Friday, January 9, 2015

Saving the Sand Horses: Part 5

After a set back or two I ended up with a pair of wild BLM mustangs and a very violent 3/4 Appaloosa 1/4 Arabian, modern horse, Comet. My book, " And a Little Child Shall Lead Them: Learning From Wild Horses and Little Children", covers my early attempts, successes and failures at applying natural horsemanship to this group of horses. It is also the point where I came to realize one of the most dfficult aspects of teaching , or even discussing natural horsemanship, vocabulary.

What does one mean when one says "natural horsemanship"?  Unfortunately that depends on why one says "natural horsemanship." Properly understood, natural horsemanship is simply a method of teaching and developing relationships with horses using a mode of communication that the horse naturally understands.  Instead of trying to teach a horse to speak English a serious student of natural horsemanship learns to speak horse.

For those who oppose natural horsemanship they use the term to mean a system of non-training in which the horse is completely spoiled, untrained and dangerous. For others it means a passive, whiny, horsemanship in which the horse is allowed to make all of the decisions.  The human's role seems to simply supply hay and to sit around being ashamed that they are humans instead of being horses.For some hucksters it means teaching whatever will sell the next video or book.

It is none of those thing. Natural horsemanship is simply the only way to truly enter the horse's world. Those who think that the horse's world is a world without conflict or violence, a world in which lions and lambs lay down together and watch you tube videos of kittens playing, will shell out big money to those who will "teach" them what they want to hear.

The first step to understanding natural horsemanship is to understand that the horse is not a human and has nearly nothing in common with our most basic wants and needs.  Thinking of the horse as a four legged human is to completely neglect what a horse truly wants and needs. The second step is to understand that the horse is not a dog. That is hard for us. Most people have experience with dogs before they have experience with horses. A dog is a predator, just like we are. A dog shares many of our wants and needs.

People and dogs both look for autonomy, excitement, a warm, cozy nest and near constant sensory stimulation. Hunters depend on those drives. The hunt is exciting for the hunter, but the hunted feel anything but excitement. A predator can be comfortable in a a snug home. A prey animal can feel nothing but trapped in that same environment.

Instead of autonomy a horse's greatest need is for security. A horse prefers calmness to excitement, company to solitariness, and movement to confinement. It will seem heretical to many but the wild horse's dream is not to be able to run through unconfined spaces for eternity. In fact, he would much prefer to not need to flee from anything for eternity. A wild horse that is not able to experience security because of the humans or other stressors in his environment is not happy--regardless of how wild he is. A wild horse that feels completely secure, which essentially means living in a herd or band, without harassment from predators with adequate forage, is happy. 

How can one measure happiness in a horse? By simple observation--is the horse suffering from stress related health problems? Does he exhibit what have come to be known as "vices", or more properly known as stereotypical behavior? Does he exhibit agitation?

My herd includes many formerly wild horses. My horses live in bands and live off of living forage and hay (with the exception of a few who are given a very low sugar feed to supplement their need for extra calories), most drink from water holes, they never enter a confining stable.

All of these things contribute to their feeling of security which translates into natural health and happiness. Our vet bills for our large herd are less than those for most small barns with only a handful of horses.The established horse world and its partners in agribusiness have created a very expensive, unhealthy, and ultimately cruel regimen for horses to suffer under. There is no group out there more threatened by natural horse care than those two greatest enemies of the horse.

And herein lies the reason that our program as stirred the ire of the established horse world. We raise happier, healthier horses for a fraction of the cost that others spend to produce unhealthy, neurotic horses. Anyone who would spend a week with our herd and follow it with a week observing horses in a typical "full stable board" environment would promptly come to the conclusion that the established horse world has failed in every respect except that it has made a lot of money.

Our horses are clothed in shaggy, muddy or dusty, finery.

As for those who live in the model set out by the established world, their Emperor is naked.

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