April 24, 2006
Now I am fixin’ to get into trouble with some one with what I am about to say, but hang tight and stay with me until I get through, and then see how you feel.
Having dealt with horses most of my life, like everyone else I had to learn the hard way. Oh, I went to a lot of training classes and professional trainers but most of what I learned was by studying and living with horses myself. I am still learning.
Then going to college, I received a teaching certificate and taught in public school for 15 years, and then into law enforcement for about that same length of time. Now I drive a school bus and still work with horses. But I have had a lot of experience learning how to deal with children, both good and bad.
Like kid behavior, horse behavior takes in a lot of facts that determine a specific behavior pattern. This goes back to the way in which the horse/child was raised and his/her environment with other members of their social group, etc.
But the big difference between horse and human behavior is that a horse’s behavior is influenced by a natural instinct of fight or flight. We do see this in children from war-torn countries or big city slum areas. All in all, we need to take this into consideration when dealing with the young.
It is important to understand a herd animal’s communication, which is vital to its existence. The horse has existed through a long period of time by using these methods of communication. Horses do not just use sound to express language between each other. Yes, sound is used by horses ” for instance as a whinny for a longing call to a friend, or as an introduction to a new member of the herd. Watch a horse movie sometime, paying specific attention to the sound a horse makes. They always have the horse whinny for everything, but that is just Hollywood.
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A horse expresses many of his/her emotions by facial expressions. For instance, the position of the ear/ears or the subtle (or not so subtle) facial expression, such as the tightening of lips, widening of eyes or flaring of nostrils. When training a horse I like to see one lick his lips because I know he/she is dealing with the situation and has accepted what I am asking.
Vices are easier to correct if you know their origin because they can generally be attributed to behavior traits and difficulties. Many times a horse may appear to be misbehaving when in fact he/she is indicating a special fear of something. Understanding these signs and being able to communicate with your horse will help you be a better rider and handler and help you deal with behavior problems. Horses are not machines. It is important to be able to interpret and deal with these communication signs much in the same way we deal with children’s non-verbal signs.
Individual horses are unique in personality, the same as people are. No two horses act or behave exactly the same. Most anyone who has spent significant time with horses is aware of this.
As R. S. Surtees said, “There’s no secret so close as that between a rider and his horse.”
Roger Thompson is a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding. v