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Why do we humanise horses?

I think it’s safe to say that at some point, we’ve all been guilty of humanising horses at least once or twice, normally because we want the very best for our horses and we automatically assume doing things that bring us a feeling of comfort and safety will also bring feelings of comfort and safety to our horses.

Sadly, it’s become a normal and almost expected practice in the equine world to keep our horses in a way that makes us FEEL like we’re doing what’s right, rather than paying attention to our horses as a species and looking at what their actual needs are.

So often we hear owners talk about their horse’s loving routine because it relaxes them and eases anxiety. Sometimes their horses will even wait at the gate for them, desperately wanting to come into their warm, comfortable stable. In actuality, we owners are guilty of applying our own routines to our horses that fit in around our own lives, work and families. Our horses grow increasingly dependent on us despite their needs often going unmet.

If we take the stable example, it’s very easy to twist a picture to fit our own feelings about something.

Some owners talk about bringing their horses into a stable like this:

- ‘My horse hates staying out, he starts charging around the field, pawing at the ground and neighing from the gate for me. He only relaxes when I bring him into his warm, dry stable with a big bed made up.’

After years of working with anxious horses with issues that stem from this type of environment, it’s now very easy to look at this picture differently.

- Your horse is used to the daily routine you have set for him, and associates coming in from the field with whatever bucket feed, hay or treats you give him when he’s bought into his stable. The stable may be warm and dry but said horse is now isolated away from any companionship and has had his ability to move freely taken away.

To us humans, somewhere cosy and peaceful to curl up out of the rain or wind sounds like pure bliss. No wet pants, no soggy coats, no cold fingers and somewhere comfortable to sit down whilst it’s dark outside. Our horse’s don’t think this way.

If we look at how wild horse’s behave and live, we know that they are herd animals that feel safety in numbers. We also know they constantly forage throughout the day and move upwards of 20 miles a day from resource to resource. Some owners disagree with looking to wild horses for indications of how our horses should live, simply because these horses are wild and the horses standing around in their field are domesticated. Regardless, there is no biological difference between the two. We look to the behaviours, diet and environment of the wild horse because there is little to no human interference; they are left to behave, live and forage however their species requires it.

We as owners have a tendency to heavily disrupt the 3 or 4 major aspects of how wild and free-roaming horses live which typically results in an array of issues that ‘pop up out of nowhere’. Next time you go to put your horse in a stable or over-rug them, ask yourself why. If your reasoning lies in human emotion, comfort or routine and doesn’t meet your horse’s most basic and natural needs, then it’s time to rethink your management.

Just because you’re cold, doesn’t mean your horse is.

Just because you’d rather be in somewhere warm at night, doesn’t mean your horse does too.

Just because routine helps you feel more in control and less stressed, doesn’t mean it’s good for your horse.

The sooner we stop humanising horses and start treating them like the entirely separate species that they are, the better.

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