Being around horses—whether you own a horse, work with horses or are simply fascinated by them—can be a rewarding experience. Amy McLean, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis, understands that feeling first hand.
As the instructor in UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education’s new online courses in equine science and someone who grew up around all species of equine (horses, donkeys and mules), McLean finds the bond that develops between horse and human to be the most rewarding part of working with them. But in order to get the most from the experience, it’s essential to understand your animal.
Do you speak horse?
“The most important thing I've learned about equine psychology or behavior is, the animal is really a mirror image of their human counterpart,” said McLean. “We like to think the animal is doing what we ask, but it’s really more of a partnership—like dancing.”
McLean explained that equine are able to pick up on human emotions and heart rates, something she says most people don’t understand. “A lot of times the behavior we see in horses is in response to how the person behaves, so we look at facilitating human behavior change as opposed to equine behavior change.”
She believes being able to “speak horse” and understand what horses are thinking—what they want and how to properly meet their needs—will not only strengthen your bond, but is key to your animal’s wellbeing.
3 Reasons Why Understanding Equine is Important
Here are McLean’s reasons why having a holistic understanding of equine is so important for horse, donkey and mule owners.
“Understanding equine is important to their survival and welfare.”
1. To provide proper care
Understanding equine behavior and psychology impacts all aspects of their care. Misunderstanding behavioral signs can impact riding, send mixed signals, result in over or underfeeding and lead you to believe your horse is misbehaving. When it's constantly a struggle to provide proper nutrients, understand reproduction and pregnancy, interact with, ride or groom your horse, then the relationship is going to be compromised. And generally it’s the horse that suffers the most.
2. To enjoy your partnership
When you have an opportunity to improve your understanding of a living creature it improves that relationship. Making the decision to bring a horse into your life is not a short-term decision. A horse can easily live 20 to 30 years, so it's a long-term commitment. In order to have that great experience, it's important to understand its needs. Learning about how humans interact with horses can teach you more about how they think and respond in the way they do.
3. To provide a healthy, sustainable life for the animal
Understanding equine science not only improves your relationship and ability to care for equine, it also helps you learn to recognize pain and disease earlier. A horse might be rolling or displaying a behavior that's associated with a pain or disease, but that behavior can easily be missed or misunderstood until much later when the disease is more advanced. Early recognition of these behaviors can help keep injuries or disease from becoming a surgical case.