Synopses & Reviews
Chapter One: The Nature of Horses
In attempting to develop a satisfactory relationship with a horse, it is enormously useful to understand the animal's vocabulary of pantomime and sound. But truly effective communications depend on matters more fundamental than language. To respond adequately to the wants and moods expressed by the horse, we must understand the primary facts of equine nature.
What is it like to be a horse? By means of what physical senses and mental faculties does it perceive and react to its environment? What are its needs and preferences? What are its emotions and how are they provoked? For example, when a horse communicates fear, what is it likely to be afraid of?
Centuries of literature supply a confusion of answers. One reads that horses are hysterically timid, yet courageous in war and sport. One reads that they are nearsighted and color-blind, yet they rivet attention on happenings so distant that a human being needs binoculars to discover what the fuss is about.
We are told that the horse is lamentably dim-witted by comparison with the dog, cat or pig, which possess relatively larger brains. We then learn that the horse finds its way home in the dark over many miles of the most difficult and unfamiliar terrain; understands and responds accurately to human words and tones of voice; remembers individual persons and significant experiences for years; appreciates diversion, being acutely susceptible to the ill effects of boredom; differentiates vulnerable babies from adults of its own and other species; grieves for an absent friend; exults in reunion; and develops conspicuous enthusiasms and antipathies toward individual persons, animals,activities and inanimate objects.
It is agreed that their senses enable horses to recognize the distant approach of friend or foe, distinguish between the two and signal accordingly. That was why American Indians, who understood the nocturnal utterances of their horses, were usually ready to receive friendly visitors but seldom were caught napping by enemies. That particular equine talent, and an apparent ability to anticipate storms and earthquakes, have aroused scholarly speculation about extrasensory perception. If true, that would be a fancy attribute for a supposedly stupid animal. It might even compel an upward revision of the horse's official I.Q.
In sum, either horses or the published appraisals of them are heavily burdened with contradiction. To indicate that the difficulty lies not with the animals but with the kinds of study to which they have been subjected, let us report and analyze a modest experiment undertaken many summer afternoons ago at the Loudon place in Chino' California.
It was one of those magical hours with chores out of the way, horses drowsing, problems dormant, telephone silent and no visitors to disturb the peace. Don, Hazel and Bonnie took their ease in dappled shade and talked horses. Somebody mentioned equine color-blindness, in which none of them believed. Yet the disability had been described in many texts and was generally accepted, like an article of faith.
Don proposed a test. It would be as objective and scientific as possible. Behind the barn, side by side, were two former oil drums of identical dimensions. One was painted blue with a single horizontal white stripe. The other was green, with exactly the same white stripe at the sameelevation. Resting on the drums was a saddle-cleaning rack. The barrels and rack had not been moved for twenty years.
The experimenters removed the rack and reversed the positions of the drums, taking great care. Then they returned the rack to its customary place-same position and same angle relative to the back of the barn, but now atop a different arrangement of drums, with the green one where the blue had been, and vice versa.
Preparations complete, Don strolled around the outside of the barn, entered its front door and went to the stall of Brother Pete, a stallion of Quarter-horse registry, palomino coloring and keen awareness. Don led Pete out of the stall, through the front door, around the side and to the back. When they turned the corner and entered the presence of Hazel and Bonnie, the horse glanced briefly at the women, but something else caught his eye. His ears pricked forward and joined his nose and eyes in deep attention to the oil drums and saddle-cleaning rack. His posture was that of intense curiosity, a primary characteristic of horses.
Pete insisted on going directly to the drums and rack, which he sniffed and nuzzled thoroughly until satisfied that nothing untoward was afoot. He then raised his head and turned toward his friends, ready for work or romp.
The drums and rack had been standard but hardly crucial aspects of Pete's environment ever since his first walk behind the barn many years earlier. Why his sudden interest in those objects? Had he actually perceived a switch of green and blue? Is any other conclusion reasonable?
To illustrate various kinds of undependable thought about horses, and perhaps to immunize the reader against suchthinking, we now present and discuss alternative explanations of Pete's behavior. We make no attempt to arrange the explanations in order of plausibility, which they lack.
1. Pete heard the folks moving the oil drums, wondered what was happening and was eager to find out.
Although the drums were moved without clatter, the horse undoubtedly heard activity behind the barn. He apparently was unexcited about it. He showed no sign of anticipation or even of interest when led from his stall toward the source of the sounds. Indeed, he behaved exactly like a horse on a routine outing until he turned the corner and, in that instant, became a horse perplexed by a change in the environment.
2. Being color-blind, the horse could not have differentiated between green and blue, but might have Perceived two shades of gray in unfamiliar positions.
Much of the learned literature in this field of study is polluted by anthropomorphism, an intellectual defect which compels the sufferer to see animals exclusively in human terms. The shadesof-gray theory is not a blatant example but will do. If a horse can distinguish between two colors, it is not functionally colorblind, regardless of whether it sees the colors in shades of gray, purple or pink. The fact that some human beings see gray or shades of gray instead of red or green is entirely beside the point. Horses are not people.
3. Having overheard Hazel, Don and Bonnie scheming to test his eyesight, the horse had resolved to go along with the gag and Pretend that he could differentiate one color from another.
Horses communicate with remarkable accuracy in a language of posture, gesture and sound. They express their needs, wishes and emotions to each other and to the rare human being who understands them. After reading this unprecedented, exciting and up-lifting book, you will understand the equine language. You therefore will know how to recognize:A happy horse. A frightened horse. An angry horse. A bored horse. A grieving horse. A frustrated horse. A horse horse in pain. A playful horse. A proud horse. An eagerly competitive horse. And many horses more!
Moreover, you will know how to reassure the frightened, calm the angry, comfort the grieving, divert the bored -- and deal with most other human-equine difficulites. You will know how to educate a foal or rehabilitate a rogue. You will know how to look at race horses on their way to the starting gate and differentiate the likely winners from the losers.
You even will know how to buy a horse.
But best of all, you will finally understand what these grand animals are all about, and you will know better than ever before how they (and we) fit into nature's scheme of things.
About the Author
Tom Ainslie, the leading authority on race handicapping, is author of The Complete Horseplayer, Ainslie on Jockeys, Ainslie's Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing, Handicapper's Handbook, Theory and Practice of Handicapping, Ainslie's Complete Guide to Harness Racing, Ainslie's Complete Hoyle and Ainslie's Encyclopedia of Thoroughbred Handicapping.Tom Ainslie, the leading authority on race handicapping, is author of The Complete Horseplayer, Ainslie on Jockeys, Ainslie's Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing, Handicapper's Handbook, Theory and Practice of Handicapping, Ainslie's Complete Guide to Harness Racing, Ainslie's Complete Hoyle and Ainslie's Encyclopedia of Thoroughbred Handicapping.
Table of Contents
Nature of horses -- Physical senses -- Vision -- Hearing -- Touch -- Smell -- Taste -- Physical needs -- Food -- Water -- Sleep -- Exercise -- Grooming -- Space -- Mental and social attributes -- Fears -- Memory -- Curiosity -- Playfulness -- Boredom and frustration -- Comprehension -- Social attributes -- Horse language -- Happy horse -- Proud horse -- Interested horse -- Eager horse -- Healthy horse -- Sharp horse -- Bereaved horse -- Frightened horse -- Bored horse -- Sour horse -- Angry horse -- Horse in pain -- Sick horse -- Hungry horse -- Thirsty horse -- Underweight horse -- Overheated horse -- Cold horse -- lethargic horse -- Tired horse -- Herding horse -- Submissive horse -- Sexually aroused horse -- Drugged horse -- Buzzed horse -- Vocal language -- Body language and the rider -- Solving problems -- Frighteded horse -- Angry horse -- Sour horse -- Perverse horse -- Bereaved horse -- Sleepless horse -- Convalescent horse -- Vices -- Confusion.