Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Natural / Unnatural

Lately I've been reading a lot about horse behaviour in the wild and equine ethology in an attempt to understand Starbuck better and try to create a lifestyle which suits us both.  Today I found an article online which I really enjoyed and which seems to be more scientifically based than a lot of the information out there.  It's called The Natural Horse and Unnatural Behaviour and seems written in an attempt to inform veterinarians of normal behaviour so they'll recognize when they're confronted with the abnormal.  Here's a compilation of some of the most interesting bits of information in the article; which I recommend to anyone hoping to understand their horse better.

What I've learned (among other stuff):
  • Why horses spook: "The modern horse evolved on the plain and developed eyesight with relatively good acuity, which was able to focus on distant objects, but was also very perceptive to small movements, particularly in the peripheral range, which might have indicated a stalking predator."
  • On stamina: "The modern horse evolved, essentially, as a plains dweller, ranging up to 80 km per day (Lindberg, 1998), exploring and roaming over wide open spaces; in addition, by comparison to ruminants which tend to eat fairly fast and then ruminate for long periods, the horse grazes relatively slowly and keeps on the move for longer, with shorter periods at rest."
  • Why horses are so easy to train: "To live successfully as part of a herd, individuals in any herding species have developed a behavioural repertoire designed to reduce tension between individuals and increase cohesion between group members. This bias towards affiliative behaviour rather than aggressive behaviour is crucial if individuals are not going to spend valuable time and energy guarding resources and fighting. To this end, horses are very communicative animals with highly developed social skills and are motivated to cooperate rather than dominate."
  • The importance of grooming: "When humans groom a horse, they are essentially asking the horse to initiate a mutual grooming session, which most horses are delighted to cooperate with by nibbling the person in return (much to the chagrin of some owners). Ideally, if the horse has the urge to respond, rather than punish the behaviour, offer an alternative medium for his attention e.g. a piece of coconut matting placed at the right height."
  • Problems with conventional breeding: "It has also been observed that in the wild, once copulation has taken place, the mare moves forward and the stallion, who is resting on the mare's back, does not strain himself by trying to lift his bodyweight up and back (McDonnell, 1998) which may encourage the development of breeding problems. Houpt, 1998 reports that between 10 and 25% of stallions examined for breeding soundness were found to have behavioural problems. Stallions kept stalled have been reported as having lower testosterone levels than those who run with their own harem and some stallions are more likely to copulate in the presence of a third horse, particularly if it is another stallion (Houpt, 1998)."

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