A Horse With A Sense Of Humor? Treading The Line Between ‘Funny’ And ‘Dangerous’

by | 08.21.2015 | 8:23am

Horses have very distinct personalities, and most owners have at least one story about their equine counterpart doing something silly to keep himself entertained.

Though people tend to apply human emotions to their horse's actions, equine behavior experts have determined that horses often do exhibit actions humans would characterize as funny.

Horses come by some of these behaviors naturally, while they pick up others by interacting with humans. No matter how the horse learned it, handlers should remember to respond accordingly.

Dr. Sarah Ralston, VMD, PhD, DACVN, and professor in the Animal Science Department of Rutgers University, said that horses exhibit “playful” behaviors throughout their lives. Young males engage in mock fights and play “tag” as they learn the physical and social skills they will need to survive in the wild. Mares may run to incite stampedes and buck imaginary predators off their backs. Ralstron has found that geldings tend to be funnier than mares.

Horses can demand attention from their handlers by pawing, kicking or trying to bite. Humans may accidentally reinforce these behaviors by feeding treats to the animal in an effort to placate them. The problem arises when the horse feels the handler has not responded quickly enough or in the “correct” manner—he could get aggressive in an effort to get his desired response.

There is a fine line between a playful joke from a horse and an overly aggressive animal created by his owner rewarding the same behavior, Ralston warns. It's critical for owners and handlers to decide which behaviors they are willing to tolerate and which are absolutely unacceptable. Here are some keys to teaching and reminding horses of what behaviors will be tolerated:

  • Start early
  • Wear a “game face”
  • Be consistent
  • Be patient
  • Don't get discouraged
  • Get help from a trainer if needed

Read more at horsechannel.com

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