In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Appreciating Horses--Introduction to Equine Behaviour

Learn to see as the horse sees.

Horses keep an eye on people, a keen and knowing eye. Dr Gustafson teaches equestrians of all disciplines learn how to keep an eye on their horses. Awareness of the horses is the art of horsemanship.

 By appreciating horses' long evolved nature as social grazers of the plains and group survivalists, students of equine behaviour readily learn to blend with their horses to consistently keep them happy, healthy, and willing to win. When horsefolk learn to become part of the horse herd, they are able to achieve willing and winning partnerships with their horses. Horses form strong pair bonds. By appreciating the nature of horses, humans can forge deep bonds with their horse, allowing achievements much greater that the sum of horse and rider.

Many begin their horse journey unknowing what awaits them, much as horses began their journey through time 60 million years ago before merging societies with mankind several thousand years ago. Three million years ago the footsteps of primitive man were found fossilized next to the hoofprints of ancient horses in what is now Kenya, suggesting that humans have been contemplating horses for some time. It was not until perhaps ten to twenty thousand years ago that man began the dance of domestication with horse, the horse has become Equus caballus
There is archeological evidence that man formed a close relationship with horses by 5500 years ago in Botai, Khazakstan where the horsefolk kept and milked horses, probably rode them, this after millenia of hunting horses for food. Both trained and wild horses co-existed in this realm south of Russia and west of China. Trained horses soon spread throughout the world, civilization of man the result. By the early 20th century the predecessor to man's newest animal partner, the tarpan, had gone extinct. To the best of our knowledge, all horses today are descended from domesticated selectively bred horses.

The progenitor of the horse, the tarpan Equus ferus, went missing from our planet in 1918. One gauge of domestication is the extinction of the progenitor, and mankind has managed that with the horse, extinguishing that line that did not cooperate as Equus caballus did. Today’s horse is with us to stay, it seems, and can live with humans, or without them. Ten thousand years is not a lot of time in the larger scale of the horse’s 60 million year evolution to become a social grazers of the plains. Similar social constructs shared between man and horse facilitated an eventual merger. By five thousand years ago, horse and mankind had become co-dependent on the other.

Horsefolk remain enticed by horses. We find ourselves still attempting to appreciate how this human/horse relationship came to be, and where the relationship is headed, much as mankind has contemplated since the first girl grabbed a mane and swung on a horse to become a partner with the flighty, powerful (but trainable and tamable) grazer of the plains.
The most important concept to appreciate is the social nature of horses. Horses require other horses on a near-constant basis for physical and behavioural health. Equine behaviour is heavily influenced by socialization. Horses are required to grow up to be horses as taught by horses to lead behaviourally healthy lives with humans. The mare teaches the foal to be a horses, and this bonding and teaching process should be allowed to develop as natural as possible. Once the mare and herd have taught the foal to be a horse, the training can begin. When grown, horses must be allowed to be horses with other horses to enhance willing partnerships with horsefolk. When stabled, natural must be re-created for the horse as we shall see. As we shall see, the last place a horse evolved to live is in a stall. When horses are stalled, we must re-create their constant need for friends, forage, and locomotion. 

Horses are a quiet species. They prefer calm, and learn most efficiently in tranquil, familiar settings. In emulating the horse, our interactions here will be communicatively soft and calm so as not to unnecessarily upset or excite our herd. Now if there is something valid to be concerned about, say a certain enlightenment, or concern about a welfare issue, or perhaps a training or stabling method that does not align with the horse's perspective, then we appropriately share our views with the others.

We all know what we want from our horses. Equine behavior is the science of what our horses want and need from us. To succeed in our endeavors with horses (whatever equine goals or pursuits), our horses are best served to receive what they preferentially need and want behaviourally, nutritionally, socially, physically, environmentally, visually, and metabolically. In order to properly care for horses and successfully teach horses, we must know them, the diligent social grazers of the plains they are. 
Rather than dissimilar to us, horses are much like us. In this class we will focus on humankind's social and communicative similarities to horses. As with people, strong interdependence develops between individuals, intense social pair and herd bonds. Horses need other horses, and when they are dependent on people, they need a lot of time spent with those horsefolk and their other horses. 
An interdependence also exists between health and locomotion. Horses evolved to be near-constant walkers and grazers. Horse health remains dependent on locomotion and grazing, or facsimiles thereof. If horses are not allowed to exercise freely, or socialize with other familiar horses, nibbling and chewing as they evolved to do, they develop strategies to maintain the motion and oral security they feel they need to survive. These strategies to survive develop into what humans call stereotypies. Here we do not call them vices, as vices infer the horse is at fault, but we will learn who is really at fault, and it is not the horse after all. 

The primary premise of equine behavioural health is this: In natural settings, horses walk and graze together two thirds of the time. They take a step and graze, another step or two, always observing their surroundings, grazing while in touch with other members of the herd unless playing, dozing or sleeping under the watch of others. 
Horses that are not afforded the opportunity to graze and walk much of the time take up with stereotypic behaviours to replicate essential locomotion.
Make sure your stabled horses receive miles of daily walking each day to enhance and sustain their behavioral and physical health.

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.


Angele Wood said...

very nice, Dr. Gustafson, thankyou

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! Gracias!!

Unknown said...

Great Article!

Marlene Schneider said...

I knew horses were much happier when turned out each day. I didn't know about the take a step; graze; take a step sequence. Marlene

Susan said...

Enjoyable and good information..

Stethscope Guide said...

Thank you for stressing the importance of daily walks for the overall well-being of the horse as well as the need for companionship.

Dr Gustafson's novels, books, and stories