Temple Grandin: Horses in Translation

What's your horse thinking? Bestselling author Temple Grandin offers a window on the equine mind.
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What's your horse thinking? Bestselling author Temple Grandin offers a window on the equine mind.

In the September 2007 issue of Horse & Rider, the article "What's He Thinking?" shares the theories of celebrated animal scientist Temple Grandin, Ph.D.

Grandin, a Colorado State University professor and author of the groundbreaking bestseller Animals In Translation is recognized worldwide as an animal advocate. Her work with fast-food chains (including McDonald's, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Wendy's) has helped to improve the quality of life--and death--of the animals we eat.

Her pioneering theories on both autism and animals have landed her on major television shows ("48 Hours," "20/20" and "Larry King Live," among others) as well as on National Public Radio.

In the article, she offers many unique insights into horses' thoughts and feelings and how they affect behavior. Here are some additional snippets from her revolutionary book.

Fearful curiosity. Although animals tend to feel emotions one at a time, prey species often feel fear and curiosity simultaneously. She calls this being "curiously afraid," and notes that it explains the way in which horses approach something unfamiliar--clearly wanting to get close enough to sniff, yet hanging back out of fear.

Masking pain. Prey species, including horses, tend to hide their pain. "In the wild, any animal who's injured is likely to be finished off by a predator, so probably animals evolved a natural tendency to act as if nothing's wrong," Grandin writes. "Cats can yowl their heads off when they get hurt, and dogs scream bloody murder if you happen to step on their paws. That's probably because cats and dogs don't have to worry about getting killed and eaten, so they can make all the noise the want." By contrast, she notes, prey species like horses are stoic, making it difficult to know exactly how much pain they're experiencing unless you can observe them when they think no one is watching.

Need for companionship. "People constantly underestimate domestic animals' need for companionship," writes Grandin. "Just keeping them healthy and well fed isn't enough; we need to give them enough social contact with other animals." She says this goes for stallions, too. "A stallion locked up in solitary confinement in a fancy show barn is not normal. He's especially likely to show abnormal aggression."

For more on Grandin's insight, refer to Animals In Translation (Scribner, 2005) or go to www.grandin.com.