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Conventional wisdom, folklore, and many cat lovers tell us that cats are curious by nature.

The saying, “curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction brought it back,” seems to permanently live in the hard drive of my mind, along with, oh a million or so other useless quotes, bits of information and stuff.

 But I think horses have cats beat when it comes to curiosity.

Hands down.

One of the subtle gifts of spending time every day with my horses and the others that live at this particular boarding facility is getting to know them.

Really getting to know them.

I’ve traveled deep into this small world and become quite familiar with many of the inhabitants.

So yesterday I was feeding my two old sweeties and handing out snacks to the rest of the Herd of Oldsters when I noticed the horses in the adjacent turnout area.

One minute they were hanging out with each other, talking, telling jokes, giving stock tips and whatever else adult horses do when they’re together.

The next minute, almost in unison they perked up their ears and gave rapt attention to something happening on the road beside them.

They totally stopped what they were doing and stood facing this new thing.

I think they may have even been holding their breath.

They became statues.

Careful, cautious, ever vigilant.

It’s how horses survived in the wild.

The danger wasn’t quite so real here in civilization, but their programming hasn’t caught up.

These horses were alert. Waiting to see if they needed to run like the wind.

What danger had captured their attention?

Two girls had hitched a white horse to a driving cart and were making their way around the grounds.

They were being quiet.

Minding their own business and having fun.

It was a beautiful spring day – perfect for a drive if you’re into that sort of thing.

The horses in the paddock, however, were not so sure.

They followed the cart’s progress with ears perked and movement as choreographed as the Dallas Cheerleaders.

When you’re a prey animal, I guess you can’t take any chances.

And when you’re bored, any entertainment fills the bill.

So what say you?

Who’s more curious – horses or cats? Or do you have another animal to add to the mix?

Another snowy day in the pasture.

Remember the children’s game called Duck, Duck, Goose? We’d stand in a circle and the person who was “it” would walk around the outside of the circle, touching each person and say the word “duck.” With girls the taps were always gentle, with boys, sometimes not so gentle.

We’d wait, holding our breath and listening for the one time when instead of saying “duck” the person who was it said, “goose.” If that happened, you had to run around the circle as fast as you could, trying to avoid being tagged. Once caught, you became “it.”

I swear Pepper knows this game.

At least her version of it. We had snow again this weekend. When we went to feed, we found the little herd of oldsters hanging out in the shed. No surprises there. And after my New Year’s Eve saga of getting stuck and walking twenty miles across the pasture (slight exaggeration!) we got smart and drove closer to the shed.

I could easily get Bud and Pepper into an adjoining pasture, feed them and then return them to their friends and the shelter of the shed. After a couple times of doing that we realized we could drive right into the adjoining pasture, which made things much easier.

If you’ve climbed back and forth through a wire fence that’s been stretched tight, you know how totally clumsy you can look. I was grateful to give that little exercise up for the time being. With horses it seems like you’re always doing something with a fence.

Back to Duck, Duck, Goose

Pepper finished her grain and when I approached her to return her to her friends, she decided she wasn’t quite ready. She made a large circle in the fresh snow with me walking behind her. Every so often I’d get close enough to touch her. That’s when the game flashed into my mind. I felt exactly like that kid who had to keep walking around the circle, because I never could catch the person I’d tagged. (Don’t worry, this has not permanently damaged me. I’ve explored my Duck, Duck, Goose experiences many times in therapy!)

"Are you talkin' to me?"

I knew enough to stop this game pretty quickly. In the horse world, chasing a horse never gets you what you want. Horses are prey animals, hard wired to flee when they perceive danger. So I stopped, and sure enough, Pepper came to me. I slipped the lead rope around her neck and led her to the gate.

She was chuckling.

And so was I.

When we got back into the truck, I told my husband that we were playing Duck, Duck, Goose. He looked at me as if I was speaking Chinese. Then he shook his head. “Sometimes I wonder about you,” he muttered.

“Only sometimes?”

That was the sum total of my snappy comeback.

You can see the downed wire and Chickadee at the very end of the lineup. This was taken before she got caught.

Horses are prey animals. That means among other things, that they are hardwired to put as much distance as possible between themselves and whatever has frightened them.

It’s an instinctive reaction. They get spooked and then run as fast as they can toward safety.

Over the weekend when I was out feeding our two old sweeties and their gang of oldsters, Chickadee (formerly called Hanger and Miss H. in this blog) got her left leg caught in the fence. The horses are rough on this section of  fence. They do their best to see to it that there is always at least one string of wire broken or stretched loose.

It’s dangerous.

So as horses belly up to the fence waiting for their treats, it’s easy for them to get a hoof or leg caught.

Sure enough, that’s what happened with Chickadee.

Hello Fight or Flight Response

When she realized that she was caught, her fight or flight response kicked in and she tried to back away, pulling hard. The wire stretched but her foot didn’t come free. Panic lit her eyes as she struggled against the wire. She started to lose her balance and I worried that something bad was going to happen.

I grabbed a handful of snacks and reached my arm into the fence. “Come on sweetie,” I called, my voice calm and encouraging. “Come get your snack.”

At first she continued to pull against the fence. I thought, even hoped, that the wire would break, though I wasn’t sure what reaction that would cause. Instead, Chickadee walked toward me. As she came forward, I was able to pull in the stretched wire and wrap it around a post.

Another crisis averted. Woo hoo!

Is there a lesson for us?

It got me thinking about how we humans react to the things we perceive as dangerous or stressful, which is more likely these days. More often than not, we follow Chickadee’s lead and fight against the danger. We get stressed out. We envision the worst. We let our blood pressure rise and our breath shorten. We struggle. We push. We argue. We resist.

Where does it get us? Very often it gets us nowhere. Except worked up and perhaps even more stressed. The problem, the danger, is still there.

But when we let go,

when we release,

when we yield,

we’re in a much better place to solve the problem.

Just like Chickadee and the fence.

Or the Bamboo Finger Trap

It reminds me of the novelty toy called the bamboo finger trap. It’s a woven hollow tube where you insert your index fingers into each end. The harder you try to pull your fingers out, the tighter the trap becomes. The key to getting free is to push your fingers toward each other, which enlarges the openings.

You must yield, or release instead of struggle and pull with all your might.

Hmmm…..

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