I love reading the Ask the Experts section in Horse And Rider magazine. However, this time, one of the questions caught my eye and I found myself disagreeing with the expert.
The question for the expert was “How can I tell when my horse is genuinely scared of something rather than when he’s just having me on?” This question was answered by Catherine Bell, an equine behaviourist. To sum up her response, she said; horse’s are not capable of doing things just to annoy us and their natural instinct is to spook when something appears different or new.
I agree to an extent, however, I do feel that horses can ‘have you on’. I have known horses, Scottie is one of them, who find schooling boring and will spook to avoid having to work properly. While I am tacking Scottie up, I can usually tell whether Scottie is going to be very cooperative or not in the school. When he is not feeling like doing work, any time I lose focus, he is likely to spook or nap. After this behaviour, it then takes us a little while to get back to what we were doing, so Scottie gets a break from the work he was finding hard/didn’t want to do. Because of this, I would have to disagree with Catherine Bell’s response.
Yes, there could be other explanations, such as when the horse is focused on its work it is not noticing potentially ‘scary’ things and as soon as we lose focus, they lose focus and notice these things. However, I do think horses are capable of understanding the consequences of their actions and that sometimes, spooking can be a form of napping and avoidance.
What is your opinion on this?
I couldn’t find the article online, but if you want to read it, it was in Horse And Rider February 2016 issue.