How much human is a horse?

Lately, I got involved in one of those ineffable discussions on Facebook. Again. 
I know it‘s of no use, and I know it‘s a waste of time. But sometimes, I just can‘t keep my mouth shut. 
Like in the following case. One woman posted in the Natural Horsemanship Students group that she‘d been on holiday and now she‘s back and finds a changed horse. She was convinced that the horse was sulking because of her absence and asked what she could do about it. I dared to write that she might misinterpret the behavior. Because I doubt that horses can be insulted. 
Well, and here we are anthropomorphizing the horse. That horses have feelings is clear and not to be denied. But what exactly are they able to feel? Do they know the same emotions as us humans? Are we pretty similar in fact? 
There are no real answers as even science will probably never be able to place us in a horse‘s head and allow us to share its conscience. So what is left, are observations. Observations and the conclusions we draw. 
As you might know I am quite fond of traditional horsemanship and I‘ve learned that it‘s no good to project human traits on horses. And that‘s what I am convinced of. Still. Even after I got scolded for being an arrogant, bad, mean, vicious human who denies horses feelings and conscience and everything.

If I don't see you, maybe you won't see me.
Photo: Nadja
If she‘d asked, I‘d offered her my point of view along with some explanations (which she didn‘t want to hear of course). Well, I think that nature has equipped the horse with all the emotions necessary for his survival. And I think that nature has deprived the horse of all the emotions that would complicate his survival. 
For instance: If a horse knew no fear and no caution, it would make an easy prey. But what if a horse knew compassion or remorse? The stud would not be able to kill his competitor‘s offspring without being tortured by scruples afterwards. Maybe this scenario is possible. But unlikely, in my eyes. If horses knew remorse or guilt, that would imply that horses are able to judge their behavior and its consequences (for themselves and their buddies) in complex contexts plus far in the future. So the stud is tormented by his bad conscience but he still kills the non-legitimate sons of his mares. Plus, he really needs to apologize to his rival whose leg he almost broke at their last fight. Well, it may be possible, but it would be inconvenient, obstructive. I think nature prefers simple over complicated.

I don‘t deny horses emotions in general, of course. But I think that from time to time us humans would be well advised to take some distance from our egos and to see our horses as what they are: prey animals, domesticated for thousands of years, but still not to be compared with humans. 

Of course, I want too that my horse loves me, misses me and defends me if necessary. But I believe, unfortunately, that without me he still has everything he needs to live a happy life. We are an accessory to our horses‘ lifes. Some of them like us and spending time with us, others would be happy if we‘d stayed away. I don‘t think that‘s sad or tragic. It‘s just the way it is. But out there seem to exist people (and not just a few) who cannot handle the thought that horses are independent to some degree and survive without their owners (I am writing about emotional bonds here. Of course, horses need food and water to survive). Of course, some horses form stronger bonds. But still, I think, they are able to sever them more quickly and easily than us humans could.

Looking at my project horse: He doesn‘t like to be touched or handled by persons he doesn‘t know. He then threatens to bite, pulls an angry face and if he feels extremely superior he might even kick. I could interpret this behavior as him missing his regular handlers and therefore being angry and insulted. But what I actually believe is this: He doesn‘t like his routines being changed and mixed up

If humans were around him that respected his needs and tuned into him, who respected his personal space, didn‘t flood him with too much energy and asked very politely - he‘d be fine with it and wouldn‘t mind if it were us or others. As long as his needs are taken care of. We are disposable. 

I‘m sorry if this doesn‘t sound like Fury or Black Beauty. But life‘s not a pony ride.

4 comments:

  1. Great post. I think it's a fine line between listening with horse ears and listening with human ears sometimes... and you hate to ruin their fun (esp. on FB) Sometimes clients are thrilled to find out they read their horse wrong, and I have had others get mad and not work with me. So it goes, you have described it will in this good post .

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    1. Thank you! It though the post sounds rather harsh but still it needed to be said.

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  2. I have a very open mind when it comes to what is really going on in a horse - or any other creature's mind for that matter - however with regards to the stud killing off the young of another and feeling/not feeling remorse could be compared to us daft humans - we kill each other all around the world without much compunction.

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    1. That indeed is a point. Thanks for your comment!

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