Published 12-24-2010 2:32 PM | Fernanda Camargo
We will start a series that will include physical and behavioral characteristics of horses, which make them who they are, and which will give us clues on how to behave when near them.
What differs wild horses from domesticated horses is the fact that domesticated horses have learned to accept the interaction with us, humans. Wild horses, and those that have had only bad experiences with humans, act on instinct. Even domesticated horses, when pressed, will act instinctively. That is why it is important that people who deal with horses understand horse characteristics.
Horses are large, herd-living herbivores. Apart from size, horses share the same general characteristics.
Horses have very sensitive skin, which can detect flying pests. Horses can twitch areas of the skin and will even kick forward with a back leg if he feels the lightest touch of an insect. Some areas of the horse are even more sensitive than others. Those include the upper lip, the muzzle, ears, feet, legs and flank. This is why it is important to handle those areas with gentleness and care. Some horses, especially the ones that haven't been started correctly, resent and do not allow people to handle those areas. These are the horses that are difficult to deworm with a pasty wormer, horses that don't let you pick their feet and hooves, don't let you touch their flanks and don't let you anywhere near their ears.
Horses also have very strong and sharp teeth. This, in combination with a long neck, allows the horse to swing their heads from side to side or reach out to bite. A horse's bite crushes instead of tearing (such as with a dog's bite).
Horses' hooves are small, but powerful. A horse can use both their front and rear feet to protect himself. He can strike with his front feet and kick with his hind feet. Moreover, a horse can strike or kick either with one leg or both.
Horses use their ears to aid their eye sight, trying to detect where the potential danger is coming from. Each ear of a horse can swivel 180 degrees and also adopt other different positions according to what the horse is trying to express.
People that deal with horses need to learn how horses use their different parts in their body language. The most common areas used, or the ones that are easy for us to detect a change are their ears, tail, legs, lips, eyes and head. We will discuss those in the next blogs.
It is also important to know that a horse, being a prey animal, when in danger, will try to run away (flight response), but when confined or given no choice to run away, a horse will fight to protect himself. We, as horse lovers, need to be sensitive and perceptive of the cues the horses give us, when they try to indicate discomfort, fear, anger, disrespect, etc, and we need to respond accordingly and fairly.