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What Is A Horse?

Posted by vwkoch, 17 December 2008 · 39 views

Horse Handling Thoughts
Horses are unique among other animals in the US. They are legally classified as livestock, but most Americans consider them to be pets. In fact, they are both --- and neither.

There are certainly some people in the US who consider horses to be simply livestock and who treat them as such. They buy, sell, and use them without ever forming a bond with any of them. To them, a horse is merely a tool.

There are also people in the US who truly keep horses as pets. They buy them for companionship and form strong bonds with them. They sell them --- or give them away --- only under duress, due to circumstances beyond their control.

However, most horses in the US fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. They are unlike other livestock in that, in our country, they are not considered to be food animals. Although they might end up being sold for slaughter, they are not raised for that purpose.

On the other hand, they are not like other pets, either. They are usually bought for a purpose (i.e., riding of a certain type), with the intention of selling them when they no longer adequately serve that purpose. Other pets, like dogs and cats, are usually bought primarily for companionship and are almost never bought with the intention of selling them later.

I have never understood people who buy a horse, spend the money to keep it, and only interact with it two or three times a year --- but I know such people exist. With the exception of people whose contact with their horses is too rare to form a relationship, I think most owners form a bond with their horses, but the strength of that bond varies, as does the horse-owner relationship.  I believe the bond is strongest when the horse is truly a pet, and I believe the horse-owner relationship is at its best when the horse is a pet --- assuming that the horse is not overly spoiled.

What do I mean by "overly spoiled"? When the horse, rather than the owner, is the boss, then the horse is overly spoiled. I can, and do, spoil my pet horses rotten, but there is never any doubt about who the boss is --- and she is I.

In fact, I think being spoiled is the distinguishing characteristic of a pet horse. People who don't consider their horses to be pets are usually careful to enforce all the rules. People who do consider their horses to be pets have often learned through experience that it's possible to break the rules at times and still maintain the horse's respect. The increased flexibility of such a relationship improves its quality, in my opinion.

Let me give a few examples of spoiling, maintaining respect, and improving relationships. First, consider the horse that is allowed to eat along the trail.  Many people consider allowing this behavior to be a cardinal sin.  However, if the horse wants to do it, the owner doesn't mind, and the behavior doesn't affect anyone else (an important “if”), then why should anyone else care? What gives someone else the right to judge this behavior as "bad", imposing his or her more restrictive values on a horse and rider who are happy with their relationship as it is?

Secondly, consider respect. Some would say that letting your horse eat along the trail loses his respect. I would argue that LETTING him eat (you're the boss) actually reinforces his respect. It is only the horse that can eat without permission (he's the boss) that loses respect for you. I let my horse eat along the trail if a piece of greenery is high enough that she can grab it without slowing and if I'm in the mood. When she sees such a piece of greenery, she asks for permission to eat (looking in that direction, maybe stretching her neck a little) and I can either grant permission (by doing nothing) or deny it (usually simply by twitching my hand on the appropriate rein). I doubt that an observer would even notice the interaction, which might happen several times in a ride. I suggest that, each time we have such an interaction, my status as boss is reinforced, which actually increases my horse's respect for me.

Finally, I believe that things such as letting my horse occasionally eat along the trail improve our relationship. She has additional motivation, for example, to keep me happy, because she is rewarded by getting to snatch that piece of greenery. Allowing some flexibility in enforcing the rules betters the relationship and strengthens the bond between us.

There are probably better examples of how "spoiling" can improve a relationship, but this blog is already a long one. I'll address this subject again when I find time to write more about the concept of teaching horses to “ask permission.”  In the meantime, don't be afraid to make your horse a pet and spoil him. Just don't let him become the boss!




I enjoyed your version of pet/livestock. I truly can identify with your view on this subject. Thanks for sharing, looking forward to your next edition...

My daughter gets furious and I am a see how the day goes, maybe he needs a little greenery to quench and work his saliva glands. He knows when I am in control and seems to answer with a 'thank you'.

As the bond between my daughter and myself. She to wants to 'I d k' sneak a bite maybe before supper, not always a good idea and I'll answer no. Maybe I've just started to cook and she could have just a little something. Whatever the case I am the primary last say... the boss.

Hy O Silver
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