This evening I attempted to fill in a survey and this was one of the questioned asked. I couldn't honestly answer it because in truth, I don't know if they get jealous or not. Is this an emotion they have the brain capacity to experience? Is this a human emotion that we project on to them because we want to feel as though they care? Or is it more to do with curiosity or instinct? I don't have the answer.
I have been very privileged to be the only handler, rider and owner of a horse and although she was kept on livery yards she knew it was me who did stuff with her. When I got a second horse, she appeared to be jealous of him, often muscling her way in between us if went to him first and then if I rode him and not her, she would stand there in the field, watching us leave, looking dejected and paying no attention to her field mate at all. The emotion I projected on to her was jealously, but was it?
In my experience, horses love routine, it makes them feel safe and secure. I only know this because when you break their routine they show signs of stress or anxiety. Perhaps a break in their routine that doesn't deprive them of anything doesn't cause stress, but it may cause a little confusion. Maybe Tico was used to watching me move from one step to the other, whether I was just checking them or whether I was riding them, I always had a routine. But with Star Ponyboy added in to the equation, my routine had changed and to her something had been lost.
I do know that stabled horses who are waiting to be fed and turned out very much look forward to you turning up. A yard I kept my first horse at, the horses would whinny when they heard their owner's car pull up in the car park! They're so clever. Soon after the door banging or the head tossing would follow. But is it the same for a horse whose only reward when you turn up a scratch or a fuss. My little miniature Charlie loves to have his nose kissed. Molly has to have her daily face rub. Anna likes her neck scratches, whilst Izzy and Tara just love to cuddle in to you and groom you back when you scratch them. And if I was anthropomorphising...omg that word is hard to spell - humanising - Tara, Izzy and Anna, they often make me think they're jealous of each other because they will push each other out of the way to get more scratches.
There were a whole load of other things I couldn't answer in this survey for the same reasons, but what it really made me think about is how often we assume our horses are thinking or feeling something that could be interpreted as human behaviour but in actual fact, these things have an awful lot more to do with survival. And do our survival instincts kick in when we're scared too? Are we projecting this behaviour and it's meaning on to them. Are we the cause of this behaviour?
I'm sure most of us have said at one time or another, 'This horse is determined to get me off, the little [insert desired expletive here!]' Suggesting that he is full of malice or just being plain mean. But the biggest threat to a horse is having a predator jump on it from above and attack it. Hmmm, we are predators so what if we are sometimes perceived to be a massive threat because we are hurting them/frightening them or just plain in the way of them being able to run from something else that is threatening their survival?
One of the things we see a lot at camp is people who are very nervous before and during their first lesson. I once had two riders talk themselves out of riding at all during breakfast! It's ok, we got them on and guess what? They survived and had a great time! Our nerves affect our heart rate and breathing - the two things that horses are designed to listen to if they want to survive. If you ever watch a herd of horses, one can lift it's head up, alert to something and a horse on the other side of the field, even if he can't see the first one move, will have lifted his head too. Their hearing is so sharp, their response to energy is incredible and the minute the heart beat and breathing of another mammal changes, that horse knows it.
So imagine...we have twelve riders getting on, their heart rate and breathing is all over the place. We've got twelve horses who have no idea what is about to happen to them, their pulses are high, they're taking short breaths and they're alert. This is a natural survival instinct for them, they're not being naughty (a very subjective word!) or disrespectful, they're just following their instincts. And although we may feel a perceived threat, we, the rider, are in no more danger than we were when we last got on that horse and rode him in the school or around the same track for the millionth time! Why? Because we know how to ride this horse.
Not so sure about this? Watch a young kid get on their pony in a strange place and see what their expectations of that horses behaviour are. Or watch a seasoned competition rider get on and warm his horse up at the beginning of a competition. If he knows his stuff and his horse there is no tension or stress, they just ride.
Also, notice the difference next time you're at camp, between the way everyone is at the beginning of their second lesson, compared to their first. Look up and observe, you will find people in your group who are just expecting to have a ride no different from the last one. Anxiety shows up when we don't know what is going to happen next. As a rule, you guys get to the other side of that anxiety by seeing the lesson through so that you then have knowledge and experience about what is going to happen. Before that moment, the crystal ball was out, predicting all kinds of near death scenarios!
But you can predict what that horse is going to do - without the crystal ball! You know your horses. You have trained them to move off your leg. So why are your legs clamped to his sides and expecting him to stand still?! And when you are riding out with your mates, do you sit there waiting for them to get on going 'Omg, what is she going to say about the way I ride?' or 'My horse looks so scruffy next to hers, I wonder if she'll want to ride with me and my hairy cob?' Maybe, 'I am so crap a getting him to canter, I hope no one notices!'? Or do you sit there having a laugh about the fact that you still have half the field in your horses mane or that Bob the Cob is going to do his fastest trot ever rather than break in to that illusive canter? I imagine it's going to be the latter and ten minutes in to your first lesson with your group, you'll all be doing the same. So predict don't project. He's not being naughty, he's just being a horse. Unclamp those thighs and ride him like the horse you know he is. Ditch the negative crystal ball and pick up the one that is full of experience. The one that tells the truth about the hundred and twenty times you've ridden this horse without incident. Stop worrying about what might happen and just ride your horse because if you ride him in the way you always do, he will do what he always does - he'll be awesome.
And you know who taught him to be that way?
You did - because you're awesome too!
Which I think leads on to the next topic I've been talking about a lot with a couple of the Riding Pool Members lately...that horses learn to do the things we want them to as quickly as they learn to do the things we don't want them to do... So until next time, don't be a predator or a pussy cat, be the rider that you know you can be and let your horse be the awesome horse you've taught him to be
Much love to you my camp family xxx
Hey Folks, I'm Lorraine and the picture is of one of my horses Tara - in our office! I really am the luckiest person alive to get to do what I do.