Every time I pick up a horse magazine, I read that horses are prey animals and humans are predators. Many articles say horses are ‘naturally’ afraid of humans because humans are predators. Others say it’s ‘natural’ for a horse to buck when the saddle is introduced, because a ‘dead animal’ is being strapped onto their back.
The truth is that horses don’t reason whether an animal is a predator or isn’t a predator. I’ve seen horses take fright of mules, donkeys, goats and cows, none of which are predators. Natural selection has made horses take fright first and think later, because that’s always been their most efficient way of survival.
My father often told the story of riding his pony over the crest of a hill and meeting an elephant pulling a circus wagon coming the other way. His pony took fright, spun around, bucked and dumped him in the middle of the road. The pony was very scared of the elephant, even though elephants aren’t predators.
One of our stockhorses, ‘Little Digger’ travelled the country competing in shows and campdrafts. He campdrafted amid the hustle and bustle of the Sydney Royal Easter Show. Yet, whenever he saw a horse and cart coming up the road, Little Digger would snort, take fright and bolt around his paddock. Horses in carts aren’t predators but Little Digger was still terrified.
Horses can’t reason which animals are predators and which aren’t. When a young horse is first approached by a human, he’s just as frightened as if he was being approached by an elephant. Remember, an elephant isn’t a predator.
However, I do believe the horse is a pray animal and here are some things I believe he prays:
He prays you won’t chase him in a round yard.
He prays you won’t harass him with a flag or a rope.
He prays you won’t saddle him for the first time and let him buck.
He prays you won’t ‘sack him out’.
He prays you won’t tie him up to fight.
He prays you won’t use ‘special’ headstalls designed with knots or pulleys for extra pressure on his head, nose or poll.
He prays you won’t chase him until he’s so exhausted that he’ll stand no matter what you do to him.
He prays you won’t rope or strap his legs.
He prays that whatever you ask him to do is simple and easy, because if he understands, he’ll always be happy to oblige.
Neil Davies began training horses full-time in 1977. Over the next 15 years, he started more than a thousand horses under saddle and trained thousands of so-called ‘problem’ horses. [read more]
He is the author of Fear-free Horse Training – every step of the way.
Visit Neil’s website at www.fearfreehorsetraining.com.