pairing imaginable.
To grasp how man and horse societies may have merged long ago is to appreciatethe contemporary horse/rider relationship. To develop positive relationships with the horse, one must come into an awareness of the long evolved social nature of horses. Horsemanship merges human nature with the nature of the horse. The language of horsemanship allows horses and humans to achieve pairings that achieve far greater accomplishments than the sum of horse and rider would allow.
The social nature of horses is one of constant awareness. Constant awareness is essential for group survival. The landscape must be surveyed as the group grazes collectively connected. The horseperson is best served to blend into the survival construct of the horse to achieve willing partnerships. Willing partnerships form the basis of the cooperative survival construct of the horse. Cooperative partnerships facilitate survival of horse and rider. Horses know to work together with other horses—provided they were taught to be a horse by other horses (appropriate socialization)—and can be taught to work together with a rider or handler.
Horses living in harems in natural settings remain constantly aware of all the other horses in the herd, behavior learned and taught within the herd. Socialization teaches survival behaviors to growing horses. Mankind capitalizes on the horse's survival behaviors to train and pair with horses. Successful horsetrainers train horses as the mare trains the foal. Horses are all about learning and awareness. Horses are born to learn. Horses are born to be aware of others to facilitate their learning. Horses learn to be horses from the mare and herd, the same learning and teaching emulated in horsetraining.
Awareness is essential for learning, and also for surveillance. Except for brief spells of sleep and play, horses constantly observe their surroundings for any unwelcome developments, such as the approach of predators. Predators include anything with which the horse is unfamiliar. All unfamiliar creatures, places, and things are considered suspect and possible dangers. Neophobia is the term used to describe this survival trait.
Most horses are innately fearful of all new things. This is normal and expected behavior. Horses constantly survey their surroundings with their stellar vision. They see by day or night, and nearly 360°. Eyes set high in their head, horses graze and gaze, they watch. The grazing nipping and chewing motion rotates their head enough to see behind them on a periodic basis. When not grazing or dozing, horses focus on watching. When dozing or sleeping, others horses watch for them. All horses need other horses for behavioral health. Foals raised by the mare and herd in a grazing setting develop into easily trainable animals. It is the herd of mares and foals that teaches thoroughbreds and other breeds to run at speed in close company, horseslong evolved flight strategy, flight in numbers. The mares and cohorts give growing horses the confidence to run by and through other horses at speed. Horses learn how to move from other horses. They learn how to see and graze, and perhaps most importantly, how to communicate with others as taught by other horses. This is socialization. Please appreciate the necessity of socialization in the development of normal equine behaviour, please.
Dr Gustafson is an equine veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist, and novelist. He helps refine horse and dog training methods to accommodate the inherent nature and behavior of horses and dogs. Applied veterinary behavior enhances optimum health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity in animal athletes.
Natural approaches to development, training, nutrition, and conditioning sustain equine health and enhance performance. Behavioral and nutritional enrichment strategies enhance the lives of stabled horses. Training and husbandry from the horse's perspective result in content, cooperative horses. DrSid provides equine behavior consultations to help recreate the needs and preferences of horses in training and competition.