Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Soul of a Horse

We don't usually use our blog for things like recommending books, but several weeks ago one of TREES' volunteers (Thank You, Tanya) began talking about a book she was reading. She related some of the author's thoughts and said it really helped her better understand horses, from behavior to health and everything in between.

After reading only 1/4 of the book, I have to recommend it to our visitors. The Soul of a Horse: Life Lessons from the Herd alternates chapters about "modern" horse management and training with vignettes illustrating feral or "wild" horse herd dynamics at work. Joe Camp, in writing the book this way, shows how we first need to understand horses' "language" if we want to communicate with them effectively.

Mr. Camp also talks about how many modern horsekeeping schemes are not at all in the best interest of the horses. If you think about it, almost nothing we do with or "for" horses is natural for the horse, including the foods we offer, the stalls in which we confine them, and the shoes, blankets and tack we ask them to wear. In some cases, traditional horse care techniques can even shorten a horses life. (For example, feeding to obesity and inviting laminitis, or keeping a horse in a poorly ventilated stall, irritating his respiratory system.)

Often, the way we keep horses is the way "its always been done." This excerpt from the book sums it up:
"Its still a mystery to me how people can ignore what seems so obvious, so logical, simply because it would mean change. Even though the change is for the better. I say look forward to the opportunity to learn something new. Relish and devour knowledge with gusto. Always be reaching for the best possible way to do things. It keeps you alive, healthy and happy. And makes for a better world."
This one passage also sums up what we try to do at Traveller's Rest. No two horses are the same. No two have the same personality, the same history, the same learned behaviors. Each one arrives as a puzzle, to be solved as we become acquainted. Only when we learn to interpret each horse as an individual can we develop a care regimen for that horse. To interpret each horse as an individual, we must understand how things appear to the horse rather than how things look to us. Then, when we feel we've deciphered a horse's needs, we do our best to customize care plans, but always starting with maximum turnout and forage based diets.

Does managing horses this way take a little extra work? Doing what's in the horses' best interests is not always what is most convenient for the caregivers. So in some ways, yes, individual management plans mean a little more work. In the long run, however, it often means the horses stay healthier and live and work longer.

In following Mr. Camp's advice, spend time just watching your horses. Learn how they interact with each other, how they communicate with each other. In other words, learn from the horses. After all, they have centuries of experience being horses. Who better to teach us how to care for them?

Honor the Wisdom.

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