In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Human/Horse Bond

- How should horse owners define bonding with their horse? What does that look like?

Horses form strong pair bonds with other horses, as we see in natural herd settings. Substitute a human for one of the horses, and that is how a human/horse bond looks. A bond is present when horse and human are familiar and comfortable with the other during riding and/or training. Both enjoy being with one another, and remain focused on and connected to one another. An obvious willing partnership is present, each half accommodating the requests of the other. The actions of each are predictable to the other. Each is familiar with the behavior of the other, and accepts the other’s behavior.
- What motivates a horse to bond with a particular person, like their owner?

Let’s call owners guardians, here. A horse knows her guardian, but knows nothing of ownership, and rather resents such a concept, as far as I can tell.
Guardians who know how to keep their horse happy, have a horse who is happy to bond with them, as bonding is a horse’s tendency. Horses require abundant friends, forage, and locomotion to be happy. Horses form strong pair bonds with other horses, as taught in the herd, and through the mare/foal relationship. In order for horses to form pair bonds with people, they must first have been taught about pair bonds in the herd—what I term appropriate socialization. For those desiring a bond with their horse, it is essential they remain in an appeasing cooperative mood during their interactions and training. People who are of the mind to frequently show their horse who is boss diminish the bond with their horse. It is always wise to consider the horse always has the last word, should the horse decide to have the last word.

- What research has been done in this area, that you know of?
Bonding is difficult to research, but McGreevy et al have scientifically approached the subject in their published papers, and in McGreevy’s text book Equine Behavior.

- What specific things can a horse owner do to bond with their horse?
Spending casual time with a horse develops the bond. Grooming is a great method to establish familiarity and predictability. Predictability and familiarity are established with appropriate training, as well. Appropriate training is training that is a good deal for the horse. Training and riding should be painless, without fear, and absent of stress.
A guardian who walks and grazes her stabled horse for two or three hours each day will develop a deep bond. Think, what makes my horse happy? Let’s do that together. Again, people who know how to keep stalled horses happy with constant foraging, abundant daily walking (miles), grazing, and socialization have horses happy who are more than happy to bond with them.
Remember, stalled horses require miles and miles of daily locomotion beyond their training regimens. Guardians who provide stalled horses with miles of daily locomotion, walking and grazing, develop impeccable bonds. Natural has to be re-created in the stable before a horse will bond readily with a human.

- Does the owner need to spend more and more time with their horse in order to increase their bond?
No. Once the bond is established and the horse is in a social stabling situation, and the horse looks forward to their guardian’s visit, the bond usually remains solid. The bond will deteriorate if the horse becomes unhappy with the stabling or training, however.
Once again, the stabling and training must be a good deal for the horse for bonds to remain tight. The horse needs a happy life with other horses before she will develop a strong bond with her human guardian. Horses form strong pair bonds, and this is their essential nature. A bond is waiting to happen with any horse, as bonding is a horse’s natural tendency. Contented horses bond with people. Discontented horses, not so much.
- Do you have any specific stories/anecdotes of a horse you bonded with? What did you do to bond with that horse?
- Yes. When I was a teenager I was on a ranch crew and we each had a string of three horses. We rotated the horses and rode each horse every third day, so long were our days moving cow-calf pairs to mountain pastures. These horses spent their two days off every three grazing native pastures with the other cow ponies (staying happy).
- I had become pair-bonded with my horse Jimbo when I had trained him the friendly way, and he appreciated that. I trained him to be a willing partner. As such, he knew nothing of indentured servitude. After two every-third-day-riding rotations, Jimbo learned he would be ridden every third day. On those days, bonded to me as he was (and I; him) he would leave the horse herd and wait for me at the gate. So bonded Jimbo had become to me, he learnt to count to three. His days spent under me were as enjoyable for him as the days spent with the grazing herd. On his two days off, he would remain with the herd and not be at the gate.
When your horse leaves the main herd to wait for you at the gate to be ridden when he knows you’ll arrive, you know you have developed a deep bond with him or her. Bonds are best developed without food rewards. Those horses often bond with the treats rather than the person.

- What type of communication and/or body language do horses give to show that they are starting or willing to bond with someone?
They approach you willingly, if not eagerly. Fearful or fleeting behaviors are absent. They are comfortable beside you and under you. They enjoy your grooming, your hand walking, and your hand grazing. These activities develop a bond the horse looks forward to experiencing.
Bonded horses are happy to be away from the herd for a spell to enjoy your company, and the pleasure and companionship you provide. When you make training a good deal for your horse, your horse is happy to bond. If training is a bad deal for your horse, a bond will not develop. Horses who run away from you when you arrive are not yet bonded. They likely did not have a good experience after your previous arrivals, sorry. Training and stabling need to improve for them before they willingly bond.
- Tell me about your professional experience teaching people how to bond with horses or researching the topic?
- I teach horse guardians to bond with their horses by educating themselves about equine behavior...Bonding is dependent on establishing familiarity with your horse. Your horse needs to be in a content frame of mind to bond. Contentment is established by fulfilling and enriching all of your horse’s innate needs, both physical and behavioral. Un-enriched, forage-deprived, stalled horses, for example, are unlikely to bond with their human until their behavioral needs are fulfilled and enriched in a natural and reliable basis.

- Is there anything else you want to add on this topic at this time?
- Socialized horses are happy to bond with the people they know ensure their lives are fulfilled and enriched with friends, forage and locomotion.

At the end of this are scientific references, which on this subject remain vague. While it may be difficult to scientifically assess and measure a bond between and horse and human, it is quite easy to see which pairs are bonded, and which are not. Bonding allows the partnership of horse and rider to become greater than the sum.
- The bonding aptitude of the horse is enhanced by the horse’s social development. Appropriate socialization with other horses in a herd setting best prepares horses to subsequently bond with—and be trained by—horsefolk. Pastured horses train up and learn more efficiently than stabled horses because their lives are fulfilled and enriched. Contentment for horses is achieved with near-constant friends, forage, and locomotion. Bonding with a horse to facilitate training and performance training is dependent on the horse’s previous socialization with the dam and herd, as well as the horse’s current husbandry situation. The more natural the husbandry, the more natural the bonding. The more grain you feed, the more difficult genuine bonding becomes to achieve for both metabolic and behavioral reasons.
- Trainability is made more efficient by establishing a bond—a practiced familiarity—between horse and human. The intensity and type of stabling and husbandry, as well as the type of training, affects bonding. Appropriate socialization and enriched stabling are required to establish a strong bond between horse and human. Appropriate training is critical to maintain the human/horse bond. If the human/horse relationship incites pain, fear, or discomfort, the bond will diminish.
- Foals need to be properly socialized in their upbringing, preferably in a pasture herd setting, to develop bonding behaviors that they can later utilize to establish human friendships.

- Sid Gustafson
- 918 South Church Avenue
- Bozeman, MT 59715
- 406-581-4946
- Equine Behaviour Through Time
- Horses began their journey through time 60 million years ago. Three million years ago the footsteps of humans were fossilized next to the hoofprints of horses, suggesting that humans have been contemplating horses for some time. But it was not until perhaps ten thousand years ago that human societies began the dance of domestication with the horse. Over thousands of years, perhaps tens of thousands of years, the horse herds gradually merged with human societies. A shared language described by contemporary scientists as kinetic empathy, a language of movement, and similar compatible social structures facilitated the merging of the two species.
- There is archeological evidence that humans had formed an intimate and intermingled relationship with horses by 5500 years ago in Botai, where the horsefolk stabled and milked horses, and probably rode them. Horses provided these early horsefolk with much of the essentials they needed for group survival. It is interesting to note that large domestic dogs lived with these early horsefolk as well, but no other domestic animals. To understand the domestication process is to enhance our appreciation of equine behaviour. Horses apparently became domesticated because they found a niche with people long ago on the steppes of Kazakhstan. Both trained and wild horses existed in this realm south of Russia and west of China. A population of horses more amenable to captivity and taming than their wild counterparts likely provided the stock for the first horse societies. Rather than plucking wild horses out of the wild and taming them, it is thought that over tens of thousands of years a relationship developed in a shared niche.
- By the early 20th century the closest living relative to Equus caballus, the Tarpan, had gone extinct. No truly wild horses remain. All of today’s caballine horses are descended from an original, and possibly separate, population of horses that were amenable to being tamed and selectively bred by humans. It appears to have taken tens of thousands of years to fully domesticate the horse, and to eventually attain control of breeding. Breeding initially consisted primarily of selection for docility and amenability to captivity, and later milking, riding, driving, and stabling. In contemporary culture, selective breeding often involves selecting for the best athlete, or attempting to select for the best athlete. In addition to genetics, this presentation will focus on the socialization aspect of raising horses, and portray the importance of nurture on the eventual behavioral and physical health of the adult athlete.
- No longer does human society depend on horse society for survival as it once did. Although still bred for trainability, more and more horses are today bred for specific performance goals. These days, horses provide people with entertainment, recreation, sport, esteem, performance, and pleasure, and, as ever, but in fewer and fewer reaches, utility. Other than stockfolk, few others rely on horses to sustain a pastoral livelihood. This new role of the horse requires renewed studies and considerations of equine behavior.
- Horsefolk and veterinarians alike remain enticed and intrigued by horses. The science of equine behaviour attempts to appreciate just who horses are, and from the horse perspective. To appreciate the horse perspective, behaviourists explore the evolution and domestication of the horse. We continue to find ourselves attempting to appreciate how the current human/horse relationship came to be so as to facilitate a smooth trouble free relationship with our horses. As well, appropriate breeding, socialization, and training of horses helps minimize behavioural wastage.
- To understand where our relationship with the horse is headed, veterinary behaviour practitioners attempt to see where the human/horse relationship has been, and to subsequently help modify and refine the relationship to favour the horse. Humans continue to live with horses and continue to learn from them, as all horsefolk have through time. Now, however, much less time is spent with horses and learning from horses, so contemporary practitioners must research and make themselves aware of the behavioural principles that were once gleaned from a near-constant exposure to horses through all stages of their development. We study the evolution and domestication of the horse to better help us appreciate the horses we have in our hands today. Evolution and domestication provide a basis for the understanding of equine behaviour. Man has attempted to refine his relationship with the horse ever since the first kid grabbed a mane and swung atop a horse. To become a partner with the flighty, powerful (but trainable and tamable) grazer of the plains remains the horsefolk goal.
- Appreciation and sensitivity to all of our caballine horses' evolved preferences results in optimum health and soundness, and therefore optimum performance. A horse cannot be coerced to win the Kentucky Derby. The people must work with the horse, and from the horse’s view. If we understand equine behaviour, we understand what makes horses do our bidding, and do it willingly and well. To this day, horses seek to appease their domesticators much as they appease others in horse societies and herds. Horses are willing learners. This learning behavior is a result of evolutionary development of a complex social lifestyle. More recently, selective breeding has influenced equine behaviour.
- The nature of the horse is enhanced by the horse’s social development. Appropriate socialization with other horses in the herd pasture setting best prepares horses to be subsequently trained by horsefolk. Pastured horses train up and learn more efficiently than stabled horses. The appropriate, efficient, and considerate training of horses is highly dependent on their previous socialization by the dam and other horses, as well as their current husbandry situation. Trainability is heavily influenced by the intensity and type of stabling and husbandry, not to mention the type of training. In the latest revolution of horsemanship, the area of appropriate socialization and stabling has not received the attention it deserves.
- Horses are a quiet species. They prefer calm, and learn most efficiently in tranquil, familiar settings. Horses must know and be comfortable and secure in their environment to be able to learn as horsefolk hope them to learn. Horsefolk all know what we want from our horses, however in this paper I shall present the science of what our horses want and need from humans, the science of equine behaviour. Equine behaviour is not only the basis of training and trainability, but also the very basis of equine health. To succeed in our endeavors with horses (whatever the our equine goals or pursuits), our horses are best served to receive what they preferentially need and require behaviourally, nutritionally, socially, physically, environmentally, visually, and metabolically. In order to properly care for horses and successfully teach and train horses, horsefolk must know horses. They must know who the gregarious grazers of the plains are. They must know how to properly socialize horses through their growth phase to ensure that their horses grow up to be horses. Horses raised out of the herd context are vulnerable to behavioural insecurities later in life. Most behavioural wastage is due to improper socialization and husbandry.
- Rather than being dissimilar to us, horses are much like us. In this presentation, I attempt to clarify humankind's social and communicative similarities to horses. As with people, strong social bonds develop between individual horses and groups of horses. This herd nature results in intense social pair and herd bonds. Horses need other horses. Horses require other horses for security, comfort, and behavioural health. Horses need friends throughout their entire life, first their teaching mother, and then their teaching herd. Today’s domestic horse needs horse friends and human friends, although horses do retain the wherewithal to survive just fine without horsefolk. Horses need friends so greatly and constantly, that horses allow horsefolk to substitute as friends. This is possible because man shares a sociality with domestic horses. We speak their gesture language, and horses speak ours. We share a language of movement, and language described as kinetic empathy.
- Domestic horse is no longer human prey, and has not been for thousands of years. Horse has been brought into the circle of humanity, along with a dozen or so other domesticates that share an adequate sociality with mankind to be allowed to develop a mutually beneficial relationship.
- Horse and man have co-evolved together for thousands, if not tens of thousands of years. Each knows the other, well, and horses have proven to know the nature of people more consistently than people know the nature of horses. It is paramount that horsefolk appreciate the social and communicative nature of horses, and deal with horses in a fashion that is appropriate to their long-evolved social nature.
- In addition to adequate and appropriate sociality and socialization, the importance of the need for near-constant motion is paramount to proper application equine behaviour. Locomotion is essential for horse health. In natural settings, horses move about grazing, playing, trekking, and variety of other movements as much a two-thirds of the time. Abundant movement provides constant connection and communication with the other horses in the herd, and as well, sustains the overall and physiologic functions of the horse. Plentiful locomotor activity facilitates behavioural expression and maintains physiologic health. An essential interdependence exists between horse health and locomotion. Horses evolved to be near-constant walkers and grazers. Horses did not evolve to be confined in stalls and stables, but rather evolved to live in open herd settings. Despite domestication and selective breeding for docility and captivity, horse health remains dependent on locomotion. Locomotion is inherent to grazing. Locomotion is inherent to digestion, to respiration, to metabolism, to hoof health and function, and to joint health. If horses are not allowed to move about freely and socialize with other familiar horses grazing and chewing as they evolved to do, they become metabolically vulnerable and subsequently troubled. Horses deprived of locomotion and constant forage ingestion develop strategies to maintain the motion and oral security they feel they need to survive. When horses are deprived of adequate and abundant locomotion, they develop strategies to keep themselves and their jaws moving, as is their essential and inherent nature. Horses deprived of friends, forage, and locomotion are at risk to develop stereotypies to provide themselves with the movement they need to survive.
- The primary premise of equine behavioural health is this: in natural settings, horses walk and graze with other horses two thirds of the time. They take a step and graze, then another step or two grazing and moving along, always observing their surroundings, grazing while in touch with other members of the herd unless playing, occasionally dozing or sleeping, but only under the secure and established watch of others. Horses that are not afforded the opportunity to graze and walk much of the time take up with behaviours to replicate essential locomotion. When stabled, some of the horse's long- evolved survival behaviours become unwanted and unwelcome.
- Horses require friends, forage, and locomotion to stay healthy and productive. Additionally, horses need clean air and abundant space for optimum health. In rural settings, these requirements are easy to fulfill. Open grasslands and steppes are the geography and environs from where the most recent predecessors of Equus caballus evolved. The further we remove horses from their social grazer of the plains preferences, the more health issues develop that require treatment and management by veterinarians and horsefolk.
- Stabling, stalling, hospitalization and transport all deprive horses of their preferences for friends, forage, and locomotion. Although convenient for horsefolk, stabling is inconvenient for horses. Stabling limits the resources of friends, forage, and locomotion. Stabling creates bad air, and allows pathogens and parasites to travel easily between horses. When stabling is required, horses are best served to have their natural needs re-created in the stable. The air must be kept clean, and forage must be always available. Opportunities for movement and simulation of grazing with friends must be provided in abundance. Once our horses’ behavioural needs are understood, appreciated, and fulfilled, the learning and training can begin. Enrichment strategies re-create the needs of stabled horses. Horses deprived of friends, forage, and locomotion are not able to learn as well as appropriately socialized horses. Those strategies that best replicate the grazer of the plains scenario promote the best health, learning, and performance from horses.
- Locomotion and socialization are essential for both horse health and healing. Husbandry, healing, and rehabilitation nearly always benefit from appropriately managed locomotion strategies that are constantly tailored to the horse's healing process. Locomotion is required not only for normal healing, but for normal digestion, respiration, hoof health, circulation, and all other physiologic functions of the horse. Stall rest is at the expense of many systems, especially the hoof and metabolic systems. Digestion and respiration are compromised by confinement and restriction of movement. Metabolic, digestive, circulatory, hoof health, musculoskeletal, and nervous, systems, as well as the all other systems and functions of the horse, are dependent upon adequate and appropriate locomotion for normal functioning and/or healing.
- For horses that are hospitalized, paddocked, stabled, and corralled; active implementation and re-creation of the social pasture setting is required to optimize and maintain health and promote healing. Medical conditions are apt to deteriorate in the face of the deprivations of forage, friends, and locomotion created by stabling and hospitalization. Re-creation of a natural setting in the stall is the biggest challenge veterinarians face in maintaining the health of stabled horses.
- Stalled horses not only heal poorly, they learn and train poorly. Locomotion, social, and forage deprivations create problems for horses. In addition to appropriate medical treatment, veterinarians and stable managers must creatively provide horses with abundant socialization, forage, and locomotion to maintain health and facilitate healing within the parameters of acceptable medical and surgical treatment. Restriction of locomotion to facilitate healing necessitates the implementation of enrichment strategies to simulate locomotion, including massage, passive flexion, and a wide variety of physical therapies.
- Horses also heal horsefolk, and those horsefolk that implement these healing strategies often experience a sense of healing themselves, it seems. The human/horse bond runs deep. Domestication of the horse is a co-evolving evolutionary process. The human perspective is being shaped by the horse's perspective these days. Appreciation of the science of equine behavior and equitation is encouraged to support the renewed interest in equine medicine and welfare, and to facilitate the veterinarian’s role of providing horses with their essential needs.
- References
- Chyoke A, Olsen S & Grant S 2006 Horses and Humans, The Evolution of Human-Equine Relationships, BAR International Series 1560, Archeopress, England, ISBN 1 84171 990 0
- Magner D 2004 Magner’s Classic Encyclopedia of the Horse Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books
- McGreevy P 2004 Equine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians and Equine Scientists Philadelphia: Elsevier Limited. ISBN 0 7020 2634 4
- McGreevy P, McLean A 2010 Equitation Science, Wiley Blackwell, UK, ISBN 2009048321
- McGreevy PD et al 2007 Roles of Learning theory and ethology in equitation Journal of Veterinary Behavior 2:108-118
- McGreevy PD 2006 The advent of equitation science The Veterinary Journal 174:492-500
- Waran N, McGreevy P & Casey RA 2002 Training Methods and Horse Welfare in Waran N, ed The Welfare of Horses, Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, p151-180

Dr Gustafson graduated from Washington State University as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1979. He is a practicing veterinarian, animal welfare journalist, equine behaviorist, and novelist. The application of behavioral science to the husbandry of horses enhances optimal health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity. Sid offers veterinary care, training, husbandry, and conditioning from the horse's perspective to achieve willing and winning equine partnerships with humans. He is HABRI certified in the Human/Animal Bond.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Language of Horsemanship

How to raise and train horses to become willing partners and willing winners!

Dr Gustafson graduated from Washington State University as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1979. He is a practicing veterinarian, animal welfare journalist, equine behavior educator, and novelist. The application of behavioral science to the husbandry of horses enhances optimal health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity. Behavioral, social, locomotory, and nutritional strategies enhance the prosperity, vigor, and health of stabled horses. Sid offers veterinary care, training, husbandry, and conditioning from the horse's perspective to achieve willing and winning equine partnerships with humans.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Centaurian Horsemanship


The centaur portrays something significant about our horsemanship desires. That primal mythological being displays the metaphoric equestrian ideal; head, arms, and torso of a horseperson blending gracefully into the body and legs of horse; Equus sapien. Those who ride horses understand this conceit clearly; become the horse. Sophisticated Thessalonian Greek tribesman imagined and mythologized this man/horse creature, a cultural reflection of man’s emotional and physical blending with the species Equus caballus. The centaur image expresses pastoral man’s exalted and cherished blending with the horse. The centaur defines the willing partnership many of today’s horsemen seek.
A current expression of the centaur is what some term natural horsemanship, a renewal of the manifestation of our desire to connect with horses in a willing and conciliatory fashion. Ethical that is a good deal for the horse, including the husbandry and essential social development and enrichment. More than ever, as mankind has drifted ever so far from nature, people seek true unity with their horses, harmonious partnerships based on understanding and mutual confidence rather than force or coercion. Horsemen hope their horse allows total control willingly and readilydependably, consistently, and reliablywherever and whenever they ride together. The connection horsefolk seek is empowerment from the horse, a controlled extension of their self. The ideal connection is a pairing achieved willingly, a partnership that becomes something much more than the sum of man and horse.
Man continues to renew and refine the relationship that has bonded him to horses for millennia. Horsemen continue to seek a connectivity of their minds to the horse’s body as horsemen always have. The horsemanship ideal remains the same through time: that a rider’s thought becomes horse’s action, the centaur effect. Indeed, modern horsemen report that horse/man relationships approach this ideal with regularity. The nature of the horse, however, is such that the regularity remains uncertain.
Consistent blending of man’s thought to the horse’s physique requires a thorough and multifaceted understanding of the horse’s nature. Subsequently, the development of an ability to communicate physically with horses is required to connect with horses in a positive fashion. Kinetic empathy, or understanding through movement, describes the gesture language used between horses, and between horses and humans. The language of horsemanship is the language of kinetic empathy. An acceptance of the time it takes to refine relationships with horses remains an important aspect of communicating with horses. Horsemanship involves more than training. Horses form strong pair bonds in a herd to develop fluent communication between horses to facilitate group survival. Group survival is the horse’s nature, and the horseperson needs to take the time to develop a familiarity with horses, both on an individual and general basis. Horses need to know how those in their group move, and respond to their  movements, and as well the horseperson needs to know equine locomotion on many levels. Understanding and comprehending the kinetic empathy that horses utilize involves appreciating the gaits of horses. Horsemanship involves bonding, becoming familiar with one another, as is the horse’s nature. Much of this bonding is the blending of a physical connection. Pleasing matches take time spent together.
The connection between horse and man is subconscious and conscious, inherent and acquired. Advanced horsemen and horsewomen communicate to and with horses on many levels, much as horses communicate with one another. Awareness in both species becomes comprehensive as the relationship develops, with both man and horse knowing the movements of the other, as well as the other’s expected responses to their movements.
Man’s relationship with the horse has been pressing for some time. Mary Leakey discovered early African man’s footprints fossilized next to the hoof-prints of an early African horse. These hoof and foot prints next to one another dated 3.6 million years into the past. That is a long time ago. Man and horse have spent a long time coevolving. Before merging together in the dance of domestication, man and horse developed group survival strategies that involved sophisticated social interaction and communication. Much of the early communication in mankind involved gestures. The majority of horse communication involves gestures and body language, acknowledgements and responses to movements. Horse and man’s ability to communicate merged in the domestication process. Mankind has spent a long time coevolving with horses, and here we continue to refine our interspecies communication and understanding of one another.
Imagine 3 million years ago, pedestrian man, fleet horse; footprints fossilized together on the same ancient plain. Three million years ago man and horse gazed at one another, watching the others movements, coming to understand the other’s intent by the other’s movements, the beginnings of the sharing of the language scientists today term kinetic empathy. The contiguous footprints of man and horse do not prove any sort of close relationship so long ago in Africa, but the shared ecosystem implies that the two species have been aware and observant of one another for at least three million years. Horses have been vulnerable to the many of the same predators as man over time. In response to predation, each species developed a safety in numbers survival structure, becoming social in nature. Later, in Asia, man and horse converged in a socially communicative regard that had independently developed over time. The awareness and contact between man and horse ebbed and flowed until the right combination of horses, folk, and resources allowed the connection to develop, allowing the species to merge. By six thousand years ago, horses had merged with people both physically and socially. Horses were stabled, milked, trained, and likely ridden, as the Botai archeology suggests. The shared social structure between man and horse quickly flourished as the language between the species became refined with close and continuous contact. The new relationship between these two social species facilitated the eventual development of inland civilizations. The combination of the two species soon exceeded the sum of man and horse before their social merger.
“The Footprint Tuff”[1] at Laetoli in the eastern rift valley of Kenya, Australopithecus and Hipparon, must have had wondering what if might take to tame that resource, assessing the horse’s power; the African horse looking at man, skeptic then as skeptic now, yet curious, both being chased by the same predators as they emerged from the forest to the plains. Three million years is a long time for two species to contemplate one another in increasingly intense fashion. Some people seem born with an animal understanding or connectivity in their blood, perhaps biologically relevant to the long developmental association man and horse have experienced together.
The kinetic language to effectively connect with horses has been selectively enhanced and incorporated into man’s genome over time. The ability to communicate with horse is inborn into man’s central nervous system as it is inborn into the horse’s. The gesture language has converged. For some individuals the language appears more readily expressible than for others. Children raised in the presence of horses and other domestic animals develop an understanding of the language the animals utilize to communicate with one another, as well as the language the domestic animals utilize to communicate with the children and others. Children quickly come to appreciate the nature of horses if they are allowed abundant opportunities to be taught by horses, which is to grow up around horses, to live near and with horses, to ride them from a young age. Children often quickly connect by understanding the gesture language of horses, and by responding with a gesture language of their own, which facilitates bonding. Bonding is understanding of the other, predictability of the other, knowing of the other, and the understanding is that of movement. Bonding and understanding go hand in hand, as bonding is about becoming familiar with the movements of the other, the meaning of the movements, the responses to the movements. Harmony of movement becomes the ideal. Harmony with horses requires experience and understanding; familiarity. The harmony is a harmony of movement, a harmony of responses to the others movements, a continuous reciprocity, and rhythmic togetherness, a staying out of the way of the locomotion of the other. The bond between man and horse is a bond of mutually appreciated movements. The language of horsemanship is mutual appreciation of movements. Adults and children alike over time learn to react to these movements with conditioned subconscious movements of their own when handling and riding horses.  Exceptional communicators develop willing partnerships with horses. Horses evolved a group survival strategy, and part of the strategy is to flow with the herd, to appease the group. As horses appease others in a herd, horses are willing to appease their riders, provided a fluent language of horsemanship has been comfortably established. As in a herd, horses are willing to lead, as well. Provided communication is fluent, a horse’s nature is to both willingly appease and to willingly lead their rider. The relationship—the bond of mutual appreciation and predictability of the other’s movement—is best served to be experienced and secure.
Those folk without an animal sense of kinetic empathy can learn to communicate with horses by educating themselves regarding the history and nature of the horse. Adults unfamiliar with horse movement and locomotion often require a more formal conscious learning process regarding horse’s nature, initially at least. Communication with horses becomes subconscious with time, provided one takes the time to become familiar with horse movements, and the language in which horse’s communicate with both one another and with people. Spending time with horses is essential. Adults cannot become fluent in the language of horsemanship without spending lots of time with horses—hours a day, days a week. A variety of activities facilitate an understanding of horse movements. Grooming and brushing and rubbing horses is an excellent way to become fluent with horses. Hanging out with horses in grazing scenarios allows people to become with the responses of horses to the movement of others, both four-legged and two. A bond has to be established. For some the bond with a horse can come instantly, for others bonding takes more time. Some pairings are unable to find balance, and therefore cannot bond adequately to allow the development of a willing partnership.
Successful horsemanship depends on the refinement of a fluency of movement between horse and rider. The accomplishment of fluent human/horse connections requires understanding of the nature of the horse. Learning theory is important to appreciate. Learning theory is based on evolutionary processes. Group survival facilitated socialization. In addition to sharing a language of movement with horses, man shares the principles of learning with horses. Humans and horses learn in similar fashion. Mares teach their foals both how and what to learn. Similar learning allows training.  These connections have been modified and melded with longstanding threads of horsemanship.  Horsemanship has been developed into schools and methods. Many of these methods are sequential, explanatory, and formulaic, and many of them help horsemen establish effective relationships with horses. An understanding of the theory and application of these methods is necessary to gain full advantage of the techniques and to be able to apply what is termed natural horsemanship to specific disciplines effectively.

Finesse, informality, and variety are equally essential horsemanship virtues, but they are less often addressed in natural horsemanship programs and will be explored here. Accomplished horsemen are those who become exposed to a wide variety of horses in a wide variety of disciplines and applications over extended periods of time. Individuals remaining buried in specific disciplines have a tendency to become close-minded to the horsemanship of others, and this can preclude effective refinement in their chosen discipline. Horsemen seeking improvement and enhanced performance are wise to view new strategies and thought from a wide variety of sources with an open mind, and attempt to garner improved language skills from each horseman they encounter. There are many effective adaptable traditions and horsemanship methodologies and theories, and most all of them have information to potentially improve our relationship with horses, although some may teach us what we ought not do with horses.
The language of horsemanship is making a comeback, and our connection with horses is deepening in many exciting and innovative ways. Facilitating man’s longtime connection with the horse—a method of signaling and communing with the horse—physical language more than verbal language, an emotional language. The communication has reached renewed levels of sophistication, and it is a language that transcends words in many ways. Exploring the origins and future of the language of horsemanship is a primary intent of this book.
Understanding the nature of the domestic horse is the basis of the language of contemporary horsemanship. Horsemen must be able to read horses and develop a perception and awareness of their myriad levels of perception and projection. Horses strive to understand horsemen and reciprocate effectively and efficiently. Willingness and understanding need travel both ways. Domestic horses possess inborn tameness that horsemen can tap into deeply and effectively. And do. Through time, beautiful horsemanship has been practiced far and wide. Common fundamentals of the language persevere, handed down from horseman to horseman, from man to horse, from horse to man in direct and indirect ways.
A huge culture of horsemanship became lost in the industrial age as horses became obsolete. Cruelty surfaced, a result of confusion and world war. Horse suffered a brutal transition as folk lost daily contact and man lost touch with horse’s nature. Competitive sports, high stakes, and greed also took its toll on horses. Doping in race and show horses is just now getting seriously reined in. Once again the horse is being considered. Today we seek to embrace horse’s nature, again.
Despite this disjointing, psychological savvy remains in both man and horse as how to communicate with one another. Traditional horsemanship threads have been actively carried on through time with the Mongols of the Asian steppes, Persians, North Africans, Vikings, Laplanders, Spaniards, Americans, European dressage and jumping equestrians, thoroughbred horsemen, draft and carriage horsemen, Far East horsemen, cavalry and military, law enforcement, and many other horse-dependent cultures and disciplines. Today’s new horseman is the natural horseman, observing and understanding horse in its natural circumstances and applying that knowledge to the effective training of horses.
In America the thread of horsemanship reached the horseback cattlemen of the Great Plains, and they are currently the most prevalent practitioners of natural horsemanship. Cattle-working cowboy types are currently those most exposed to be able to observe horses in natural settings in North America. Ranch horses are not often stabled, and most run together on open range or in large pastures when not being ridden. Additionally, feral horses frequent the fringes of cattle ranches and grasslands of the west, and allow additional observation of natural equine tendencies. It is often these professionals who emerge to interpret natural horsemanship. Cowboys are known far and wide for spending time contemplating horses rather than fixing fence, and many are horseback ten or more hours a day. The combination of watching and riding horses forms a basis for interpretation that this treatise expounds upon and carries through other disciplines.
Beyond buckaroos, there are many other proficient and effective horsemen who effectively combine knowledge garnered from watching horses interact with one another to the training and partnership development of their riding horses. Natural horsemanship, although dominated by cowboy types by name, is effectively practiced in many disciplines including dressage, driving, horseracing, polo, jumping, eventing, steeple chasing, fox chasing, trekking, trail riding, jousting, vaulting, and many others as the list goes on. Some apply applications differently than others, and not all natural references or behaviors translate as intended or proposed.
Horse behavior has the potential to be both over-interpreted and misinterpreted, and horsemen need to use care in arriving at assumptions based on what they perceive to be natural. The most successful horsemen are those willing to re-interpret what appears to happen naturally and otherwise, and to apply training strategies with the horse in mind with special attention paid to the horse’s physiologic and psychological parameters. Intentionally (or unintentionally) tiring and exhausting horses appears to be one of the more popular misapplications of natural horsemanship.  Nearly anyone can put a horse in a round pen, chase it to exhaustion, and hop on. Of course horses trained in this fashion are someday going to be outside the round pen. The opportunity for them to have their day will eventually arise. This is one example of a current misapplication of natural horsemanship. This book will outline the physiologic parameters horsemen will expected to follow to support and encourage horse welfare regarding this and other questionable types of training, natural and otherwise.
As ever, journeys with horse are spells of learning, never-ending accumulations, modifications and clarifications of knowledge resulting in evolved and refined expressions of understanding and connection. The journey may also include broken bones, enlightenment, and wisdom. After a basic language is established and natural circumstances are recreated for horses, the development of balance, timing, and feel between horse and man can progress to unforeseen heights, and the results can be refreshingly rewarding—naturally rewarding. At times horsemanship feels synchronous and fluid, and these are the times horsemen relish, those moments and experiences when time becomes suspended for both horseman and horse. This book intends to inform and teach, to provide a source for unleashing motivated and compassionate horsemen’s inherent ability to communicate with horses, to allow horsemen to prevail and succeed with their horses.
The combination of man and horse is an ideal, the perfect ideal, a revered and special partnership cultured and nurtured over time that continues to defy our imagination. Natural horsemanship attempts to mesh two minds together, combining the sensual, intellectual, and physical advantages of both perspectives. Natural horsemanship aspires to a rich symbiosis with horse. It replaces the ideology of dominance, wherein the horseman does all the thinking and commanding and the horse does as instructed. Coercive horsemanship removes the horse’s perspective, and limits the horse’s effective contributions, which are immense. Ethical horsemanship aspires to a mutually considerate relationship with the horse.

[1] Last Horses and First Humans in North America, S David Webb and C Andrew Hemmings, 2006, pages 11-25, from Horses and Humans: the Evolution of Human Equine Relationships, BAR S1560, Archeopress, Oxford, England

Dr Gustafson graduated from Washington State University as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1979. He is a practicing veterinarian, animal welfare journalist, equine behavior educator, and novelist. The application of behavioral science to the husbandry of horses enhances optimal health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity. Behavioral, social, locomotory, and nutritional strategies enhance the prosperity, vigor, and health of stabled horses. Sid offers veterinary care, training, husbandry, and conditioning from the horse's perspective to achieve willing and winning equine partnerships with humans.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Ethical Horsemanship

Ethical Horsemanship

Sid Gustafson DVM

Talismanic wins Breeders Cup Turf in Record Time

THE LANGUAGE OF HORSES is a behavioral interpretation of the theory and practice of contemporary horsemanship. An empirical appreciation of equine behavior is instrumental in developing agreeable partnerships with horses.
Horses form strong pair bonds.
To successfully train horses we must initially bond with them. To bond with horses we must know and learn from them to fulfill their inherent general and individual needs. An effective pair bond is formed when each knows the other in a consistent, communicative, predictable, and reliable fashion. Once this familiarity is established learning and training can commence in earnest for both human and horse.
The domestic nature of horses is an inherent inclination to please people who fulfill their behavioral needs. Fulfilling the social and physiologic needs of horses is essential to their health, trainability and prosperity. Ethical horsemanship appreciates the both the wild and domestic natures of the horse.

The Language of Horses facilitates harmony with horses. An appreciation of the long-evolved nature of the horse allows the development of positive relationships with horses. Stabling must re-create natural. The successful horse person appreciates the world from the horse’s perspective. In addition to the fulfillment of the horses’ essential needs of friends, forage, and locomotion, fluency in the language used to read and communicate with horses is essential to teach horses. Communicative bonding allows the union of horse and rider to be a willing partnership.
Constant concise communication clarifies and solidifies the relationship. Horses form strong pair bonds based on precise communication. Precise communication engenders predictability, and predictability establishes mutual reliability. A partnership forms, activated by actualizing the bond. Horse and rider. Each knows the other. Each understands the other, and appreciates the other. In the best relationships, each admires the other, looking forward to riding together. Familiarity, from the word familial, develops between the horse and rider. Horse and rider come to know one another, and in the best relationships, to enjoy one another. Horse and human share an evolved sociality that facilitates communication and appeasement. The higher the degree of familiarity between horse and rider becomes, the more fluent and productive the relationship.
Willing partnerships between horses and humans are developed utilizing a shared language, a gesture language, kinetic empathy. Both man and human, having evolved in group-survival societies, have the evolutionary background to cooperate and communicate with like-minded others. Man and horses share communication-based group survival constructs. With horses, humans share the language that facilitates group survival, a language of motion and touch, kinetic empathy and haptic empathy, empathy implying conveyance of meaning, rather than sympathy. Empathy is the ability to understand another. Kinetic empathy is the ability to understand another’s gesture language.
To bond with and train horses, one must become sympathetic to the gesture language of horses, empathetic to the meaning of all of their motions, their body, ears, eyes, lips, and legs. One has to watch carefully to become sympathetic to the meaning. In watching for meaning in motion, horses and humans enhanced group survival. Fluency in the language of horsemanship is based on an understanding of the language of horses, and its similarities to the language of horsefolk. Horsemanship is a sharing of the language horse with the language of man. Man and horse easily share a language as time and domestication has proven. It is no surprise we are apt to share a language with other species who have evolved similar group survival constructs. Man and horse successfully converged societies facilitated by their similarly evolution of group communication. Horses and man share a language of movement and touch, which successfully allows a shared sociality between human and horse. Horsemanship is merging with the herd, while pair bonding with the horse. Horses have no verbal language, but are adept communicators utilizing kinetic empathy. Horses employ movements to transfer information to others. Horses also communicate via touch. Horsefolk communicate with horses utilizing movement and touch.
There are many layers and textures to the communication and social structuring that occurs between humans and horses. Domestication science, the study of the merger of horse and human societies, helps horsefolk appreciation the similarities between horses and people. Shared social constructs allowed horses and humans to merge, enhancing group survival for both species. As the species merged, coevolution solidified the survival of both species. Eons of time played an immense role—time, geography, climate, and genetics, but mostly it was the social constructs horses and humans share thousands of years of close association (co-evolution), followed by selective breeding.
Communication between horses and people is largely silent gesture language, a language with meaning in motions and pressures and releases rather than vocalizations. Auditory cues can replace physical cues after the physical cues are established, however. Beyond the language of movement between horses and people, comes the captivating language of feel, a haptic empathy, a language of touching motions. Kinetic empathy and haptic empathy are the terms I use to define the Language of Horses. Fluency in both is essential to achieve ethical horsemanship.

Ethical horsemanship emphasizes the exploration of the inherent socialization processes required to develop mutually aggreeable relationships with horses. Making friends with horses in a social sense facilitates willingness to please, and willingness to learn and remember. Appropriate socialization with the mare and herd during the growth phase refines these essential communication abilities. Once foals are taught to communicate with other horses, they can then be taught to communicate with humans. It is essential during the imprint phase that the mare teach the foal these communication basics, as she is the most qualified, the only qualified teacher in this regard. In order for horses to respond to human training and teaching, the foal must be thoroughly taught and trained, and maintained by refining their communication abilities with other horses. Trainability requires appropriate socialization. To train up, horses must grow up to be horses as taught by horses. Throughout life, abundant socialization is required to maintain healthy mental processes and responsiveness to other horses and people alike. The most effective socialization is accomplished in spacious herd settings. Especially critical is the period from birth through adolescence. In addition to understanding and correctly applying equine behavior to training, horses benefit immensely from appropriate and abundant socialization. Horses become willing to reward people with stellar performance and optimum health when continuous and appropriate socialization are abundantly provided throughout their development, training, and competitive life. 

Dr Gustafson graduated from Washington State University as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1979. He is a practicing veterinarian, animal welfarist, equine behavior educator, and novelist. The application of behavioral science to the husbandry and training of horses enhances optimal health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity.
Sid Gustafson provides equine behavioral consults to help humans achieve willing and winning partnerships with horses.

Dr Gustafson's novels, books, and stories