Winter is starting on the Blorenge!

Since welcoming Dax into my life back in May, I’ve been on quite a learning journey.  It’s been a fascinating process seeing how the theory that I’ve picked up over the years translates into applied practice – and how it doesn’t always fit the individual as neatly as the books and training might suggest!  This was one of my reasons for getting a horse ‘of my own’: to build a relationship and to learn more about the practicalities of caring for an equine.

I’ve also had the opportunity to see what life on a yard is like – when your horse lives there – compared to the yards that I’d visited through work.  I was very fortunate to be on a lovely yard with fairly like-minded people.  It was a small establishment with only 2 other people and a total of 5 horses, while I was there.  We worked pretty well together, sharing poo picking and happily stepping in when one or other of us went away for a few days.  It was lovely to have others to share and consult or even just chat with, back in those long warm summer evenings.

Now that we’ve moved to Wales and have 2 horses, things are different in many ways.  There’s a lot more poo picking for a start!! Thankfully my husband often steps in to help.  (He nicknamed himself ‘Professor Poo’ back in our yard days, so he has to keep his hand in, so to speak!)

On the plus side, it’s lovely to have the horses here on site with us.  We can’t quite see them from the house, due to the trees and the fact that the fields are further up the hill, but it’s wonderful to be able to just pop up and see them.  It’s also easier to organise my day, now that I don’t have to think about making a trip to the yard.  I just go up first thing every morning to check on them after the night (and at the moment, I’m checking that they’re warm enough), deliver some hay and do the first round of poo picking.  I then go up again in the evening for more of the same.  We’ll soon be getting a field shelter with a hay store which will mean I don’t have to push the barrow up the hill so often, which will be nice – though it has been a good way to build up my core strength!

Sometimes work commitments mean that it’s still dark when I go up in the morning, or the sun has set by the time I get home.  A head-torch is great on these occasions – though I’ve been surprised at how much I can actually see, even in the dark – but I often leave the poo picking until the next day as it’s difficult to spot, even with the beam of the torch.  On these mornings and evenings it’s wonderful to hear the birds and owls calling to each other!  One of the many perks of moving out of the city.

At the moment the main issues I’m dealing with are the weather, whether or not to rug, and managing the grass.  We’re higher up than we were used to, here on the Blorenge, which has meant that we’ve had some very cold nights and frosty starts.  I can sometimes be a cold bod and I like to feel warm, so it can be very tempting to wrap the horses up in a big snuggly rug, however I know that horses are great at making their own inner heat, due to their hind gut fermentation processes.

Dax is a hardy fella, having lived out, without a field shelter, even in the snows earlier this year, but Rika was used to being rugged and stabled, so I was unsure how she would adapt.  She came with 2 rugs – a waterproof and a quilted one – so I kept a close eye on her, and the forecast, in case I would need to use them.  So far, I’ve used each one once but, on reflection, I think it was unnecessary.  It was more a case of me being overly worried for her, particularly as we don’t yet have a field shelter, than of any real need for extra protection for her.  I also ended up just worrying that I was interfering with her body’s natural mechanisms for keeping warm.  A rug can keep the hair from being  able to fluff up to trap air, and also mean that they are too warm in some areas, while in contrast other parts of their body are relatively cool / cold.  In fact that the weather wasn’t as wet as predicted, and even on the really frosty mornings, she has been lovely and warm and hasn’t shown any signs of shivering, or looking miserable or ‘tucked up’.

A big factor is that they have plenty of hay and ad lib access to forage in the fields.  There is grass, hedging and lots of herby things for them to browse on throughout the day and night.  Digesting this, helps to keep their inner heating system ticking over nicely.  They also make good use of the natural shelter provided by the hedges and trees.  It will be interesting to see how much they actually use the shelter when it comes!  Perhaps they will even prefer to be out in the field where they can see in all directions, which is, after all, how horses in the wild keep themselves safe.

Their coats, too, are wonderfully engineered to keep them warm.  The hair forms rivulet patterns when it rains, to help direct the water away from their skin.  It has also thickened up and stands on end to trap air, which forms an extra layer of insulation.  Dax, in particular, often looks very fluffy and has been affectionately nicknamed our Woolly Bear.  Rika’s coat seems to be working differently in that it has become oily and dense, though it too looks fluffier than before.

Rika’s fluffy, dense winter coat

The ‘hole’ is due to a love-bite from Dax when Rika was in season

 

Rain patterns in Dax’s coat forming channels to allow the water to run off

Our muddy, woolly bear!

They’re also both decidedly muddy!  I fondly and amusedly despaired at Dax one morning when I saw just how dirty he was.  At least, I thought, he can’t be cold if he’s rolling in the wet mud.  He assured me that it was good to get muddy!  Now I know that rolling is good for our horses – it’s kinda like a massage for their back muscles – but I wasn’t entirely convinced about the mud…  Dax insisted that it was ‘good’.  When I asked him why, he just said:

It just Is…  Why do you hoomans always need to know a why?!

Trust him to have the last word!

The other issue is the grass.  We’re very fortunate that we have soil that tends towards being sandy, and we’re high up on the side of the hill, so our drainage is good, and we have very little mud.  Long may this last!  I now just need to work out how to best manage the land so that it doesn’t become poached and so that we keep the grass healthy.  The horses currently have access to 2 of the 3 fields.  The third field has longer, richer grass, and I’m hoping to use this, alongside the hay, to feed Dax and Rika as the weather gets colder.  By then, there should be little risk of laminitis – providing we don’t have too much bright, frosty weather which could still result in high sugar levels!

I hope that this lifestyle that provides them with as natural and varied a diet as I can, fewer stresses, plenty of room to run or just mooch around will help to keep them healthy, happy and well.

I’d love to hear from you and your horses:

  • What are your tips for surviving the winter months?
  • How do your horses respond to the weather?

Hoping that you can all manage to stay warm, dry and reasonably mud-free – humans anyway!

 

 

The Beast within

Those of you who’ve been following this blog – or even who’ve just read last week’s post – will be wondering what I meant by Dax’s ‘darker side’.  Let me start by saying that overall this boy is very sweet and he has a cheeky, playful, intelligent character, but as the weeks went by following his arrival here in Bristol he would occasionally show a ‘grumpier’ side, where he would suddenly turn round and threaten to nip.  This was usually more of a threat than anything else as he rarely made contact, let alone actually bite, but it made me wonder about what was going on inside his handsome head.

Then one day, one of the others at the yard, and her partner, were putting all the horses back out after we’d been putting up a track on the land.  (I’d had to leave a little before the work was finished and so I wasn’t there to help with the turnout.)  Dax knows these people well as he sees them every day and up to this point there had never been a problem.  But that night, something was different.

As the horses went down the lane and out into the field, Dax got separated from the others, so my friend went to gently steer him back towards the herd.  This guy is one of the nicest, quietest and most gentle guys I know, which made what happened next all the more upsetting when I heard about it later.  Dax suddenly spun round, ears flat against his head, teeth bared and started to charge.  Only the quick reactions of both people saved this lovely man from being attacked.

We have no idea what prompted this sudden – and frightening – shift, but it alerted us to the fact that this horse’s behaviour can suddenly switch.  To me, it showed that he is still carrying scars from his past.  I didn’t know what to do for the best.  People were advising me to send him back and my husband was afraid for my safety as, I have to admit, was I.  But at the same time I was worried for Dax.  I don’t want him to be labelled as ‘The Dangerous Horse’ because I think that’s often a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing fear in everyone and triggering the horse further.

I believe that our shadow side comes from our fears.  I therefore think that this sudden outburst from Dax came from fear, perhaps a triggered memory from his past.  We don’t have much detail about his early life.  The stories are sketchy and uncertain but it seems that he was taken from his mother at 1 month of age and left to starve.  There was also a rumour of him being attacked with a hammer…

I also realised that it brought up my fear when I heard about what happened, and that I was bringing this feeling into our relationship and interactions.  This was only making Dax more unsettled and uneasy and I knew that things could spiral downwards from there.

My journal entry around the time said:

I think that generally Dax is troubled, confused, hurt, even angry at the changes that have happened in his life. Perhaps he was beginning to trust that he was in a stable place in his previous home, with [his owner] and his pair-bond horse, but we’ve changed all that…
I would love to just put him in a field with a herd, sit with him and observe him, to learn more about him and allow him the opportunity to explore and work things out for himself… but in a yard, there are routines and ‘rules’ which I don’t think suit the place that he’s in at the moment.
I feel that inside him is a beautiful, loving horse who wants to come out, but doesn’t quite know how to trust enough to do that. I want to give him the space to find his way… but I’m worried that this might just be wishful thinking and I’m viewing him with rose-tinted glasses…

Others are suggesting things that just don’t entirely resonate for me – moving of feet, dominance, that sort of thing. I’ve just finished reading Equus Lost and would love to interact with him as a cognitive, social, intelligent, sentient being. But I still need to keep myself safe, and also the others who interact with him (on the yard, plus of course farriers, dentists, vets etc.)
Using strong discipline, and ‘dominance’ theories, doesn’t sit comfortably with me, but he definitely needs boundaries.  And perhaps this is a lesson he’s come to show me, as I’ll admit, my boundaries probably aren’t as defined as they could be!

Following this, I made an effort to be more consistent with my boundaries around Dax, hoping that this would give him a structure that would help him to feel more settled and safe.  It helped a little, but I realised that I was still carrying quite a bit of fear and that this was getting in the way of our relationship.

Fear is behind so many ‘negative’ emotions – the shadow side that we so often seek to hide from the world.

But what if we could view this another way and see our fears as needs that are not being met.  This would then allow us to explore ways to meet those needs, and would also allow us to develop greater awareness, compassion and empathy, both for ourselves and then for those around us, as we realise that any behaviour that we dislike in them is probably driven by their fear.

I decided to explore my fear to see what insight it might bring.  I wrote in my journal:

I think sometimes our wanting is so strong, and can have fear attached (of failure, or whatever) and this makes it difficult to see with clarity, perspective, balance and objectivity.  But we don’t have to be perfect, or to do everything ourselves.  Animals bring us these lessons.  They push us to look into the dark, hidden, shadowy areas of our lives that we, as busy humans, often want to close our eyes to.  But in facing our fears and ‘imperfections’ we are set free.  This is the amazing gift that caring for animals offers us – to open our hearts, to liberate us and to teach us acceptance and unconditional love.

So my dilemma was, where should I go from here?

  • Is Dax really ‘unsafe’?
  • Can the ‘ beautiful, loving horse’ within be encouraged to be brave enough to come out?
  • What would be the best way to work with him to give him boundaries while keeping myself safe and not feeding his fear?
  • How can I learn the lessons this is offering to be the best person for Dax that I can be?

I knew that one important step was to rule out pain from the equation as this can often be a cause of apparently ‘angry’ behaviour.  So I started by booking in a session with Helen Jacks-Hewett the McTimoney and Sports Massage therapist.

Next week I’ll tell you what she found and how things have been progressing since then.

Could your horse benefit from some energy healing? Part 3

So what can you expect from a typical healing session?

When working with a horse, it is helpful for me to begin by getting some information about the them and the environment in which they live.  It can be helpful to see them in their stable, or in the yard, and for you to put a headcollar on them  and to loosely hold the rope while I work.  It is best for them not to be eating during the session, however it is good to have some fresh water within reach.  Healing works best when the body’s cells are well hydrated as this allows the energy to flow most effectively.  Animals are in tune with this need and will often drink during a session.

I spend a few moments being quiet before putting my hands on or near the horse to begin healing.

This therapy works holistically, treating the whole animal rather than focusing on any particular symptom.  It is completely natural and non-invasive, offering a sense of calm and deep relaxation.

 

(I also have a powerpoint presentation explaining more about how energy healing works.)

 

After the session
After having healing it is advisable, where possible, for the horse to take it easy for the rest of the day – no long hacks or strenuous work schedule.

It can take up to 48 hours for the effects to fully work through their system.

The cleansing process
After having a treatment the horse may go through a cleansing and rebalancing process.  This can result in them feeling a little ‘under the weather’.  This is due to previously stored toxins and tensions being released and eliminated as the body adjusts to the new energy.

Senior / ill horses

One area in which healing is especially helpful is when an animal is getting older, or has become terminally ill.  Healing can support you and your animal through this time, helping you to share a special closeness and to make the most of the time you have together; through this challenging period, and beyond.  Please feel free to download my brochure on bereavement and loss.

Next week I’ll share a case study of a lovely little mare that I worked with.

 

(You can read this article in full here)

 

For further information or to contact me with any questions, please see my website: https://www.equenergy.com/

 

* Healing is a very good complementary therapy and is beneficial in any situation, however you should always seek veterinary advice if your animal is unwell in any way.

 

Could your horse benefit from some energy healing? Part 2

Animals are particularly receptive to energy healing as they are generally very open and accepting, without the conditioned concerns that we humans often experience.

Energy Healing:

  • involves the transfer of natural energy
  • relaxes and re-energises
  • stimulates self-healing ability
  • is non-invasive — there is no physical manipulation or massage involved.
    Only a light touch is used

It can be used to support many issues including:

  • the immune system
  • cell repair
  • detoxification
  • enzyme function
  • oxygen uptake
  • absorption of nutrients
  • wound repair
  • pain relief
  • balancing
  • release of endorphins
  • a sense of wellbeing and calm

Horses are a little different from most of the other animals that share our lives, for several reasons:

  • their size – most horses are much bigger than the average ‘pet’
  • their nature as a herd animal
  • the nature of our interaction with them, particularly riding

When we domesticate an animal and keep it in a human-controlled environment we can find that the animal begins to exhibit unwanted behaviours.  I believe that these behaviours can be viewed in a similar way to dis-ease, in that there is a trigger which we can discover and so learn how to improve the experience of the animal in question.

Research has shown that “horses are sentient beings…reflecting various emotional states when stressed or happy” – Ellen Kaye Gehrke, Ph.D.  They also act as mirrors for us, helping to reveal stresses and discomforts in our lives.

Gehrke and her team studied Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and discovered that:

During the experience of negative emotions such as anger, frustration, anxiety, sadness or depression, heart rhythms become more erratic or disordered (or incoherent). Conversely, sustained positive emotions such as appreciation, love, or compassion are associated with a highly ordered, or coherent, pattern in the heart rhythms, and can be regarded as an indication of physical and mental health states.”

When they put a horse together with a human, and measured their respective HRV they found that:

The horses perceived, in the moment, coherent or incoherent human HRV and began reflecting that human HRV in their own behavior. It became apparent that the horse’s heart rate would synchronize with the human’s, although it did not appear that the human would reflect the horse’s emotional state.”

This has profound implications for the horse-human bond.  Horses pick up on what we are feeling and their behaviour mirrors those feelings back to us.  For this reason it can be very beneficial to share an energy healing session with your horse.  Not only will it help you both to feel relaxed and promote wellbeing, it will also enhance the bond of love and trust between you.  When I offer healing I am working at a level that impacts on these heart rhythms.  I become still and ‘present’ and invite you both to share in that feeling of peace and inner harmony.

Next week I’ll look at what to expect from a typical healing session.

 

(You can read this article in full here)

 

For further information or to contact me with any questions, please see my website: https://www.equenergy.com/

 

* Healing is a very good complementary therapy and is beneficial in any situation, however you should always seek veterinary advice if your animal is unwell in any way.

Could your horse benefit from some energy healing? Part 1

Energy healing in its many forms has become a very popular way for people to enjoy deep relaxation and enhanced wellbeing.  If you are a horse owner and have experienced this sense of peace for yourself, you might have wondered if your 4-legged friend would benefit from some healing too.  If this is the case, read on, because I’ll be explaining a little bit more about how healing works and how it can benefit not only you but also your horse and the relationship that you share.

Albert Einstein said:

“Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. 

Match the frequency of the reality you want

and you cannot help but get that reality. 

It can be no other way. 

This is not Philosophy, this is Physics”

We can measure this energy, and even photograph it (using Kirlian photography).

Kirlian photo of a Coleus leaf

Energy Healing works with the life-force energy, enabling the body to fully relax, which in turn allows healing to take place on many levels.  This makes it a very powerful therapy and yet it has no negative side effects.

Each of us may have a slightly different understanding of the term ‘wellbeing’.  To me, it is not simply the absence of disease.  I believe that wellbeing encompasses all layers of our being: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.  The details of how this looks and feels may differ for each individual, but for me it’s about being able to truly enjoy each day to the full, being comfortable with who you are and feeling confident and capable to deal with anything Life brings.

All animals (including humans!) are made up of millions of cells which are inter-connected and inter-dependent.  Chemical and electrical messages (in the form of hormones and nerve impulses respectively) constantly flow around the body, co-ordinating all its functions and — when well — maintaining a state of balance and harmony.  This is known as homeostasis.

If something disrupts this balance it results in dis-ease.  Thankfully the body is an intelligent system and so it generally knows how to restore its equilibrium.  Although this is a natural process, sometimes the body can be overwhelmed, or get stuck in a condition of disharmony.  When this happens it can benefit from support to help ‘kick-start’ the journey back to wellness.

Our modern world has come to believe that disease is a ‘mistake’ of some kind, and that it is to be feared and avoided wherever possible.  In contrast, I believe that dis-ease has a purpose.  It comes from the body’s response to something that isn’t working and, if we explore the nature of the disease, it can lead us to identifying a trigger and thus deal with the issue and make any necessary changes in order to return to the natural state of balance.  This greater awareness also helps us in maintaining a good level of health and reducing or avoiding dis-ease in the future.

Next week I’ll look at the benefits of energy healing and how this relates to horses in particular.

 

(You can read this article in full here)

 

For further information or to contact me with any questions, please see my website: https://www.equenergy.com/

 

* Healing is a very good complementary therapy and is beneficial in any situation, however you should always seek veterinary advice if your animal is unwell in any way.

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE HORSE – part 5 of 5

Something we need to consider when our horses are stabled is what and how we feed them.  Think about how the horse eats and drinks in the wild.  Here they graze for up to sixteen hours a day, eating grass growing on the ground.  In contrast we often feed concentrates at set meal times and provide hay in nets tied to the wall at head height.  This is not natural for horses and can lead to tooth and digestive problems.  It is far better to provide food at floor level for indoor horses, with a good supply of hay that they can graze on throughout the day.  Water too should be at floor level and it is best if it is given in a bucket, rather than a self-refilling trough.  This means that the guardian can keep an eye on their horse’s water consumption which can be an indicator of their general health.

Hard feed is often high in sugar (even, sometimes, the ones that claim to be suitable for laminitic horses) and in chemicals such as mould inhibitors and preservatives.  These can be harmful to a horse’s digestive and metabolic systems and should be avoided.  You can find organic feeds through Thunderbrook’s, Simple System Ltd, The Pure Feed Company and others.

Another point I’d like to mention here is that much of the pasture land that we have here in the UK is actually designed for fattening livestock for market.  It is often high in sugars which can lead to laminitis and other metabolic diseases (you can read more about this in another blog post, here).  A horse’s natural diet is actually made of tough ‘old’ grasses, more like those found in wild meadows.  Also the chemical that are often used on pasture and surrounding farmland are toxic and can affect horses’ health.  It is therefore best to source hay made from unfertilised, unsprayed meadow grasses.

Horses will also appreciate having things to do.  This could include:

  • spending time with his buddies in the field
  • playing in an arena or school
  • going for walks to explore the local area
  • browsing in the hedgerows
  • being groomed by their guardian.

When they are on their own in the stable it can be a good idea to leave toys for them to investigate so that they have mental stimulation.  Anything new should be introduced sensitively and of course it must be safe to leave with an unsupervised horse.

Taking the time to empathise with your horse will help you to develop a deeper understanding, and thus a closer relationship with this amazing animal.  They in turn will respond as your communication becomes clearer, and they will thrive in this richer environment.  I’ll be writing more about this in the next series of posts.

 

(You can read this article in full here)

 

References

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE HORSE – part 4 of 5

Many of the situations in which we keep horses mean that it’s not possible for them to be turned out all the time.  We therefore need to think of ways of making their time in the stable more ‘natural’.  For example, think of how the horse interacts with his surroundings when within a herd.  He likes to be able to see around him and to see his herd-mates.  Horses prefer to be in light, airy stables where they can see out, and preferably where they can see, and even touch, other horses.  Stables such as these below are not natural for horses as they are dark and there is no view of the outside:

By contrast the stables below are preferable as they allow the horse to see much more of what is going on and give him some outdoor space:

It is also a good idea to have the doors of the stables close enough to one another so that the horses can reach out and touch noses:

However, stabling is never ideal.  A recent study by Nottingham Trent University showed that stabled and isolated horses suffer higher stress levels and are harder to manage. Humans think that stables provide them with a warm and cosy sanctuary but the horses themselves find them a miserable and stressful experience (reported in The Barefoot Horse magazine, Issue 6, 2015).  Possible alternatives are the Paddock Paradise (or ‘Track’) and Equicentral Systems.  (I mentioned Track Systems briefly in another blog which you can see here)

I’d like to also briefly mention box-rest here.  This is sometimes necessary following injury or illness but we also need to be aware of the horse’s need to move, to have company and to avoid stress in order to heal.  They also need daylight in order to synthesise Vitamin D.  One option therefore might be a restricted area outdoors where they can still see and interact with other horses.  An example of this is shown in this YouTube video.

In the last part of this series I’ll look at diet and other ways to support your horse’s wellbeing and therefore the bond between you.

 

(You can read this article in full here)

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE HORSE – part 3 of 5

Last week I mentioned that stabling can be stressful for horses, so what can we do to provide them with a more appropriate environment?

Where at all possible it is best to try to create natural conditions as far as possible.  Ideally this would be for the horse to be turned out, day and night, with other horses, to form a herd.  This needs to be handled sensitively however as, in fact, this is still an artificial situation for the horse.  In the wild herds are made up of family members.  The lead stallion looks after a ‘harem’ of mares.  He mates with all the mares, meaning that he is the father of the foals.  It is his responsibility to protect his family from predators, to warn when danger is approaching, to ward or fight off rival stallions and to discipline other horses who get out of line.

The herd also has a lead mare who is usually an older and more experienced mare.  Her role is to find grazing areas for the group and to lead them to water.  She also leads the other horses away from danger while the stallion protects from behind.  She is typically the leader in day-to-day matters.

Mares will only mate with the lead stallion, unless a rival has snuck in to snatch a female.  Foals are usually born in the Spring, and often at night, the mare moving away from the rest of the group to find a quiet, safe spot to give birth.  Within one hour the foal is normally ready to stand, and within two it is strong enough to run.  At this point the mother will lead her foal back to the herd.

Fillies will be chased away from the herd when they are sexually mature (one year or older) and will soon join another stallion and his harem.  Colts will also be removed from the herd when they are sexually mature (two plus years old) and will join a bachelor group.  This group consists of other colts and stallions without a harem of their own.  They spend their days eating, sleeping and practising fighting for when they win their own group of mares.

A stallion’s life can be hard, looking after his herd and fighting to win mares, grazing and access to water.  Stallions will generally avoid full fights whenever possible, trying instead to win through displaying their size and strength.  Sometimes however fights do occur and these can be severe.  Most older stallions have scars which bear witness to their many battles.  Bachelor bands can be crafty and can spell trouble for a stallion.  Sometimes one of the band will fight the lead stallion of the herd while another steals the mares. (http://www.wildhorseeducation.com/wh_tutorial/module2.html).

This description is actually rather simplistic and the herd’s social structure is more complex.  The group often acts as a single entity.  The horses will spread themselves out to graze, each animal facing in a different direction, effectively giving them an all round view to watch out for predators.

A horse’s usual way of interacting is one of cooperation, synchronisation and leading / following, rather than dominance.  Any member of the herd who sees a threat can lead the others, by starting to run.  The rest sense the movement and follow.  This cooperation encourages cohesion within the herd, allowing them to live together peacefully, so maximising their chances of surviving.  The horses will also follow leads in terms of moving off to look for new grazing or water.  In the day-to-day life of the herd, horses tend to defer to those who are older or more experienced.  These horses are the ones who appear calm and assured, rather than those who are nervous, or even those who are bossy.  Horses like to feel safe, and they are attracted to those who make them feel this way.  They are also very sensitive to the energy of others and they can quickly assess who makes them feel relaxed and who doesn’t.

In the herds that we create we need to respect these sorts of interactions and the social structure that develops.  If we don’t, we could be exposing horses to the risk of bullying or of one being ostracised by the others.  Within a herd you can notice that certain horses will tend to spend a lot of time in each others’ company.  Looking at the herd as a whole you will see pairs of horses grazing, standing, playing or grooming together.  These pair bonds can be very strong so it is worth being aware of which horses spend a lot of time together and of how they all fit together in the herd.  Having a pair bond provides company for a horse and also means that there is an extra pair of eyes looking out for you.  Being on your own, without a buddy, even in a herd, means that you are more likely to fall prey to a predator.  As humans we need to be sensitive to these bonds and not make sudden changes, either by adding a horse to an established herd, or by removing a horse from his buddy.

Sometimes, for whatever reason, it just is not possible to offer 24/7 turnout for our horses, so next week I’ll look at some ways to support their wellbeing when they are indoors.

 

(You can read this article in full here)

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE HORSE – part 2 of 5

Last week I looked at some of the similarities and differences between us and our equine friends.  One of the ways we can see this is in our use of body language.  For example, when two horses meet, they introduce each other by approaching slowly, often at an angle rather than directly.  They are very respectful of each others’ space and will read each others’ body language to know if it is acceptable to come closer.  If they are both comfortable they will come close enough to touch noses.

As humans we often walk directly up to horses, even those we don’t know very well, which is contrary to their code of behaviour.  Instead we could learn from their example and approach slowly and gently, watching for signs of how the horse feels as we enter his space.  Stopping a few feet from the horse and extending a hand, allowing him to choose whether or not to come close and make the first contact, respects the horse’s need to assess new situations, making sure that they are safe and that there is no threat.

When two horses know each other well and have built up a mutual trust, they will often groom each other.  Humans tend to pat their horses  but perhaps a better way would be to mirror the horses’ own behaviour and scratch instead.  Find the place that the horse enjoys being scratched — his body language will let you know when you’ve hit the right spot!  It will often be in the places that he cannot reach himself such as the neck, withers or rump.

If you’d like to learn more about equine body language and facial expression you might like to read my other blog series, part 1 of which can be found here.  I also have a video on this topic which forms part of a series.  Follow this link to see more.

As horses are herd animals their natural instinct is to be with others of their kind.  Living in a herd means protection: many eyes looking out for each other.  Also horses prefer to be in open spaces where they can see in all directions, knowing that they can spot a predator in time to run away.  Living in a stable therefore is not natural to a horse, both because they are on their own in the stall, and because they cannot see far and they are unable to run.  On top of that, life in a stable can be very boring with only four walls to look at for hours on end.

This can be very stressful for a horse and can lead to behaviours which have been labelled stable ‘vices’, a rather unfortunate term since the definition of vice is:

“a practice, behaviour, or habit generally considered immoralsinful, depraved, or degrading in the associated society. In more minor usage, vice can refer to a fault, a negative character trait, a defect, an infirmity, or a bad or unhealthy habit (such as an addiction to smoking).

Synonyms for vice include fault, sin, depravity, iniquity, wickedness, and corruption.”   (Wikipedia)

This seems to place the fault with the horse instead of looking at the underlying reason for the behaviour.  All we need to do to understand this stress is to put ourselves ‘in the horses shoes’ and imagine how we would feel if we were left totally alone in a box with no-one to talk to and nothing to do.

In next week’s post I’ll look at what you can do to support greater wellbeing for your horse.

 

(You can read this article in full here)

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE HORSE – part 1 of 5

Horse Psychology can be defined as:

”the scientific study of the horse’s mind and its functions.  Encompassing the mental characteristics or attitude of the species”

http://www.training-horses-naturally.com/horse-psychology.html

(link no longer available)

This field of study is growing so hopefully, as we come to understand horses better, our care of them, and thus our relationships with them, will improve.

To understand how a horse’s mind works you need to study horses in their natural environment, ie in the wild, not in the stable.  This gives you an insight into the nature of the species.  The Horse Stall website Horse Stall website says that domesticated horses are protected by their guardians and provided with food and care, therefore they seldom have to think about much “other than play or having their own way”.  They say that for these horses their “reasoning comes from boredom, the desire to get out of work, and a search for forbidden food”.

To me this view comes from a rather negative mindset.  Sadly horses are sometimes labelled as being ‘stupid’, ‘stubborn’ or ‘lazy’ but I believe that generally it is more a case of us not understanding the world from their point of view.

Horses are herd animals and a prey species therefore their first instinct in times of potential danger is to run away.  If they are not able to run for some reason, then they will fight.  One trigger for this flight or fight behaviour is rapid movement.  Horses also have a structure within the herd and, when this is stable, each horse knows his place within the society, and knows how to behave.

Humans, on the other hand, are predator animals and we tend to make sudden movements.  Also we often don’t understand the signals that horses are sending out.  Our challenge therefore is to not act like a predator and to learn how to interact with our animals in a way that does not trigger their fear.  It would also be helpful to learn and respect the herd structure and to work with that, rather than against it.

Our two species actually have quite a bit in common, since both horses and humans are very sociable creatures and we each operate according to our social rules, the difference being that the rules for horses are first and foremost based on their instinct for survival.  To a horse, the way he behaves, certainly in the wild, could mean the difference between life and death.

We also share many emotional states with these animals.  They too feel love, fear, sadness, loneliness, loss, anxiety, and happiness.  In addition we both respond to others who make us feel confidence, trust and respect, and we both like to feel safe.

On the other hand, horses do not have an ego.  They do not tend to hold on to baggage in the same way that we do.  They generally do not carry guilt, judgements, prejudices, shame or the need for approval.  When interacting with horses, therefore, it is important to understand how they see the world and not to view their behaviour through a human lens, applying labels from this judgement.  We can observe how they behave towards each other and work to find a middle ground where horse and human can meet and develop a mutual understanding and a shared communication.

Next week I’ll look at some of the ways horses use body language in their interactions.

 

(You can read this article in full here)