A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses
I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.
Monday, August 1, 2011
Your Horse is NOT a Dog
Dogs are predators, horses are prey. They pretty much think about things exactly opposite of each other. In North America we commonly have dogs as pets, and understanding their behavior is pretty common. Even people who have never owned a dog "get" certain things about them. If they are showing their teeth, then they are not happy, if they have a funny deep rumble in their throat, it could be bad... you know, little things like that.
But horses are something that is much less common for people to interact with. I've met people who didn't realize you have to teach a horse to carry a rider - they thought they just were born willing to! (Don't we wish!).
So recently, this article has been making the rounds of the internet. Now, I know nothing of this trainer, but what he says here is pretty spot on in my opinion. The point is WHY it's right though. We've all seen it, and many of us have done it. We wanted our horses to be our friends, and our dogs (er, I mean companion animal). While they can be both, they will never be either human, nor canine, and we love them for exactly that reason. They are HORSES.
In humans, we obey our boss, because if we don't, we don't get paid. In horses, they obey the "boss" because she finds the best grass, organizes who gets water, and makes group tail swishing sessions. It's pretty much the same reasons we have for listening to our boss, if you think about it. Money buys all the things that the horses get directly from their boss: Food, friends, and peace of mind.
Hex decides where they eat. The clover is good in the NW corner today, or the bermuda is lush in the south end. Where Hex decides to graze is the side of the pasture that the entire herd tends to drift towards. When something threatens the herd, they rarely panic until Hex moves out. When they do panic, she shows them to run back to the houses, and humans come to make it better. She's the brains of their mob mentality.
Jinx though, she's the strong arm. She meets and "greets" the new horses into the herd. That usually means some kicking and biting, and a lot of running. Jinx's job is to show the new horses where the goods are, and what order the goods are handed out. She also breaks up fights (usually by being the meanest horse there) and bullies those who try to take more then their share. This is most evident at the water trough. Sadly, Jinx is not as smart as Hex. Hex knows things, so Jinx defers to her.
Because my horses live on about 30 acres, they tend to come up to water as a group. Hex and Jinx naturally get a drink first (I mean there is a privilege for being the boss, right?) and then they watch over the rest as they drink. It's HOT here in Texas right now, and water is vital to life. The horses haven't learned that there will always be water when they need it - they have very limited understanding of technology like that - so they tend to think only of the "now". Like, "I want more NOW". It's the job of the herd mares to make sure that one greedy horse does not prevent the other 15 from filling their bellies. I'm lucky in that my girls do it well, and fairly. Not all alpha mares are so benevolent though.
Because they are horses. If other things eat you, then you want to be closest to the biggest, baddest, meanest, toughest, smartest horse there is! If you're friends with that horse, then your chances of eating enough daily to run fast enough when needed, and beat the tar out of predators, is that much higher. Who cares if the alpha is rude... they are the most likely to LIVE. Living is a good thing when you're an animal that others tend to eat.
Now, compare this to dogs. The alpha dog is often the strongest too, but it's a bit different. If the alpha dog doesn't share, well, then the rest of the pack doesn't eat. If the rest of the pack is weak, then they won't hunt as well, and the alpha will also go hungry. Because of this, being "nice" matters more. Give something to get something is a dog thing (ok, and humans too) but not a horse thing.
Dogs must find food. Horses live on top of it. Grass is everywhere! And yes, that matters to how a horse thinks.
That doesn't mean they don't LIKE it... just that their mindset about it is totally different.
And as most of us know, submission in dogs is based on showing vulnerability, and eye contact. Belly up, not looking is a submissive animal. Well, horses don't see so well, and they sure don't want to show you their vulnerable spots. Submission in a horse is more about moving their feet.
It makes sense if you watch a herd though. If alpha horse gets the best because it is the strongest, then running a horse away from it's prime location is a show of dominance. The alpha "allows" others to groom it, on the alpha's time, when the alpha says. That's also a form of moving its feet. The whole mentality in horses is "you stand where I say, when I say, and you will live longer". Since horses like to live, they like the leader who treats them this way.
Now, lets apply that to humans!
You want to be "nice" to your horse, so you give it cookies, groom it when it likes, and let it decide where to go. To a dog, that would be showing leadership. You have food, you have a comfortable place to live. Well, in the horse's mind, you just told it that you are the submissive horse, and that your pony companion can move you at will. "Moving at will" often means kicking. Yes, being too kind to your horse is the same thing as saying "ok Dobbin, kick me when you want to". This is just how horses are. Just like we have some instincts that make us do stupid things (yeah, think back to your first crush, and look at all the stupid things you did before you disagree) horses have instincts that push their behavior too.
In a horse's mind, there's only one real reason - you outrank them. And if you don't, well, don't be shocked at what happens. This is even MORE true if you have a more dominant type of horse. That cute little baby there with Jae loving on her.... yeah, that's the horse that tore up my face. She didn't MEAN to do it. She was trying to kick another horse, because she out ranks the other horse. In her mind, if I had a problem with it, I would have stopped her. Instead, I just "went away" (into the dirt under their feet) so obviously her actions were allowed. She IS the daughter of a herd mare after all, and 3rd in my herd rank right now.
Horses rarely hurt humans because they "mean to". Most often we humans are just incidental. Diva kicks at Sweetie and sends me to the ER. Boo spooks at something falling, and sends my mother to the ER. Poko chases Doodles, who steps on Jae, or the filly is running scares and looking behind her so doesn't see me standing in front of her, the car spooks the horse I'm riding.... This is how horses hurt humans. Rarely does a horse think "I'm bigger then you, so you will do as I say".
Being nice to a horse is something we do for our own minds, not the horse's. How often are we baffled at an abused horse that shows affection to its abuser? This is why: because horses are horses. This same thing, though, is what makes us love them, and keeps us in awe of their power and grace. It's part beauty, and part mystique.
Just think about how often you expect your horse to think like a human. Now stop and think about how few humans can really think as well as you expect your horse to! Humans have massive brains, with extra little parts in them to help with the thinking thing. Horses have itty bitty little brains. And yet, we - the large brained creatures - expect our horses to learn to do things our way. Doesn't that sound a little bit backwards?
Instead, we should be learning to do things the horse's way. They can't be as smart as we are. A horse will never learn algebra, let alone calculus! A horse will never be able to quote the great authors, nor recognize classical artwork. But we always find ourselves expecting this type of thinking with them. "Oh, my mare loves me, she'd never hurt me!". We've all heard it before, right? Hell, half (or more) of us have SAID it. But hell yeah she'd hurt you.... if she thought it would save her from danger. And really... horses see lions every where. Danger is their way of life. Remember, things tend to EAT them. They are prey.
I think I can say that for every time I've ever been hurt. But they have never been the horse's fault. The first time you even think it was the horse's fault, you've likely just realized you're treating your horse like a dog. If you comfort your horse for acting afraid, your horse sees it as reward for acting that way. You just trained your horse to do that every time! We've all done it. Hell, took me 3 months to figure out how to bridle Spot with out a fight, because he was fearful of being bitted up. He'd act up, I'd try to calm him. I showed him just how easy it was to delay putting on his bridle while getting nice scritches. Eventually it dawned on me, and I slathered the bit in molasses, shoved it in, and put a flash on him. The bit was secure, he got something yummie for having it where it should be, and there was no fight. Easy, and he was rewarded. He liked that. He now takes his bit nice and easy, and really loves riding. I treated him like a horse, and he became a better horse.
Now, I'm am NOT saying to go out and beat your horse to make it a "good" horsey. Not at all. I'm just saying that we should analyze our actions a bit more, and think about how the horse perceives them from a horse's point of view. The article I cited earlier is about a lady whose horse is her "best friend" but only when it's convenient to the horse. She explains how well she taught her horse that the horse makes all the decisions, and then complains that her horse is making all the decisions. Why is she confused? Because she was trying to treat her horse like it was a person, or a dog (more a person in her case I think). But I focus on training novice horsemen/women, and the most common thing I see, is people who confuse horses with dogs. They lift their hand to the horse's (vulnerable) head, for the horse to sniff. Dogs have a keen sense of smell. It is their strongest sense. Horses rely on sound mostly, with smell as a secondary.
Most of us would rarely walk up to a strange dog and flip it over, yet we do something that amounts to the same thing in horses. How often have you seen the vet/farrier walk up to a horse and with out greeting the horse just pick up its leg? Would you ever grab a strange dog's tail with out making sure the dog knew you were there? Yet you want to put the horse's muzzle, where it can't see your hand? And after we do this to our horses over and over, day after day, we're shocked when one time in a million it goes bad. Horse's are amazing creatures. They are kind, tolerant, and faithful. But still, they are horses. I think it's up to us as humans to respect them for that, and learn their ways, rather then blaming the horse when the horse acts like a horse. Especially if we don't even know what a horse is supposed to act like.
Posted by Pinzgauer at 10:22 AM