Horses are social herd animals that would never choose to live alone in the wild. This instinct is essential as living in large groups can be a form of protection from predators. A solitary horse would have lower chances of survival in a non-domestic environment.
Because horses are prey animals fueled by a strong fight-or-flight instinct their first reaction in a threatening situation would be to flee the scene. The physical attributes of a horse enable it to reach high speed when escaping from dangerous circumstances so it is essential that your pet is kept in a secure environment, away from any possible attack from other animals such as wolves or foxes.
Despite having been domesticated by humans for thousands of years, a horse still retains some of these natural instincts to some extent. So, when thinking about purchasing or adopting a horse we must keep in mind that it will need constant interaction with us and/or other horses as well as a safe shelter in order to feel comfortable and safe in its surroundings.
Being able to read into the signals sent by our horse is vital to build a trustworthy relationship while keeping our pet and ourselves safe.
Horses communicate in a number of ways and it is the handler/owner responsibility to thoroughly understand the message they are trying to send.
For starters, many of us may think a horse doesn’t resort to vocalisation as much as a barking dog yet this equid will actually use different kind of sounds to express a number of feelings: nickering, squealing or whinnying.
Due to their social nature, a horse will often be seen using touch to communicate with other horses through mutual grooming or with their human through nuzzling.
Body language, however is probably the most utilised mean of communication in a horse. By using a combination of ear position, tail swishing, foot stomping, and neck and head height your horse will send clear messages to the people and other animals around it.
By truly understanding a horse's body language we can pick up on a multitude of feelings and physical conditions ranging from happiness, anger, hunger, sickness, discomfort and many more. Here are just some of the main signals you should recognise when handling a horse:
The fact that a horse can get the needed resting time without having to physically relax also allows them to go without a long and continued sleep time: these equids will actually take multiple short naps. In fact, although standing resting time averages between four to fifteen hours a day, the actual deep sleep time in your horse will range anywhere from a few minutes to two hours. A unique aspect of a horse sleeping pattern is that it will only require a few hours of REM sleep every few days and this state can be reached solely when the horse is lying down.
Because of their herding status, horses are more likely to relax and sleep well if living in group as they tend to take turns by always having some of them on alert-mode.
Horses are known for being “trickle eaters” which means they must always have access to food in order to keep their digestive system functioning correctly. If you own a horse you’ll quickly notice signs of anxiety and impatience when there are long periods of time between meals. As many other pets, a domesticated horse will need a regular feeding schedule in order to avoid discomfort and weakness. Owners of multiple horses should be mindful as these are herd animals that follow a hierarchic structure in which higher-ranking individuals will eat and drink first. So ensure all of your pets have access to forage and clean water.
This article may provide you with more useful information on a horse eating pattern.
Wild horses will generally view people as potential predators however, a domesticated horse with a little exposure to humans will most likely display curiosity and affection for its handler. Nevertheless, we must always be alert and gentle when working with these large animals as they all retain somewhat of a wild instinct that may become dangerous to both the horse and the owner.
As they are creatures of habit, horses require consistent training as an essential part of their life. Based on their herding nature, horses will always prefer to be among others in a herd as this is the best way to survive an attack from a predators. This principle is in fact the foundation of many horse training techniques which suggest that the owner is accepted by the horse as the dominant member within the herd.
Horse trainers and handlers constantly work on building a relationship based on trust where their pet sees them as a responsible leader. The first challenge faced by a horse trainer is to reduce or completely remove any of those wild instincts that are not acceptable among humans which would normally bring a horse to flee when in front of a predator, bucking off an attacker that jumps on its back or even biting while playing with other horses.
There a myriad of advantages you can gain from properly training your horse but the most valuable benefit will be the strong bond you’ll be able to build with your beloved pet.