We all know one. Most of us have had one, to our regret. The “pet” horse, pony, or the equine world’s version of the devil incarnate, a Shetland pony. It was a gift for the chil’ren, most often a girl child so she could play “doll dress up” – lovingly leading, washing, brushing, feeding treats, weaving ribbons in manes and tails, sometimes even riding them. Indulging them in every whim imaginable till they become the sorriest, most aggravating, vexing things to ever set foot on your place. They became the worst of all things. A “pet.”
I am aware that there are exceptions to every rule. Plenty of people will tell me how wrong I am because I never met “Dixie Ringy Dingy Ding,” the best babysitter ever, in the whole world. They keep him or her in the stall next to the unicorn.
For many reasons, safety being the biggest one, horses should never be considered “pets.” Horse people do a disservice to the public and, more importantly, to horses, by allowing this myth to continue. In my mind, it is not a pet if you can’t pick it up. A little horse is close to 700 pounds and a big horse can top 1,200. A pound of horse muscle is more than a pound of people muscle. With very rare exception, a human being’s reaction time will not be faster than an animal’s.
Good horse training encourages horses to think for themselves, to use the instincts we have bred into them. In our sport, this means being “cow smart” with a high degree of intelligence. It does not mean they will learn to do your taxes. Horses’ instincts go back to Eohippus 54 million years ago. They are prey animals; they have mad-crazy escape skills, like dislodging things from their backs, and deadly accurate kicking to disable a predator long enough to flee. Fleeing is their first reaction to danger, real or imagined. Perception is reality. In a true panic, they will kill themselves and maybe you in the attempt. “Blind panic” is based in reality.
When a horse kicks, it is in the perfect position to flee. Kick, pull feet back under themselves and launch. They can be 30 feet away in one smooth motion while you and your broken leg haven’t even hit the ground. Then they flee at up to 40 mph. If they are dragging you, probably only 38 mph. They are not malicious; they are scared and they
have a very long list of scary things. As far as they are concerned, there are horse-eating monsters in every floor drain. Saber-toothed tigers behind every blue plastic tarp. The “hiss” from an opening Dr. Pepper can is surely a 12-foot-long rattlesnake. Round dark rocks become 10-foot-tall grizzly bears. And you being hung up and drug? You become a chupacabra chasing them. Horses have very vivid imaginations.
No one should ever consider a stud a pet, but they do. If you ever hear, “He acts just like a gelding,” hope you are in the presence of a real professional, and if not, be very careful. Imagine a loaded gun lying on a shelf. It acts just like a toy. One pheromone from a cycling mare is a hair trigger. They can pick up a fat man with their teeth and throw him across the barn.
Many tragedies have roots in the myth that horses are pets. Problems start with inexperienced people seeing the results of good horsemanship and good programs years, even generations, in the making. They see the quiet, well-mannered palomino with the 3-year-old riding in the parade. They, too, want their daughter to ride a palomino in the parade. So, off to the sale barn they go to buy “Dixie Ringy Dingy Ding,” who has 5cc of Rompun in her. The skinny yellow one with the flaxen mane and tail that only needs 2 gallons of sweet feed three times a day. After all, she needs the energy. Eventually, this spoiled animal gets branded as an outlaw. Unmanageable. It does not end well.
There are legal issues with horses being classified as pets. We for sure do not want the IRS thinking of them as pets. Many laws are based on protecting pets. The equine lobbyists fight this constantly. Don’t work against them.
We have a responsibility to people and horses to not portray them as pets. Present professionalism to the public.
Cornbread Thinks: Be an educator.