The relationship between man and horse is an enduring one. But dealing with animals is always easier and more enjoyable when you have empathy and understanding. To be able to relate to horses,you need to understand their pychology, in order to anticipate horses’reactions you have to understand how they think and why they behave in certain ways. A good understanding also builds confidence on both sides-human and equine.
When faced with a threatening situation, the horse’s nature is one of flight, and therefore its perspective on life is one of vulnerability rather than attack. As humans, how we react and feel in certain situations depends on our upbrining and experience. It is the same with horses, which is why careful early handling and training are so important.
We can never expect a horse to go against its natural instincts, that is, never to be frightened or wary – but with good training we can control these instincts and show the horse, in a positive way, that a particular situation or object need not be feared.
Horses are gregarious herd animals, welcoming the company of other horses, as well as other creature companions and humans. Even domesticated stable horses establish their own ‘pecking order’.
Either the stallion at the end of the row calls loudest when feed time is due or, as many top riders report, their retired star kicks the stable door demanding attention first when what it considers as ‘it’ rider walks into the stableyard in the morning.
It is widely known the horse responds best to praise and encouragement from its trainer or rider to overcome its natural flight instincts and not be dominated. ‘Breakin-in’, the term formerly associated with a youg horse’s first conditioning to carry a rider, has now commonly been replaced with terms such as ‘starting’, which infer much less the idea of domination.
From the disabled child fearlessly enjoying the company of ponies as part of therapy to the most successful of international competitive combinations, a common bond – that of trust and empathy between rider and horse – is being developed.
The horse looks at its human contacts as part of its ‘herd’ in the herd hierarchy,the human rider and trainer’s intellectual capacities give him or her the upper hand. This is why the man/horse relationship has worked so well for several thousand years, and humans can control an animal with many times their own strengths and power.
Riders in their early lessons will often be told ‘Don’t be nervous’. Although at this stage the rider should be learning from an experienced horse and therefore should be able to relax, the fact that horses need reassurance and security is something to bear in mind and cultivate from the start of a riding career.
Article Written By J. Foley
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