This month I thought I’d take time out of my story to talk about something which effects not only us as Therapy Horses, but all equines, at various times…
Whilst at a county show, I noticed how adults and children alike tend to reach over the fence at my friends and I…or into a stable and pat any horse they see…without thinking about how it must feel to us. How our little fenced off area, or the inside of a stable, can suddenly become some horrifying flesh octopus made of human fingers reaching over, or into the stable, whilst we, the horses, strategically try to nap in the far corner.
“Look at the horsey!” parents exclaim, almost passing their infants into the pen or stable itself.
They don’t think about the baby getting knocked out of mum’s arms when the horse reaches back to scratch an itch and the baby landing with a thud on the floor in the floor between the horse’s hooves. Shudder.
As a Therapy Horse I am pretty used to most things and I have no desire to ruin the magic of horses for anyone…but we are just that…horses.
It’s disappointing that many people are so disconnected from themselves, the natural world, and the creatures around them that they think animals like horses are plush toys, instead of living things with nerve-endings and patience limits.
It makes sense, though. Fewer and fewer people spend time around livestock and human culture is increasingly retreating indoors. It is estimated that most people spend 5% or less of their day outside.
Once, I heard my owner, April, explaining to a little girl how to stroke me on the neck instead of reaching for my face.
“Why?” she asked.
“Would you like it if I patted you in the face?” she replied and then mimed sticking her hand over her own nose and eyes like an angry starfish.
The little girl reflexively pulled back, scrunched up her face, and shook her head.
“The horse doesn’t really like it either. Don’t worry, people make that mistake all the time.”
So much of animal care is about safety, empathy, and reading body language. Equestrians have had many hard-learned lessons about where to stand and what to notice. They know what each ear flick, eye twitch, and stomach gurgle mean. They know to beware the ‘mare stare’ amongst other things.
It is easy to forget that other people, like the little girl, haven’t learned any of the rules the horse-obsessed people have so carefully studied. Often these same people want to be kind, but all they know about horses came from Game of Thrones or the old fallacy that, “Horses are just big dogs, right?”
Even though it can be frustrating, every tiny empathy lesson we can teach makes the world a little better. How wonderful would it be if everyone slowed down and considered both the animals and people around them? What if being kind, listening, and asking questions reaped more rewards than taking and grabbing?
A kinder world sounds exactly like the kind of place I want to be.
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