Red Shares a Few Thoughts on the Predator/Prey Thing
A conversation in three colors: Red =red, Cherie = turquoise, Guest quotes = orange
I just started feeling pretty good about myself for mastering the predator (human), prey (horses) thing after I used my inner predator to catch Lyra. Of course, Red noticed my new aura of smugness.
HOLD IT! Ok, I'm putting my hoof down here! You're so no predator, you're the Food Lady. Not fooling me, NOT!
Red's not going for my pretensions of predatorhood - ok, let me think about this some more. Maybe I got only part of the concept and there is something else going on that shapes our human/equine relationships.
DUH, if you humans are so predator-like, how come us horses just love taking every lil opportunity to bump y'all down a notch or two in the ole human/horse herd hierarchy? I mean, there is just no way even me, studly Red Horse, is going to nose bump Mr. Mountain Lion on his butt when he's not paying attention.
Hmmm, so how come when I go out into the general pasture and holler "REEEEEEEEDDDDD DELIIIIIIIICIIIIOUSSS" he lifts his cute little head and comes sauntering towards me about 95% of the time. "Wazup Food Lady?" No way he is EVER going to head towards something with sharp teeth and a hunger for horseflesh. And actually, now that I'm warming to this new angle, how come Red trusts me to touch him over every inch of his gorgeous body? No way is he going to let a predator put her claw, er hand close to where the sun don't shine. I know that my horse trusts me. I also know that he tests me. Dayly. Why? To see if I will give up my ground. Why? Cuz I've become a card carrying member in the Red Horse herd and I've got to show I'm capable of maintaining my place in the herd hierarchy. I like to think I keep boss mare status.
Yeah, whatever miss delusions of inner predator boss mare baloney. Sheeeesh, is this what opposeable thumbs gets you? If you are in the herd, I trust you and we are responsible for caring for each other. I've got jobs, you've got jobs. Just depends on where on the hierarchy you stack up. And you know me, I gotta be as high up as I can get, so I'm gonna see if you can hold your own by invading your space, stepping on you, bumping you, and ignoring you when you ask me something. It isn't all my hierarchy climbing thing, how can I know if I can trust you if you are a pushover? If I can roll right over you, that mountain lion who lives over the rise is gonna do the same thing and then who do you think he is going to eat? You, nasty human, or me - tasty, tender gelding?
See, this thing is complex. I'm going to go turn to some folks more experienced than myself for guidance. Like Duane Issacson, who with his wife Sara run Heart of the Redwoods Horse Rescue. According to Duane in his article Horse Relationships: The Passive Leader:
Relationships mean everything to the horse. The structure and rules within the herd give the horse a feeling of comfort and security. There is a basic hierarchy within a horse herd, a pecking order from highest to lowest and every horse knows his place within the herd. Unlike humans, horses are not inclined to climb that social hierarchy if they do not have to. In fact, horses will only try to improve their standing when they become aware that the horse above them in the pecking order is faltering in his leadership abilities ( There are exceptions, but for our purposes it is helpful to accept this as a rule of thumb).
Hey, this dude knows his stuff? So food lady, read this again, slooooowly . . . repeat after me. What he said, "horses will only try to improve their standing when they become aware that the horse above them in the pecking order is faltering in his leadership abilities." GET IT? So when you are all blah blah blah in your head and out of your body, how can you do your job? I gotta make my moves, test you out. Its what I do.
Well, now that Red mentions it I gotta say he is pretty right on. He has only hurt me two times:
First night I got him, he kicked me in the butt.
One rainy night in January a couple of years ago when I couldn't find him and I was REALLY mad, not for any good reason and not with a plan, just mad. He wouldn't work for me, I forced him to back across the arena, and when I turned he surged forward and slammed his hoof down on my toe.
The first time I had no status, no trust, and had just taken him from his herd. The second time I was not present in any kind of way and was unfairly mad with him. He does give me little tests, and I usually pass them, hold my ground and then ask him to give up his ground to me. I ask Red to "move his feet" every chance I get. When he is tied, if I go from left to right in front of him, I actually go through his space, asking him to move. From the moment he offers his nose for the halter, I fill my space and work at being in my body, action by action, trying to stay out of my head.
Ignore her, she thinks she is so smart. Listen to me, Red Horse. Ya wanna hang with horses? This is what ya gotta try . . .
1. Spend time with your horse on the ground, in his or her space. Just be present. Enjoy this time together. It will pay off big time.
2. Spend time with your horse in their herd, if they are fortunate enough to be part of one. Observe their interactions with other horses. What gets their attention? How did another horse get their attention? How do they communicate with their herdmates?
3. Be consistent.
4. Be present.
5. Be fair.
6. Don't forget totally about the predator thing. You linear two legs types gotta overcome your directness with us lateral thinking, moving horses. Get too direct, stare at us and you make the predator sensing hairs on our nects stand up straight (just kidding here). You can use predator like directness as a kind of pressure with us - just don't go crazy with it or get all big headed over it like a certain food lady I know (and sorta like).
Not saying this will work for every horse and human, but the food lady does most of the above, most of the time. Notice she ain't limping anymore.