The equine factor: Why I do what I do

Posted April 29, 2011, at 3:34 p.m.
Last modified April 29, 2011, at 11:42 p.m.
Cassie Elia and Raphael strut their stuff.
Photo Courtesy of Cassie Elia
Cassie Elia and Raphael strut their stuff.

I’m a horse person. Some may find my devotion to horses unusual, so I’ll tell you why while trying not to offend anyone in the process. (People seem to take offense to others’ words at the drop of a hat these days.)

The challenge most always is one of two things: “Horses are dangerous” or “horses are expensive.”  While neither statement could be classified as false, the same could be said of hockey, skiing, motorcycle racing, or any number of popular activities.

It is true that keeping a horse healthy costs more than keeping your tennis racket in good shape. In return, though, a tennis racket will not greet you with a welcoming nicker when it sees you coming.

Riding can be dangerous, as can be water-skiing, soccer or walking down the stairs. The potential for accidents and injuries abounds everywhere.

As with any activity, the more aware the participant, the less chance for catastrophes. If one knows and understands how horses think and move, react and respond, then the horse is not as “dangerous” as originally perceived.

A horse is a prey animal with all the lifesaving instincts of such, including excellent hearing, vision and sense of smell. All make an animal equipped to sense a threat (whether real or imaginary) and respond accordingly. They are not dumb animals.

There are horses more clever than others, of course. For anyone not familiar with horses, here is an etiquette and safety tip: When encountering a horse, most people want to pet it on the nose. While velvety and inviting, the horse’s nose is incredibly sensitive and patting it is potentially hazardous.

Due to horses’ eyes being on each side of their heads, they can see very well into the distance and around both sides, but not right in front of their noses. So, if you place your hand near a horse’s nose, it loses sight of that hand and it thinks there is potential for food to be supplied by that hand. It may go ahead and chomp, just in case. Fingers are remarkably similar to carrots.

Besides that, the horse’s muzzle is delicate and filled with sensory receptors. Most horses don’t care for being pawed on the nose, as I am sure you would not also. Instead, a more polite and safer way to introduce yourself to a horse is to give it a pat, or even better, a scratch, on the neck. This is more pleasing to the horse and it can then also see you (and whether you have carrots) clearly.

During introductions, keep an eye on the horse’s ears. Either forward or sideways is good. Turned back and flattened ears mean “Watch it, pal!” Some horses, like Howie Mandel, just don’t want to be touched.

Be cautious walking down the stairs, do not expect your tennis racket to acknowledge you, and greet the next horse (and not Howie Mandel) with a scratch on the neck.

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