Written by: Matthew Brendal
There is probably nothing more fundamental to the nature of the horse than the predator and prey relationship. To a predator a horse is nothing more than a four hoofed selection in the smorgasbord of life’s entrees. Horses are food, and they know this deep down in their soul.
Domestication over the years has bred some of that fear out of the horse. But instinct is very hard to breed out. There are however training techniques that attempt to totally remove the fear of man. I once read a study in which it surmised imprinted horses were harder to train than non-imprinted horses. An imprinted horse is exposed to a series of desensitizing procedures when they are first born. The person grabs the foal right after leaving the womb and begins rubbing the horse everywhere for long periods of time. This training teaches the horse not to be afraid of humans. We humans are meat eaters by design. There fore when you imprint a horse to the point of being desensitized to the natural prey instincts the horse is missing something. The imprinted horse becomes dull to the world around him.
My experience with horses is that those that are sensitive commonly learn faster than those horses that are dull. I am not talking about a horse that is afraid of his own shadow, but rather a horse that keeps a watch on things. I don’t think fear is a good thing, but when a horse has concerns about the world around him, he will pay attention a bit better. You can’t teach a-know-it-all or person that is asleep very much, right? The same is true with a horse. You want a good pupil when you are a teacher.
The predator-prey relationship is very easy to understand in its most basic form. Prey eats grass and grows big. Predators hunt down prey and eat them. A horse is the perfect prey animal. They have large eyes on a long neck. They can see small amounts of movement very far away. Most horses, including a few hour old foals, can out run predators almost every time. Horses use their herd and bands as alarm systems in spotting predators. The horse is a running machine like nothing else ever created. Their whole body has been efficiently honed over the millenniums to run like the wind. The horse is programmed by Mother Nature to run a quarter of a mile at the slightest hint of trouble. They are flight animals that need no wings to reach speeds in excess of 40 mph in the blink of an eye.
You have probably heard that horses learn upon release of pressure, when we train them. In a horse’s mind there is one thing he never stops thinking about. Whether the horse is sleeping or wide awake, he thinks and dreams about escape. The moment he sees you walking towards him, he has already figured out 25 plus escape routes in his mind. Why is the horse preoccupied with escape? Escaping from a predator is what allows him to live another day. He doesn’t really want to fight, because he may get hurt. There are no doctors in the wild. There are just those hungry patient predators that will wait for the injured horse to die. The survival instinct in a horse is the main reason we may have some problems in the early stages of training a horse. They may not understand that you aren’t going to eat them. So we have to use methods to communicate to horse that we may be predators, but we are also their friend.
It can be a difficult task convincing some horses you are a friend and not a foe. Just remember that if you use the release of pressure (This just tells the horse where the correct escape route is.) in the foundation of training properly, your predator-prey relationship will get better and better as time goes by. Fundamental Horsemanship is TLC = Trust, Leadership & Communication.