In addition to regular care of your horse and its hooves, observing the horse's behaviour helps you to understand it better. Try to communicate with your horse, but above all, observe him in the midst of his peers. Horses do not need contact to understand the intentions of their peers. They use a specific body language composed of postures, attitudes and precise movements. Interpreting these codes allows us to detect the physical and psychological state of each horse.
Get to know horses and respect their natural behaviour, for better communication and understanding. They will give you back a hundredfold.
Horse behaviour : knowing how to "listen"
Many riders dream of communicating with their horse as best they can. Showing a certain intuition, trying to imagine and understand what your horse is thinking allows you to better "talk horse". It is a question of :
- dialoguing with the horse to better understand it
- knowing how to listen and feel his expectations
- getting in touch with him
From this "equine intuition" can come the ability to better define the horse's state of mind but also to better understand its character and anticipate its reactions. The same applies to the horse, which studies us and feels all our sensations defined by our heartbeat, such as anger, well-being, stress. The horse helps us to control ourselves, educates us, and is an excellent natural therapy in the life of the rider.
This leads to an inter-species communication between rider and horse. And as Alois Podhajsky said, "the horse teaches man self-control and the ability to enter into the thoughts and feelings of another living being.
Behaviour of the horse in its natural state
The horse is a naturally wild animal living in a herd. Nowadays, although domesticated, the horse has lost none of its natural behaviour when living in the pasture, namely
- to move in groups or alone without straying too far from its fellow horses
- running away when worried or afraid
- move in a group to graze or to drink, or alone without straying too far from other animals
- define a hierarchy in the group between the leader of the herd, the dominant and the dominated.
Therefore, the horse is not a stereotype, an animal programmed to be trained to correspond to our educational expectations. It is necessary to respect its innate behaviour and its natural living conditions to obtain a horse that is "in its right mind".
The horse is a gregarious, intelligent social being with an exceptional memory. They have their own cognitive abilities and mental skills to help them cope with constraints. Knowing the "right buttons" to work better with your horse is good. However, be careful not to impute the same knowledge to your horse as to humans, and to anthropomorphic interpretations or attitudes.
If you don't choose the right gesture or attitude as a rider, the horse cannot understand what you want from him. So, question yourself before you consider the horse to be restive, temperamental or good for nothing ! A so-called bad character or a so-called bad will are in reality very often attributable to the rider who has not understood the needs of his horse.
Behaviour of horses in groups
Observing horses with each other helps you to understand them better. Take the time to watch them evolve in the meadow.
The social organisation of horses
A hierarchy is always in place in a herd of horses. To contribute to the well-being of the horses, it is essential to know and respect this hierarchy. Find out how they are organised, try to identify the leader, the dominant and the dominated.
Here are the main rules of the equine hierarchy :
- The leader leads and manages the herd. Then come the followers.
- As with humans, there are affinities that develop between horses. In a herd, you can see that some horses always stay close to each other. They have created an emotional bond.
- The hierarchical order decides who eats first : first the leader, then the others according to their place in the hierarchy.
- If a dominated person wishes to impose himself without respecting the order, beware of reprisals from his fellow creatures. Threats and physical aggression can be the result !
- The hierarchy also helps to defuse conflicts within the group. If two horses are fighting, the dominant one will be the one to put order in their dispute. He is the one in charge and the other horses respect and regard him as such.
First meeting between two horses
During a first meeting, the two horses will breathe to better identify each other. They may or may not like each other. The reaction is immediate.
Horses have well-defined activities : eating, sleeping, grazing, playing. They also have a set time for grooming.
If you go into the meadow, you will see where the following are located :
- the resting places
- feeding areas, where the grass is rather short
- defined places for rolling
- sometimes an area for droppings
- the dirt path made by the horses to get to the feed rack or water trough.
The attitudes of the horse
Whether they are displayed towards other horses or in any other context, certain attitudes specific to the horse are very recognisable and tell us a lot about its state of mind.
Signs of aggression in the horse
Signs of aggression or threat in the horse are easy to spot :
- He has his ears down, while moving his head forward (towards the other equine, for example).
- His teeth are forward.
- His eyes are fixed and hard.
- His nostrils are pinched.
- He whips his tail.
- It may bite or violently push the other individual.
- He may even lunge at the other horse, kicking and neighing in anger.
If a dominant horse is aggressive towards a dominated horse, the latter will run away or move away by lowering his head with his tail down. He may also use snapping.
Snapping : the horse's aggressive attitude
Snapping allows the horse to show its submission. To achieve this, he :
- stretches its neck
- lowers its head
- chews the air.
Social grooming : mutual grooming
As with humans, horses have preferences and affinities with each other. Mutual grooming, called grooming, is a striking example of this.
The characteristics of social grooming are as follows :
- It has a calming and essential function within the group.
- It helps to defuse the various tensions between the horses.
- It functions as a stress reliever that helps to keep the group together.
Horses that like each other will groom each other. Thus, they will make small scratches by biting very lightly the skin of their buddy with their incisors. The preferred areas are the withers and the area from the middle of the neck to the croup.
During a grooming session, the two horses will be seen head to toe. They can then rest with tail movements to protect the other horse from insects.
Note : some horses also groom their owners when the owner takes the time to groom them. This is a way of thanking the owner and letting him know that he is appreciated.