For some it can be difficult to imagine the horse as a natural creature because of his necessity to the building of civilizations throughout history. The horse has played an integral role for humanity’s growth throughout the world. However, despite the horse’s domestication, he preserves most of his natural traits and necessities. One that can never be changed is his position as a prey animal within the animal kingdom. Because of this fact the horse possesses specific physical traits that cause him to act in predictable or less predictable ways.
Forever A Prey Animal
Prey animals typically possess large eyes which are located on each side of the head. This gives the prey animal maximum visibility to observe his surroundings allowing him to protect himself if danger is spotted. The eyes move independently giving him the ability to spot potential danger much easier and quicker than a predator with its eyes positioned on the front of the head.
How Eyes Protect
The horse’s eye is constructed quite uniquely to the human eye in that it possesses qualities which allow the
horse to detect subtle movements at a much farther distance than that of a human. The purpose of this is to allow the horse to recognize predatory animals as they slowly approach and prepare for a pounce to bring its prey to the ground. When the horse is alerted to sights that trigger his self preservation instinct, the horse becomes flighty because every fiber in his body is now on alert to protect himself from potential danger. With specific muscle building exercises its possible to minimize the horse’s need to protect himself therefore trusting the person or rider whom is caring for him. This minimizes risk of injury and unpredictability when interacting with the horse. This is done by performing simple muscular developing exercises which must be part of the horse’s daily routine throughout his life to help him experience a comfortable and confident life within domestication.
The Superior Sense
However sight is not the horse’s strongest sense. Though important and quite essential for the horse’s long term survival and protection against predators, his sense of hearing is far superior. For this reason he possesses large funnel shaped ears. The outer shape of the horse’s ear allows him to capture sound both up close and at a far distance. Often riders become perplexed when the horse stands alert to something yet the rider is unable to identify an object of threat. This is because the horse’s hearing and sight are both superior to the rider’s for detecting danger. The external ear is called the auricle. It is formed of cartilage. It’s shape and construction acts like a sound amplifier providing the horse with important information about his surroundings. This is why loud or changing sounds produce a spook in the horse.
A Confirmation of Safety or Danger
Horses have a great sense of smell. The nostrils of the horse are lined with a nerve system that allows the horse to distinguish many different smells both within his nearby surroundings and off in a distance. Combine a concerning smell with a concerning site and sound you have a horse who is ready to run for the hills and leave you in the dust without a second thought! The horse is able to detect the smell of a predator vs the smell of a prey animal. However the horse does not rely heavily on his sense of smell for survival. He uses somewhat like a conformation of danger. His most important use of his nose is to protect himself from potentially harmful food or water. Horses naturally identify what plants are safe to eat and which to avoid. However, with domestication this instinct has diminished to some degree in some horse.
Sensative to Touch
The horse is by nature very sensitive to touch. This is because each hair is controlled by its own smooth muscle cell attached to a sympathetic nerve system making it possible for the horse to feel a fly land on his fur long before the fly begins to bite. Touch is used among heard members for social interaction and bonding. It’s important for the rider not to overuse this sense when working with the horse to avoid causing the horse to tune out his sense of touch. Once the horse has tuned out the rider’s requests the horse becomes dull and unwilling to communicate.
Exploring the World
Taste is used to explore the environment and release endorphins. When the horse licks he is doing two things, he is taking in information while he helps himself release endorphins from the body. Licking is more typical of young horses then it is of adults.
The Horse's Sixth Sense
His finite ability to sense changes of emotion and changes of environment renders itself not from his ability to read human minds but rather his heightened sensitivity to changes in muscular movement and body language. Rider’s are too often unaware of how their passing or lingering thoughts affect their posture, body language and overall attitude all of which the horse is constantly observing to ensure he is in a safe environment and in the presence of someone who does not have the intention to consume him for dinner. Combine his observation of muscular change with his sense of touch you have a horse that seems to know your thoughts even before you do.
Horses are sensitive creatures, though domesticated, still possess the natural needs of the wild horse. We can provide that to him through a simple and consistent program that builds his body in such a way that gives him security and stability both mentally and physically. But that is only possible when the owner, rider and trainer fully understand the horse’s needs providing the horse first and foremost with proper muscular strength to help him feel safe within his strange and unnatural domesticated life.