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The horse is first and foremost a prey animal, a creature of flight. How often have we not heard this statement? Everyone who has anything to do with horses seems to trot out this conclusion with the solemnity of the faithful religiously reciting their creed. And the members of the equestrian congregation who hear it nod unthinkingly in agreement, as though acknowledging the first tenet of equine doctrine. This is how we humans define the essence of the horse. No one questions this definition. It is taken as given, a bit like acknowledging that the earth is round. There is a difference, of course. We do not base our approach to the earth on our acknowledgement that it is round. Nor do we use the fact that it is round as the basis for a human approach to the earth which is devastating the planet (mainly through a combination of human induced and facilitated global warming, pollution, mass extinctions, the destruction of biodiversity and related conditions). However, we do use the claim that the horse is first and foremost a prey animal, a creature of flight to justify a human approach to horses which is premised on domination and control to the human’s advantage. Perhaps it is time to question this statement and to establish whether it is indeed an accurate reflection of the essential nature of the horse. Is there a better time to do this than when considering the question of choice?

After considering the horse’s intrinsic nature…

So let us return to where we started, namely, with the claim that the horse is first and foremost a prey animal, a creature of flight. If we take all of these salient aspects of the horse and view them as they are, the essential features of the species, we may summarise them by saying that overall horses:

  • are highly responsive and are capable of moving at great speed;
  • can cover considerable distances while foraging every single day – if allowed to live freely – something which is essential for their physical well-being;
  • are hard-wired to resist rather than yield to physical pressure;
  • have a back which is capable of limited load bearing capacity;
  • have considerable cognitive powers;
  • are a source of and are highly sensitive to energetical influences;
  • have highly sensitive senses, more so than humans;
  • are always fully aware of their surroundings;
  • have a finely tuned predilection for rhythm;
  • are as capable as humans of experiencing emotions such as fear, anger, sadness and joy, especially the latter;
  • are highly sociable, almost obsessively so, but from the bottom up rather than the top down, inclined – almost subversively – to follow rather than to lead;
  • are capable of trust at various levels.

Reading this summary, would we really conclude that we are dealing with a creature that is first and foremost a prey animal, a creature of flight, and that their status as such is decisive in determining their intrinsic nature? Is it not perhaps time to debunk this clichéd definition which is all too often trotted out by way of an introduction to the species?

A man and his horse!

A man and his horse!

It is difficult if not impossible to conclude that horses are very special creatures with whom humans should have relatively little difficulty being and interacting with them while establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relations without the constant need to resort to tools of restraint, instruments of coercion and behaviourist training. Both species are capable of sensitivity, awareness, cognition, communication through body language and energy, emotion, sociability rhythm and trust at various levels.

Of course, such a conclusion assumes that humans would be willing to exercise such capacity at least almost as readily as horses normally do. And if this were the case, there would be no grounds to sustain Jonathan Swift’s depiction of the yahoos in the land of the Houyhnhnms, would there? Instead, might we not all be following in Lemuel Gulliver’s footsteps to some or other degree when we discover the intrinsic nature of the horse and start acting accordingly?

Gulliver in discussion with the Houyhnhnms

Gulliver in discussion with the Houyhnhnms

Unfortunately, most of us humans have never had the chance to experience the full range of what horses are capable of in the wild. In the vast majority of cases this is because we have never seen them in their natural environment. Where we have seen horses is in captivity and what we see in this abnormal (to the horse) situation is what we assume is normal but is it really?


(Taken from the final draft of the book, Being Humans for Horses. Click here for more information.)




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