The horse has become for humans a life partner with whom we have established a deep and harmonious relationship which undoubtedly has beneficial effects for us, physically, emotionally and spiritually, on our health and on our quality of life. The relationship with horses is for humans a source of great joy.
In countries such as Britain, Germany, France and Sweden, horse riding is high in the ranking of the most popular and most practised sports. The interaction with humans, however, is rather complex and starts from the moment horses come into contact with us for the first time.
From an ethological point of view, there are no ‘problematic or difficult’ horses. This definition has no basis in the animal world. The undesirable behaviour of a horse is in its nature absolutely normal but becomes a problem for humans when we don’t know how to approach it and how to relate to the animal.
If for example when we climb into the saddle, we squeeze its girth, we fit its bridle, we confine it to a box, we clean its feet, we ride it and so on, the horse reacts by pulling away, by pawing at the ground, by biting, by moving sideways or by bucking, we shouldn’t think that it is ‘difficult’ but instead seek out the causes in its conditions of life and work which are probably causing it psychological and physical distress and pain. If the horse is not being treated correctly, in keeping with the rules of life in nature, and with respect, it gives off unmistakable signs of discomfort and suffering. If we ignore these signs, we reach the point of resistance with undesirable behaviour.
The fact of living far from its natural environment and in conditions that are not particularly compatible with the nature of its species can lead the horse to defensive reactions or behavioural disorder. Enforced idleness, boredom, the need for stimulation, the lack of freedom, deprivation of contact with other horses, artificial feeding and divided into few meals, the unnatural environment, being subject to humans/riders who sometimes become angry and act brutally causing frustration and fear, all these aspects create a mixture that destroys trust and creates deep malaise. All behavioural problems of horses only occur in domesticated life and never in the wild. Numerous behavioural problems that are common in many stables are in fact resolved by leaving the horses in the paddock for as long as possible in the company of other horses.
Horses show their discomfort and suffering with signs that we humans are often unable to understand. Persons therefore that assume the responsibility of being with horses have a duty above all to know how to recognise over time their difficulties and to understand the causes in order to change their own incorrect attitudes and the artificial living conditions imposed on them. Our duty is to give horses the best way of living in relation with their nature. Only in this way they can enjoy to stay with us and to spend time in our company, they trust us and become our friends.
The horse’s behaviour should not be interpreted from a human point of view because it can be misinterpreted and lead to reactions of anger and brutal and violent behaviour by humans. A selfish, one-sided relationship, based only on a personal need or for financial and competitive purposes, is often associated with the lack of knowledge of equine ethology. In fact, in our daily dealings with horses we must, first and foremost, before trying to achieve our goals, understand how to communicate with the horse, to understand its nature and its needs.
To understand the natural behaviour of the horse we must firstly free ourselves from prejudices and mistaken beliefs and take account of certain fundamental concepts:
– Humans can never communicate with horses as horses do with each other
– There are no bad or character horses
– Undesirable behaviours or behavioural disorders of horses are directly or indirectly linked to the mistakes of humans who do not respect the adaptive capacity limit of animals
– In terms of communication, behavioural expressions of the horses are often misunderstood, misinterpreted, ignored, or treated as a rebellion
– Conflicts are due to a lack of communication, of mutual understanding, trust and too often the arrogance of humans.