We are all aware that we communicate with our own species verbally and non-verbally. But when trying to communicate with another species, I have observed, during my veterinary career, that many people simple use language and voice tone to communicate with animals such as the horse.
The horse, a prey species in the wild depends upon much more than its hearing to protect itself and to precipitate its defenses, which primarily consist of flight – or fight (kick, bite or strike).
So, for example, if we approach a horse rapidly, forcefully, staring at it, with our fists closed, and aiming directly at it, these are all typical predator approaches, and (unless the horse has been skillfully trained to accept these), it will arouse concern to the horse and may then precipitate defensive action.
So, I learned, long before I became a veterinarian to always approach horses in a non-predatory manner.
What does that mean?
First of all I do not stare at the horse. That is predatory. Instead, as I move casually, I look just beyond the horse and try to move in a relaxed manner.
Horses, a remarkable observant species, even responds to our facial expressions and if our hands are relaxed. As I approach I aim slightly to the side or behind the horse. This reassures them. Predators travel directly at their prey. I also try to move in a casual and relaxed manner. If I detect fear or concern, I slow down, look away, take a slow deep breath, arms at my side and try to ease up to the horse’s shoulder. Then, even if I am in a hurry and behind schedule, I begin by lightly stroking the withers before checking the involved body part I was called to see or treat.
I learned all this working with many dangerous horses as a young man. I did get hurt, and learned from such experiences.
As a result, becoming a veterinarian at age thirty, I was able to work with many thousands of horses without ever sustaining a serious injury. In my countless seminars to my colleagues, I have tried to emphasize these comments. Hopefully, I have therefore helped to prevent injuries to the hard-working and pressured colleagues in my profession.
And, I want to share this advice with all horse owners.
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