This image always grabs me, and no pun intended. George Stubbs is my all-time favorite painter of horses, but this particular painting is hard to look at, for obvious reasons. It does bring the concept of predator into sharp focus, though, doesn’t it? It’s also a perfect lead-in to what I’d like to talk about, and that’s the difference between being a predator and acting like one.
I’ve written before about how important it is not to behave in ways that cause your horse to regard you as a predator (“Are You Stalking Your Horse?“). Now, something I read in a book by Robert M. Miller, DVM, over the weekend has clarified this whole concept for me.
You see, it’s always been hard for me to imagine any of my horses regarding me as a predator, no matter how I behave. My horses know me. They know how I look and how I smell and the sound of my voice. I’m the person who feeds them and grooms them and scratches their itchy spots. How could they ever view me as a predator?
The answer is, they don’t need to. As Dr. Miller makes clear in Natural Horsemanship Explained, “Horses are not afraid of predators. They’re afraid of predatory behavior.”
To support this premise, Miller points out that horses can be persuaded to work with tamed tigers in circus acts?even to the extent of allowing the tigers to ride on their backs. (The lion is behaving like a rider, not a predator.) Zebras aren’t alarmed by the sight of a pride of lions in repose; they react only when the lions arise and take on a predatory posture, and thereby become menacing.
Most horses aren’t automatically afraid of dogs, but if a border collie assumes a stalking pose and fixes its gaze on a horse, the horse will notice and react.
So, think about this when you’re working with and riding your horse. If your goal is to form the closest bond with him you possibly can, you’ll want to be very mindful of how you behave and the signals you send.
You want to be your horse’s respected leader?not something that even vaguely brings to mind Stubbs’ lion.