Horse Sense


On urging from my wife, I am finally going to write something down that happened many years ago. I am not aware of anybody actually “documenting” this theory anywhere else, so here goes.

When I was in college the first time, I thought I wanted to be a Veterinarian. I was not really sure what I wanted to be, but that’s besides the point here. I mostly majored in partying and what we used to call “Amateur Pharmacology.” If it went into a pipe we used to smoke it. It was the 1970’s and experimentation was rampant. Especially amongst us young “indestructible” types.

Anyhow, what eventually happened was I nearly died in a car wreck going down the freeway at 3a drunk as a skunk, and then a few months later got a DUI. Within a few months after that, I was going to jail, or to rehab for my drug habit. I “chose” rehab since I really had no other choice. I spent 31 days in a rehab, and came out clean and sober (at least for 31 days) and scared to death!

I had finally come to realize I was not indestructible, and that if I didn’t stay sober it might cost me my life. So, I spent a few short months looking for a job, and finally went back to work in the Veterinary business with Dr. Kelly in Rolling Hills (LA). I worked my butt off for an entire year with Doc Kelly, wrangling horses, training horses, riding, and taking X-rays of horse’s feet on Doc’s days off (Wednesdays).

It was quite a year, let me tell you. I had already had a leg broke by a rank stallion, so I knew horses could be mean. But, during that year I worked with Doc Kelly, I was bit, stepped on (some more) kicked (nearly killed that time), saddened to the point of crying, maddened to the point of wanting to hit some of those weekend cowboys right smack in the jaw!

It was also an interesting year, and an enlightening year. At the end of the year, contemplating the entire business, I made the painful decision that Veterinary work was not for me. I decided to get into computers instead. But, I was going to tell you about what I learned about horses that nobody else has ever “discovered” (to the best of my knowledge). I’m getting to that. I know, my storytelling is round-about sometimes, sorry.

Horses are very sensitive creatures. While stallions and mares can be out and out mean (it was a stallion who broke my leg, and a mare that kicked me and tried to kill me), there are some that are genuinely sensitive and affectionate, in a non-human kind of way. I had owned two geldings that were both gentle and affectionate. They would both whinny a greeting when I came in the barn, and nicker softly if I brought them a treat. They were both gentle, and patient with me, as I was learning them and their kind and I think they knew they were my teachers.

While working for Doc, I worked with probably a couple thousand horses. I was not afraid of horses. I caught all those horses, some in stalls, some in paddocks, some in pastures, most with halters, some with lassos. I held newborns, I held a horse one time that was 37 years old! That’s just ANCIENT for a horse!

I gave horses injections, I restrained the toughest ones so Doc could work on them. Like I said, I worked with all kinds. We even worked on horses that had killed people! They don’t necessarily put a horse down you know, just because somebody did something dumb like let the horse kill him. You’re supposed to take precautions with mean or dangerous horses, that’s all.

Anyhow, so I knew an awful lot about horses at one time in my life. As I said, I had horses before I ever worked with Doc, and I had worked with many horses prior to that also, training and breaking and all kinds of activities. I had even worked with Doc a summer (1979?) some years before this particular year (1983-84).

I knew horses well, that’s my point. One day, we came to this one stable to work on a horse. This particular horse was known to be “skitterish” which is a horseman’s term that means the horse is a fearful animal. The horse was a hunter / jumper, quite large in other words. While skitterish doesn’t necessarily mean the horse is dangerous, you still must take precautions when approaching this type of animal. This horse was a gelding, so again, not apt to be mean.

I walked up to the horse, having already caught and worked on several horses that day, so things were fairly “routine.” I entered the stall with the horse, and I could see he was visibly shaking from fear. Suddenly I noticed I was visibly shaking with fear too, even though I was not afraid! I felt no fear whatsoever, yet I was shaking – visibly!

I talked with Doc about it, and decided then and there, that there must be more to this “horse sensitivity” stuff than we know or have documented anywhere. I started forming a theory: Horses are herd animals. Herd animals are known to display “herd” instincts, or “flocking” behavior. But, there is no “known” explanation for how herds of animals, or schools of fish seem to all turn at the same time, or take off running at the same time, or why “schools” of fish stay in schools and birds stay in flocks for that matter. Reaction time alone cannot explain the behaviors. There must be something more to it.

My theory developed into the following: We have all heard of this exhibit out there called “The Body” or “Bodies, The Exhibition,” right? So, I want you to think now of the way they inject plastic into the various body parts and then strip away the other layers of flesh. What you see left behind is muscle, organs, or other types of tissue. Now, imagine if you will, injecting the nervous system of a creature with this plastic and stripping everything else away (even the bone). What have you got left?

In a vertebrate creature, especially a large one like a horse, it’s easy to imagine what you have left is a brain at one end, with this long thing that has nerves coming off all along the length of it. That long bundle is the spinal cord of course, and the nerves coming off it make it look like, guess what, an antenna!

So, this theory I was formulating just took the shape of an antenna, and I started thinking that maybe herd animals “broadcast” low frequency signals that are meant to be picked up – primarily by creatures of the same species – for short distances (being very low power). But, what if, a human “tuned” or “sensitized” to horses can start to pick up those same frequencies by virtue of the fact that they have spent enough time with horses? Is that what “horse whispering” or “horse sense” really is?

If this were true, then it could easily explain “herd” or “flocking” behaviors too. I did not continue my education in Animal Science, but I always thought this would be a good area for research. Anybody interested in putting this theory to the test?

This just might explain the whole theory of “Horse Whispering.” Let’s face it, if the nervous system of a “higher” animal is designed to be a transmitter, then it must also be a receiver (obviously). So, is that what Horse Whisperers make use of, tuning themselves to horses, and using that ability (broadcasting, rather than receiving) to calm and otherwise pacify anxious horses? That’s somewhat a corollary to my theory here, but an important one to be sure.

If you would like to extend the theory a little bit then you might apply it to Dressage, where horse and rider are supposed to be “one.” Everyone who has ridden horses long enough can tell you that eventually, you and the horse start to become accustomed to one another, and the horse starts to seem as if he’s “reading your thoughts.” All you gotta do is think turn left, and he does it. Some will tell you that your slightest shifting of weight and so on is what causes the horse to turn, but I could almost start to apply the theory I’m proposing here because some horses and their riders literally seem to just be “one.” Maybe that’s just a dumb application of this theory, but it’s an extension that I’d propose anyhow.

I would surely appreciate any comments folks might have on this theory. I’ve cogitated it for many years and cannot seem to poke any holes in it. It’s just that it would be darned hard to prove, that’s all. I’m not even sure where you’d start to try and verify it.

Anyhow, there you go. That’s my “Horse Sense” theory.

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2 thoughts on “Horse Sense

  1. There is an extensive, specialized vocabulary used to describe equine-related concepts, covering everything from anatomy to life stages, size, colors, markings, breeds, locomotion, and behavior. Their anatomy enables them to make use of speed to escape predators and they have a well-developed sense of balance and a strong fight-or-flight instinct.

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