How To Think Like a Horse

This summer I’ve been building a library of horse books, especially ones focusing on equine psychology and behavior. The stack on my bedside table is a little intimidating, but I’m slowly working my way through it. Here’s how they look spread out:

And below are the counseling-related books I’ve acquired in the past year. The stack on the right represents required textbooks for the UNCG counseling program. The books on the left are ones I bought for my own interest.

This provides visual proof that humans are even more complicated than horses, in case you hadn’t noticed. Maybe if horses could speak in words and sit on therapists’ couches, the amount of literature in both fields would be more balanced.

As I work my way through the horse books, I’ll offer occasional reviews. Today I’m putting out my thoughts on How To Think Like a Horse.

How To Think Like a Horse (2006, Storey Publishing, $19.95)  is a good primer in horse behavior. It’s well designed, with lots of color photos, diagrams, drawings, and charts. Author Cherry Hill writes clearly and accessibly, with the firm-minded warmth I’ve come to expect in thoughtful horse people. I adored her as soon as I read these words in her preface:

When I was a very young child, I not only wanted to be with horses all of the time, but I even wanted to be a horse. I galloped, reared, kicked, and nickered. When I saw a new thing, I’d walk up very cautiously, roll my head forward and down to get a really good look, and then I’d jump lightly to the side with a squeal. Then I’d approach the item again to smell it with an air of suspicion and high alertness, all the while making snorting and blowing sounds. I even did this at the dinner table to inspect my food….Somewhere in grade school, much to my parents’ relief, my external horse behavior subsided somewhat, but the core of my being had become part horse.

In the first chapter, she talks about how to become part horse—you simply need to have “a deep love, respect, and admiration for horses.” Amen.

The book is studded with useful facts such as often a horse should eat, what horses don’t like, and how to use grooming tools considerately. If you own or take care of a horse, you’ll find more hands-on care tips than you might expect from the title.

Hill also gets into the nitty-gritty of horse physiology: senses, reflexes, digestive and skeletal systems, hoof growth. She provides plenty of information to chew on, but not so much as to be overwhelming.

My favorite chapters were “The Nature of the Horse,” “Good Behavior, ‘Bad’ Behavior,’ and “Communication.” These dealt with topics such as bonding, pecking order, horse play, temperament and attitude, and reading a horse’s body language. She provides a six-page chart of vices (e.g., bolting feed, head-shyness) complete with causes and treatment. The treatments are fairly simplistic, but still useful.

Some cool facts I learned:

  • Horses see with both monocular and binocular vision; because of the latter, you must show everything to both sides of the horse.
  • Horses’ ears are the most mobile of any domestic animal; they can twist nearly 180 degrees from front to back.
  • Horses tend to move away from light intermittent pressure (it’s irritating) and lean into heavy, steady pressure (it’s comforting).
  • In the wild, horses live in a matriarchal society.
  • Pigs freak horses out—there’s something about pig behavior, smells, and noises that horses just don’t like.
  • Horses sleep 20 to 50 times a day in tiny naps.
  • Horses are said to have a memory second only to an elephant’s.

The last chapter, “Training,” was just a puff of air: there was very little to it. Then again, How To Think Like a Horse seems aimed at breadth rather than depth. That’s the only fault I found in it: I wish the author had provided more in-depth detail. Although experienced horse folks probably won’t find much new in this book, it’s a commendable guide for people who are just beginning to learn about horses. I put myself in the second category, even after a dozen years of riding, because understanding horses is whole different ballgame than just sitting on them.

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