Horses are People, too!

I know what you’re thinking folks, ‘this guy has flipped his lid’, but it’s true. No, I’m not talking about the belief by some Native American tribes that when people die they come back as horses (or other animals). But it does make you stop and wonder. Ok, so you still think I’m crazy and that’s ok. But indulge me just a bit. Keep reading and I’ll explain.

You see, I’ve been around horses most of my life. I’ve been a professional farrier for the last 11 or 12 years. I’ve seen all kinds of horses and I’ve seen all kinds of people. Driving on the road from barn to barn, I have plenty of time to contemplate and actually come up with ideas and make some comparisons. (Yes, all on my own, thank you very much!!) Here’s the way I see it. The behavioral aspects of both equine and human are actually quite similar. How many of you can identify at least one shy, timid, reserve person. This person would seem to have a shell completely enclosing them in their own world. It’s usually some mousy lass who’s so introverted that it practically pains her to talk to a stranger. Now, of all the horses you’ve ever known, can you recount knowing at least one horse with these same traits? Think about the facial expressions of the girl then think about the facial expressions of the horse. See a similarity?

Don’t believe me yet? That’s ok. I’ve got more. Ok, how about this one? How many of you know someone who always has to be in the middle of things. This person has to know the latest gossip, be in the middle of any gathering of people, just has to be flat under foot for fear of not knowing what’s going on. Got someone in mind? Good. Now then, have I just described a horse you’ve known? Some horse that’s always standing over you when you’re trying to work, some horse that’s always in your back pocket, some horse that’s got to be right where all the action is?? Well? Ready to become a believer yet? No?

Ok, try this one on for size. I’ll try a different approach. Picture this. The eyes are narrow and somewhat squinted with eyebrows heavy. There seems to be a perpetual scowl on the face. The lips are pursed tight and the demeanor and body language seems to say, ‘stay away from me. I don’t want to be approached and I don’t want to be bothered by you.’ Is this some crotchety old man or is this another horse you’ve run across? I think I can see a light bulb. It’s dim, but I think you’re beginning to see the light.

All right, let’s try one more. This demeanor seems to imply that ‘I’m warm and friendly. I like looking clean, fresh and well dressed. I don’t like getting dirty unless I’m made to and even then it better be for a darned good reason. I like getting dressed up to go out because I will get to be seen by everyone and I’ll be admired by all.’ Ok, is this a young girl just coming of age or another horse in that barn. This one always seems to remind me of that shampoo commercial. You know the one. “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” (Actually, this one’s my horse! I can pretty much do what I want, but I’d better not plan on her leaving the house, er, barn, unless she’s dressed up and looking pretty!’)

I think you get the picture by now. I hope you’re becoming a believer like me. The fact of the matter is, horses have many of the same personalities, traits, idiosyncrasies and even moods as people. You folks out there who have been around horses a long time, have worked with them regularly probably understand this as well, if not better, than I do. You folks that are relatively new to horses probably know someone who seems to be able to deal with, and handle, many different horses. Some people may call this horse ‘whispering’, but I just call it understanding horses. For you ‘new’ folks, here’s free insight / advise. Pay close attention to the REAL horse people. Those folks are usually quiet and very self-confident. They don’t boast because they don’t have to. You should also begin paying close attention to the horses at the barn. Pay attention to what they’re doing, how they are acting, and the expressions on their faces. If you’re around a big barn, you’ll get to see lots of horses interacting. My guess is though, you’re there around feeding time and that’s not a good time to get a true picture of things. Horses at feeding time resemble a school of sharks more than people at that point. Come to think of it, people having to wait in line at feeding time tend to resemble a school of sharks also!! Nevertheless, try to start picking out the horses that are timid and shy, the horses that are overbearing and bossy, the horses that are nosey and curious, and the horses that seem to simply say, ‘I’m pretty and I know it.’ Start watching the expressions on their faces and see if you can ‘understand’ what they are ‘saying’. It’s been said that the eyes are windows to the soul. I believe that horses’ eyes are the keys to understanding their feelings and mental state. Horses’ eyes are very good indicators as to how they feel – wide-eyed with head up high, scared; narrow-eyed with lips pursed tight and ears laid back, probably mad or mean; eyes wide open with that ‘deer in the headlights’ look with the body rigid and tight, panicked and ready to explode; eyes heavy with wrinkles over the eye lids and the head drooped, probably not feeling well; and eyes bright, soft and relaxed, they’re feeling just fine and all is well.

Folks, it can take a lifetime, not to mention a degree in human and equine psychology, to know and understand all the intricacies of equine and/or human expressions and body language. But with some practice, some honed observation skills, and some guidance from a trusted ‘horse person’, you can begin to see the wisdom in the phase ‘Horses are people, too!’

Keith