Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Horses/Humans Pair Up

Common Human-Equine Interaction Misconceptions | TheHorse.com

Horses More Relaxed Around Nervous Humans | TheHorse.com

No, "Pair Up" isn't some new-fangled "Natural" Horsemanship meme.  We've certainly got plenty of those.  So many, in fact, that I lost track long ago, so when someone tells me the horse they want appraised knows Partnership/Join Up/TTeam/Resistance-Free or whatever, I no longer know what the horse knows.  I know for sure that the next human he comes into contact with is going to have a confusing time sorting out all the cues and behaviors the horse has learned in the process.

Personally, my favorite style is Unwind and Drink Up.  But....I digress...
Really?  You think you know what I need?
Then where's the filly with the pink ribbon in her tail?

We horse riders (sorry, but we're not all worthy of the name Horseman, which is reserved for the likes of Tom Dorrance, Mark Rashid, Buck Brannaman, and a few other notables who are pretty much men who are half horse) have been sold bills of goods for so long, we can't tell when we're being sucked in anymore.  I used to joke that if you put a horse on something, horse lovers will pay twice the price for it and worship it as if it had magical powers.  My Big Aha came with a $99 price tag.  It was a hand-held vacuum for cleaning dirt off your horse.  It had a red bag with black horses printed on it.  It was made by Dirt Devil.  Guess what I discovered when I went to buy new disposable liner bags?  Yep.  It was the identical unit to the one that sold for roughly $30 at any discount store.  The horses on the bag were apparently worth about $60.  In today's dollars that would be about $649.77.  No, I didn't do the math.

So we read and we listen and we watch and we make note of all the latest trends, and we wind up with some very useful information.  For instance:

  1. Horses have four legs and feet on the end of each, and those feet need attention roughly every six weeks.
  2. What goes in the front end comes out the back end in a much less-pleasant-smelling form and needs to be dealt with.
  3. Horses drink water.  They drink a lot of water.  They need water all the time.  And rule #2 applies.
  4. Horses live outside, so they have hair all over them.  If you shave it off, you have to replace it with something in the winter or they'll freeze.  They'll also bite you if they're not fond of being shaved.
  5. Horses know how to get what they need.  Try living naked in a field for a few weeks without so much as a folding chair or a collapsible cup for water or your cell phone.  They're smarter than you are.
  6. Your horse has friends.  You may or may not be one of them.  He also has standards.
  7. Your horse has a doctor and a dentist and a shoemaker.  He may not like them all, but they're all necessary to his well-being.
  8. Your horse doesn't think you're all that and a bag of chips...unless you actually have a bag of chips, in which case he may change his opinion temporarily.
  9. Horses, for no apparent reason, are intrigued by humans on about the same level as other barnyard species they encounter, but they learn quickly that we're the ones with the magic that controls their lives.
  10. Every horse has a job.  It might be watching for squirrels.  It might be finding a good place to stand in the shade.  He might be self-employed or part of a corporate entity known as The Herd.
Unfortunately, we're not very good at sorting out hype and hyperbole from helpfulness.  We swing through the forest of marketing tools grabbing this and that as we go and mushing it all together into a stew we call "training".  Everyone is a trainer.  Seriously.  If you go anywhere near any creature with a functioning brain, every interaction you have teaches the creature something, even if that something is that you are an idiot who is unlikely (in the creature's opinion) to survive the day.

Some of the not-so-useful things we've learned can actually be harmful.  Those things need to be replace by facts.
  1. Horses are not "furbabies".  They're adult animals with a strong instinct for survival and talents you can only dream of owning.  Treating them like recalcitrant human children is embarrassing.
  2. Horses do not need our guidance.  The only purpose for their attempts to learn what we want is so that we won't beat on them or somehow deprive them of what they need.  That they haven't banded together to kill us all is amazing to me.
  3. Horses do not need a job other than the one they were born into.  Some horses like to do the things we humans have devised for them, though no one really knows why.  Perhaps they're bored.  Perhaps they think they'll get something better in the end.  Who knows?  They just want to get along and not stress over anything less than mountain lions and hunger.
  4. Horses are not "just fine" living cooped up in a padded cell all the time.  Go live in your bathroom for a week.  Have someone dump oatmeal in a bucket for you twice a day.  No cell phones or tablets or phablets or whatever. No Netflix.  Just a small window to scream out of when you finally lose your mind.
  5. Horses' minds are not blank slates even at birth.  They are not like us.  They don't take two years to get up on their feet and poop on their own.  They do that at birth.  Whatever we do with them is overlaid on what is already deeply instinctual and permanently engraved.  
  6. Horses are not our "mirrors".  Check the study above on the fact that horses are calmer around nervous humans.  Personally, I think they enjoy our antics.  
  7. Horses are not our therapists.  If we feel better around a horse, that's great.  But it's not their job to fix our crazy.  It's our job to do that, preferably before we do something stupid to them.
  8. There really is such a thing as someone who should never own a horse.
  9. Rescued abused horses need more help than the average backyard horseman can supply.
  10. Retired racehorses are not for everyone.  They're for professionals to retrain and very good horsemen to own.  
I could go on (and on...and on), but the linked articles cover most of the best points.  Read them.  Then thank your lucky stars that your horse doesn't have access to the internet and has better things to do with his day than plot against you.  

Perhaps the worst of all is the list of fallacies perpetuated by the Rulers of Competitive Riding who tell us we need to remove hair from various parts of our horses to make them look better.  Better than what?  Braiding, polishing, bathing and all might be annoying to him, but they're not damaging.  Removing chin and ear hairs, that's damage!  Stop that!  Complain to the judges!  I read the worst thing yesterday when The Most FmousTrainer of All was quoted as saying that the judge is more likely to expect a great ride from a well-groomed horse-rider pair and will judge accordingly.  Really?  That's the basis?  What happened to good riding?  What happened to happy horses?  Sheesh!  What a crock!

One last fallacy is worth debunking.  Your horse is a horse.  He doesn't purposely aggravate you.  He just horses.  If you're feeling angry and frustrated, it's probably because you have been lead to believe that you and he are someone conjoined spirits and he knows that moving his butt to the left every time you line him up in front of the judge irritates you.  He actually might, but it's not that he cares.  It's that he likes the furor it causes.  Horses have a sense of humor and a keen sense of fairness.  Learn that above all.  You're the one imposing nonsensical rules on a very sensible animal.  Stop that.

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