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First Posted: Arp 7, 2012
Apr 7, 2012

Horse Thoughts and Reactions: What Makes A Horse Do What It Does?

The Equine Mind: Top 10 Things to Know

What makes your horse do what he does? Why does your horse react the way he reacts? How does a horse's brain work? The answers to these questions can be anyone's guess, however, at the 2012 Western Veterinary Conference, held Feb. 19-23 in Las Vegas, Nevada, Robert Miller, DVM, a former equine practitioner from Thousand Oaks, Calif., relayed the top 10 things horse owners, caretakers, and riders should understand about how the equine mind functions.

10 Genetically Predetermined Behavioral Qualities Unique to the Horse

  1. Flight - A horse runs to protect itself from danger.
  2. Perception - According to Dr. Miller the horse is the most perceptive of all domestic animals. They use their five senses: Smell, hearing, touch, taste and sight. (Horses use the top portion of their eyes to see up close, which is why they often lower their heads when investigating something. The lower portion of the eye sees far away, which is why the animal will raise his head when looking at something in the distance; when the horse holds his head up high, he's considered to be in the flight position.)
  3. Reaction - horses might have the fastest reaction time of any domestic animal, which likely results from evolving with flight as their main defense mechanism.
  4. Desensitization - Horses appear to be desensitized faster than any other domestic animal. As long as the horse learns the frightening stimulus does not actually hurt him, the majority will become desensitized.
  5. Learning - Dr. Miller believes that horses are the fastest learner of all domestic animals, including children.
  6. Memory - The horse's memory is infallible second only to the elephant.
  7. Dominance - Horse dominance is NOT based on brute strength. In fact, an older mare is typically the boss.
  8. Movement Control - Forcing or inhibiting movement. To help you assert dominance walk your horse in a few small circles This forced movement asserts your dominance according to Miller.
  9. Body Language - Watch your horse and see how he interacts with the herd. For example, does he lower his head or shake it up and down to move other horses?
  10. Precocial Birth-Horses - shortly after birth they possess the ability to move, eat, flee, and follow, and all of their senses and neurologic functions are mature, Miller said. What does this mean for a human? Aside from providing enjoyment in watching a young foal gallop and buck excitedly around a pasture, it tells us that the horse's critical learning period takes place shortly after parturition. Thus, Miller recommends socializing and imprinting foals in the very early stages of life.

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