How is it that horses, which have supposedly survived for thousands of years on their life-preserving, prey animal instincts, can manage to nearly kill themselves without any outside influences? We all have that uncle who is hard of hearing, and yet somehow manages to practice "selective deafness," as in they can here everyone being called to the table for dinner, but not the call to help clean up, right? Well, I think horses practice selective instinct.
When you are attempting to school a particularly difficult figure or movement, the instinct kicks in full force, and tells the horse they absolutely must not go near that one corner, lest a lion or other predator leap out and devour them. However, when you are opening the stall door, the instinct flees, and you have a horse than can give itself a laceration, requiring sutures, while stepping out of their same stall for the 5,000th time.
Just recently, I had a horse who, on the hard summer ground, had become a bit footsore. I had the farrier come to make some adjustments to help alleviate the soreness. After the farrier had finished his work, I put the horse back into his stall, went into my house to get my checkbook, wrote the check, and scheduled the next visit. This was a ten-minute break, at most. When I returned to turn the horse back out, I found he had somehow managed to puncture his knee, which is now in week five of its rehabilitation.
I had gone over the stall many times previously, and went over it again that day. I honestly cannot tell you how the horse managed to maim himself in ten minutes, in a stall he had spent part of nearly every day in since I’d gotten him. Where was that precious preservation instinct when he was ramming his knee into heaven only knows what?
However, if it fled that day, it came back in force the first day I had to get on and start walking him – he was certain that lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my, lurked in every bush and tree.
And at what point in evolution did the horse’s ability to discern danger versus not-danger get so skewed? I’ve watched plenty of animal documentaries in my time, and I’ve never seen a wildebeest or antelope go leaping away in terror from the passing of a sparrow, or a breeze through the trees. They save those sorts of energy expenditures for actual lions and leopards. Horses not so much.
And it goes without saying when they leap away from the Sparrow of Death, they will step on themselves and either rip off a shoe or a sizable piece of flesh.
Some people try to mitigate these suicidal tendencies by having more than one horse, on the theory that they can always have something to ride.
Now, you veteran multiple horse owners are rolling around on the floor and laughing hysterically. But, for those of you who have only been blessed with one of these creatures at a time, and think that having two guarantees a ride, let me just say, “You fool.”
I have a friend that currently owns four horses. She is very excited right now, because one of them she can actually ride at the walk for 20 minutes a day. The others are at various stages of stall rest, or retirement. Despite all indications that she is an otherwise intelligent woman, she is vetting a fifth horse this week, in the hope this will be the magic number that will allow her to ride and take lessons.
As a friend, I am of course pulling for her. As a horseman, I’m certain her new purchase will injure itself within a week of getting it home.