Out of nowhere?

Behavior has always fascinated me.  Understanding the reasons why horses react and behave as they do means that I can consciously make changes that will cause the reactions and behaviors to be more to my liking if that’s what I desire.  The following video came across my FB feed.  I’d like to pose this question to people:  Did this horse attack the man without warning?

The translation isn’t very good, but from what I can gather the horse is a stallion who’s had, at the least, some incompetent handling to this point.  The man that gets attacked, I believe is trying to sort the horse out.

Before I give my opinion on the video I’d like to digress for a moment and talk about two experiences I’ve had with horse behavior that were what I consider out of the norm.  I’ve often said that horse’s telegraph what’s coming next and that people just miss the signals because they aren’t paying close enough attention.  I still hold to that belief even though I’ve experienced a (singular) horse that didn’t *originally* tell me shit before losing his mind, repeatedly.

There was none of the usual signs you’d expect from a horse that wasn’t okay in the moment; no ear movement, no increase in body tension, no reluctance to move forward, no eye rolling, no change in respiration (no blowing, snorting, or holding of the breath), and there wasn’t anything new being introduced.  Not tack or exercise.  No changes in regime, turn out, food, or other management practices.  And no weather changes or astrological events.

I know at this point someone is thinking, ‘she had to have been missing something’.  Anything is possible, but I sure put every effort and resource into figuring the horse out.  I knew why the behavior existed, but I couldn’t for the life of me predict when it would rear its ugly head.  So I forged onward and spent copious amounts of time building the relationship, and then one day out of the blue it happened.

I remember exactly the moment the horse gave me the first obvious, clear and unmistakable sign that things were not okay in the moment and he was about to lose his mind – a singular smack of his jaw that rattled the bit in his mouth.  This was a horse that had always held the bit quietly in his mouth (no, I wasn’t trying out a new bit, it was one he’d worn for well over a year, and no, he hadn’t just got his teeth done), nor had he ever gaped his mouth, crossed his jaw or anything of that nature and here he was snapping his jaw while on a casual walk, on a long rein, in a field he’d been to hundreds of times.  That was followed quickly by an increase in body tension he’d never given me before.  I changed direction and asked him to move on a bit and he immediately relaxed and quieted his mouth.

The horse went on to develop other tells and soon I had the entire spectrum of horse-not-okay signals.  Those were followed up with all sorts of new and wonderful horse-perfectly-content signals, and horse-being-a-clown signals and so on.  He developed into quite the ‘talker’.

Currently I’m working with a horse that was exactly the opposite.  This horse was constantly yelling and flashing red neon signals, ‘I’m not okay! I’m not okay!’, even though there wasn’t a darn thing going on in the moment that should be upsetting him.  I did my best to reassure him that all was fine, but he clearly wasn’t buying what I was selling.

I forged on, concentrating on building the relationship, and lo and behold he started to believe me.  We’re a long way from the end.  He’s still not okay, but more times than not he’ll ask me first if he should lose his mind, and more times than not he believes me when I say, ‘you’re okay’.

Back to the video.  When I watched it the first time it appeared the horse attacked without warning and that just didn’t ring true to me from what I know and understand about horses, especially since it appears from the translation that this man understood this stallion was spoiled.  So I watched it again and paused it a few times to get a better look at the horse.  Sure enough the horse’s ears were splayed right from the start.   Then the left ear comes forward to focus on whatever is in the man’s hand – looks like a cow hide to me – indicating the horse is wary of that hide.  As the man approaches, he drops the hand holding the hide a bit and the horse’s ears go right back.  That hide is no longer acting as a ‘shield’ for the man and now the horse has the man lined up for the attack.  The action that prevents the attack in the next moment is to back off and lift the hide up again.

I also think the horse is verbalizing in a most unusual way in the video.  Turn up the sound and see if you think the horse is ‘talking’.

I hope the man wasn’t seriously injured, and I hope the horse was able to be rehabilitated into a safe equine citizen.  The lesson here is to never ignore what the horse is telling you.  If you don’t understand the conversation or the context, stop.

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