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Horse Psychology and Behavior (Part I)

When was the last time you had a good conversation with a horse? For those of you who are now furrowing at me in confusion, let me assure you, it is possible - and in this column, I'll begin the exploration of how it's done.

In order to connect with the horse's heart, we must first get inside their head. So this week's column is the first in a series on horse psychology and behavior. Before we can find true harmony and develop rapport with a horse, we must understand the nature of a horse and be willing to alter our intrinsic human nature to best complement our equine companions.

Last week I addressed the phenomenon of reentering the horse world after a lifetime of career and family commitments. Upon approaching retirement age, many people, especially women, desire a relationship with horses that they may have experienced in their youth, or only dreamed of experiencing.

Click here to read "The Journey Back to the Horse".

My article offered advice for those wanting to pursue their dream of horsemanship. This article may have resonated with you as you identified with the desire to return to the horse. Perhaps you already have invested in that relationship and are open to learning more. My intent in the upcoming weeks is to offer you credible information as you progress in your own horsemanship journey.

To begin, you need to offer your horse a common language. Unfortunately, many horse owners have no idea how to "read" their horse's language, or how to communicate with their horse in a way the horse understands. This inability to connect can too frequently result in a display of criticism and frustration. In the worst case, it can lead to punishment of the horse. None of that supports a positive dialogue between horse and human.

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To truly understand the depth and intricacy of the horse is a praiseworthy endeavor. It is also hard work, made all the more complicated because each horse is different, just as we humans have different personalities. This series on horse psychology is not intended to diagnosis or answer every horse behavioral issue, but rather to serve as a foundation of basic horse language that leads to partnership.

The basis of understanding the horse is predicated upon our recognition of horses as prey animals. As such, the horse's subsequent thoughts and behaviors are derived from their vulnerability to perceived attack. Their constant vigilance is the foundation of their survival.

Humans, on the other hand, are considered predators.

In response to the threat of danger, a horse, as a prey animal, acts on the premise of run first, think second. A horse will run as far as they need to feel the danger has subsided and then mentally access the situation.

Despite the fact we have eyes set in the front of our heads and the potential for a loud voice, the sheer bulk and strength of a horse can be intimidating and evoke fear in a human. As a result, it is easy for us to ignore the true nature of a prey animal. Also, human contact and interaction with the animal world is primarily with other predators, whether it be other people or our pet dogs and cats, therefore this has become the most familiar and accessible language to us.

Yet the evolution of the horse as a prey animal is very different, and everything it does is based upon that fact. Understanding that point is crucial. The safety and well being of both horse and human can be threatened by a lack of understanding of this foundational premise.

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