Ok so the title is a little bit of an exaggeration. But when you’re on a giant Thoroughbred and he spooks at something you can’t even hear, let alone see, it completely sucks all the breath out of you like one of those nightmares where you’re falling but never hit the bottom!
It wasn’t until I bought Nigel, that I realised there are many horse eating monsters around every corner. They come in the form of fluffy cats and little hopping bunnies. And don’t get me started on the petrifying Mother Nature! It does make you wonder though, what goes on in the mind of a horse? I’d like to think that in that big ol’ noggin of Nigel’s, there is the devil (which in the horse world is definitely a pony or chestnut mare) and an angel (undeniably a magical unicorn) debating “to spook or not to spook”.
I guess I’m glad I can say that Nigel is used to all the bunnies now, but oh boy, do not even have a fluffy cat anywhere he could smell, hear or see it, because as a 500kg horse up against a FLUFFY CAT, that’s terrifying! (For the horse obviously). It does make you think how such a powerful, huge animal almost instinctively defaults to a flight response? Well, horses don’t think like us humans. We are predators and they are prey animals, and we need to understand it from the perspective of being the hunted and not the hunter.
Being a prey animal is so heavily ingrained into horses that sometimes the smallest thing can appear to feel like a threat (yes including a fluffy cat!). And as an Equestrian, you would probably already know that having confidence and control in a spooky situation can make all the difference.
A horse is a mirror to your soul. Sometimes you might not like what you see, sometimes you will – Buck Brennaman
Think about it, you’re walking through an ally way, the same way you go every day. But it’s a little bit windy and you are with your uptight, nervous friend. They keep grabbing you tightly and hanging off your shoulder. All of a sudden you start to feel tense and nervous too, and bolt out of the ally quicker than you can say fluffy cat! Now imagine walking back through the same ally way, but this time with your confident friend who is leading the way, well, do you even give a second thought about any cats or wind?
So remember the next time you are working with Mr Spooky Face (ahmm, Nigel), their behaviour is a reflection of how they feel, but their reaction is a reflection of how we control the situation. We sure as hell won’t get it right all the time (trust me), but we’re only human, after all!
This blog is the personal opinion and experience of the author. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor or trainer for your own specific situation or circumstance.