Whilst I accept that horses are, physiologically speaking, very different from us homosapiens I cannot entirely agree with Catherine Bell responding to Louisa Briggs in her letter to Horse & Rider magazine in February’s issue, page 67. To paraphrase Louisa is asking how one knows when a horse is genuinely afraid of something and when it is just having us on. Again paraphrasing, Catherine says that horses don’t have the neurological capacity to “have us on”.
I would like to emphasise here that I am no biologist or animal behaviourist but I would be very interested to hear Catherine’s response to the tale I am about to tell.
There was a time when I had responsibility for a herd of seven horses who lived out. Every morning I would go out catch them all and bring them in for their breakfast prior to exercising them. They all had their own spot in the field where they would sleep. I suppose it was a bit like us preferring to sleep on one side of the bed over the other. I would find them all in the same place every morning. Almost every morning.
Then one day I had instructions to bring in one particular mare – Tilly, the alpha mare. Out I trundled to the field. No sign of any horses in the field whatsoever except for Sharma, standing at the far side of the field half way up (the field was on a steep hillside) effectively on the horizon and whinnying her head off as if she was laughing at me. No other horses in sight. Certainly not in their usual places.
After wondering around the field for a while I found them hiding in or behind bushes, or in dips in the field out of view. For each horse I found, I brought it in, tied it up and gave it breakfast (starting with Sharma to stop her laughing at me!). As these things go, Tilly was the last to be found. When I did eventually find her she popped into canter and scribed perfect circles around me, jumping the water trough at the bottom of the slope just out of arms reach. I can’t remember how long it took Tilly to get bored of this and decide she wanted her breakfast, or how long it took me to round them all up in total, but we’re talking hours.
That evening, lying awake in my bed and pondering the morning’s events I concluded that the horses must have colluded with each other to instigate the game of Hide and Seek. It is for this reason that I believe horses are capable on some level of deliberate sabotage, they are capable of deliberately doing something to affect what we are doing and change what we are thinking.