It’s my fault for asking for blog topics. She writes, “Can you possibly do a blog post on why your horse isn’t your therapist/best friend/ emotional support, etc etc etc? I am constantly inundated with rubbish “feel good” toxic positivity meme things.” Well, I will take the challenge, but I think I’ll come at it from the back door. Humor me…
The horses are talking. (No, horses don’t talk but since we are exploring the idea of horses in a human construct, like being a therapist or friend, why not?) The gray sees a 3-year-old child in their pen. The child has just noticed them and is coming toward them, but trips on a pile of horse manure and bumps its head in the fall. It screams, startled and hurt. The horses know it’s a small human. A predator, but it smells like sugar. They saw the child long before it came into their pen; they know the child is unpredictable. It just tipped over. Not alert to the environment, a foal would do better. Now it’s being noisy. What’s the point of that?
The bay horse keeps a passive eye and might send a calming signal to let the small human know they are no threat to it. The kid doesn’t acknowledge him, but horses know humans are poor communicators. Their bodies constantly send conflicting messages, and they lose focus, so scattered in their minds. Humans spook at things that aren’t even there. It’s like humans are always talking to imaginary friends. Beware.
Maybe the child comes to them and pokes a finger in a horse’s eye. Not that horses can see what’s on the ground in front of them. They are “seeing” with their muzzle nerve endings. Startled, they shake their poll and roll the child a few feet away. In time, the child cries because it’s hungry and can’t find food. Or it’s scared and can’t find its home. It’s a pasty bug that’s afraid of the dark. Really, is this the king of beasts?
Scientists have stated that horses possess the equivalent intelligence of a 3-year-old child. Meaning most horses can recognize themselves in the mirror, understand some human emotions, and can learn tricks or commands. But out in a horse pen, a 3-year-old is not anywhere near as intelligent as a horse, as any horse will tell you.
Why do we measure other animals against us? It is the ultimate arrogance for a human to judge an animal’s intelligence against our own. We think we are exceptional animals with our fancy frontal lobes. As if we are the be-all in intelligence. Do they see us as clever or lost, fearful or bold? What does human intelligence even look like to a horse? No wonder they constantly look to their own safety. In their view, we seriously lack peace, clarity, and common sense.
Sometimes I’ll read a scientific study about horse intelligence. The research process begins by taking a horse out of its herd so that it can be tested. Horse people understand that separation anxiety will now be part of the answer. Would they take a fish out of the water to test it? Jane Goodall wouldn’t. Animals must be studied in their natural habitat.
Warning: Looking up information about equine intelligence isn’t just diving into a rabbit hole; it’s falling in the dark for a mile or two and passing out after hitting hard at the bottom. Forgive me if I just ask some surface questions and hold this essay to under three hundred pages. Let’s talk about human construct only.
Some of us will want to romanticize the horses into caretakers of that child because they sniff it. Maybe nibble it’s clothing. Maybe a romantic would donate a child for research. But if a dirt devil rolls through the pen, or a wolf is nearby, all bets are off. The horses won’t nudge the child carefully to a protected area. Their survival instinct is involuntary. Hardwired to run and save themselves. The child doesn’t exist, it’s a matter of the horse’s life or death. They step on the child, and pushing off to a run, break bones. Again, they can’t see much on the ground close up. But no one posts a cute selfie of the child after it gets stepped on.
Do you notice I use “it” as a pronoun for the child? Awkward, but if you don’t think horses have intelligence, emotions, and autonomy, then neither do kids. If we demean horses, then we demean children.
We might use horses like childhood teddy bears or see horses as knights riding to our rescue, without the man. In other words, we see them in ways that comfort us in human constructs but don’t respect their intelligence. We are so busy trying to fit them into our emotions, that we ignore their needs. Instead, we’d rather they didn’t pay so much attention to the environment (impossible for a horse) and just hug us. Is that what we want from children? To stay home and hug us?
Science says horses exhibit high levels of emotional intelligence and can read facial expressions and body language. No surprise there, “calming signals” are their birth language. But they don’t read us because they love us. We are predators, but more complex than wolves. We keep them trapped in a pen but care for them. As long as I’m playing devil’s advocate, Stockholm syndrome is defined as “a psychological response wherein a captive begins to identify closely with his or her captors, as well as with their agenda and demands.” Is it a choice when we barter survival needs, like food, for behaviors? Oh my, now I’ve done it.
Back to the original question. There is a simple answer:
If your horse is your therapist, get them to prescribe a med that will help you think more clearly. And therapists don’t work for minimum wage, so find out where they hide the money. They can buy their own hay.
If your horse is your best friend, why not leave a baby with them to care for? Not while you watch, but overnight. You trust your best friend, right? Why ride with a bridle at all? Come to think of it, who needs a halter? My friends don’t tie themselves to me. And a friendship is reciprocal. If you are their friend, why do you micromanage them? Why not trust their decisions and autonomy?
If your horse is your emotional support, do you expect them to carry your darkest parts? Do you feel good about swearing and throwing temper tantrums? Do you hug them when you cry, dragging them along in the wake of your feelings? Would you share that with a 3-year-old? A child who has emotions of their own, personal challenges, and fears? Or would you keep your problems to yourself and try to encourage the child toward confidence, knowing their nature?
Instead of thinking we know everything, let’s assume horses are smart and we’ve stopped treating horses like 3-year-olds. Let’s say we are researching whether horses mourn a loss. A better question might be how they get over a loss so well.
Or we could stop thinking horses are all about us and let them be horses.
Anna Blake, Relaxed & Forward
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