Anthropomorphism in horses

Ale

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Feb 8, 2012
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Hope I haven't spelt that wrong! Basically means applying human characteristics to an animal, in this case horses.

I'm doing a uni assignment at the moment on horse domestication and fell down this rabbit hole and have found it really interesting, wasn't sure if any of you would.

I'm sure we've all heard the phrase 'I feel so cold so I'm going to put an extra rug on the horses tonight' or something to that affect. When horses are very different from us in the way they feel the cold and heat themselves.

The other day I was talking to a lady who purchased a horse from the yard where I keep ale and moved him to a yard nearby I was visiting. I asked how pony was doing and she said oh yes he's so much happier now, he was a sad boy when we got him. This made me curious as obviously I'm very happy with my yard and don't think they make horses sad at all. So I enquired what she meant.

She said along the lines of 'he now does alot less work and is in a field with his best friends so he's so much happier'
Now I'm not looking to slate anyone at all as my horse is a fatty who does no work so I can't exactly talk.

But do you think a horse who is perfectly settled at a yard with a companion and is very fit out competing every week is actually going to have an increase in his 'happiness' after being removed from those companions and being put in a field with a group of strange horses and suddenly having a lot less of a workload and everything else being different too? I mean if he hated his companion then yes that probably would be a huge relief.

Or is it just what we want to see? There are a million more examples and I'm not saying that one to pick on her it just got me thinking. I do get it alot with Ale too because I keep him out in winter and he would obviously be far happier in a stable for 16 hours a day than get wet. I know I would be, but actually I know for a fact he wouldn't really enjoy that and would be kicking the door to bits every morning and dragging everyone out to his field.

Anyway if any of that made sense join me in my mad ramblings!
 

Jessey

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I find it really interesting, we shouldn't put our human feelings on horses but at the same time that's all we have to compare to so it's hard not to sometimes, wouldn't it be good to know exactly how they comprehend life, it would take away so many of the what if's.

I just got Indie, picked him up from what appeared to be a nice yard (RS) with lots going on where he had a nice stable and horsey friends, he's always been stabled part of the day and was said to hate being out in the rain, would fence walk to come in etc.. Since I got him he's out 24/7 and is unfortunately stuck in a paddock on his own, though next to my others. Is he happier, well I have no clue because I don't know how 'happy' he was before. What I can say is he is no longer grumping at me every time I bring food to him, he acts periodically unsettled - calls to the others when they are out of sight yet grumps at them when they come near. But he has gained weight (on basic feed/hay not anything special), seems to know the routine now, calls to me when I arrive, doesn't fuss about the rain and when ridden he has been ears pricked and interested. Of course I desperately wanted my mob to instantly accept him, and he them, and for them all to be one big happy family but unfortunately my set up and Jess' needs and character have meant that hasn't happened as fast as I wanted.

I do think there is some you can def say they are happier, Hank was one, the rescue he came from said he was one of the most aggressive animals they ever dealt with (rearing, boxing, biting etc.), he had holes right through his cheek from bad teeth and he was very poor all around. Since the day he arrived with me he has been the happy go lucky, friendly chillaxed pony he is, not saying I did anything amazing, the rescue got his teeth sorted and I just treated him how I treat them all but it was obviously significantly better than his previous life.
 

Skib

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This interests me too Ale.
I came to riding as an adult well versed in behaviourism and having watched a lot of david Attenborough on TV which taught me a bit about animals reactions to each other and herd dynamics. I was at a riding school with a bullying teacher and as Mary Wannless has pointed out, the horse was my only friend. I watched the teacher put a bridle on him and knew he didnt like it - there was aggro between them.
So tho the horse isnt human we can interpret and sometimes share their feelings and understand what causes them.

I had been riding for two years, so had the basics and was hacking e very week when I went to my first Mark Rashid demo.
His method of teaching (in part) is to present the human horse interaction as a conversation. The horse is "saying" do you want me to keep going? Is it OK if I stop? After learnng from him, I went home to Maisie and said that hacking her was now like going with Peter Rabbit into Mr MacGreggor's garden. Out hacking, horses became my companion.

Second question. How does one know if a horse is happier? I began a new share with a very well kept and well ridden horse. She was dearly loved but I thought she was institutionalised. I was warned she had certain habbits. These were accepted as part of her normal behaviour. Because of regarding her as my equal (human) I interpreted it differently. If she rubbed her neck on every doorway and post, it signified irritation. So we dealt with that. If she stamped her hind legs if you tried to groom her tail, that turned out to be because she had dung dried into her tail and one needed to take care removing it or even soften it with a bit of water.

These conversations with the horse made a difference to her life and she began to like me. People notice this, that horses like me be cause I am old and slow. But there are trainers like John Lyons who do tell one to treat one's horse as if it were another human being - politely as if the horse is doing you a favour letting you ride it. And though I know it is bonkers, I do this. I am a human being. I dont have other ways to communicate. I feel something when I approach a horse and when a horse approaches me - elicited by an animal and my animal response is human.

The thing about horse domestication is that it starts with milk and meat - human herding offered horses protection from predaters. Is that what you are taught Ale? I have a good TV recording made by Alexandra Tolstoy visiting herdsmen in Mongolia. So it wasnt anthropomorphic was it? It was more like commercial dairy cow industry is now. Humans reaping economic benefit.
 

Skib

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Just another academic thought Ale. Horses as prey. I keep a time line on my phone so I can sort out early historic dates.

Cro magnon Pyrenees.Horse head from La grotte du Mas-D'Azil. Magdalenien, 22,000 BP (Before present era BC)

10,500 BCE bone etched horse in British Museum from Courbet Cave
(you can find them on line but I am not good at this and the pics take ages to load so I have not put in a link)

We went to a talk at the BM. These horses became extinct - due to over hunting, forrestation - no one quite knows why.
 

Huggy

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Horses have emotions, but I think because they react instinctively, it manifests differently to humans. Personally, I do think they can be depressed, bored, lonely, content, etc. Ramsey was at his most content when he was in work - hacking, lessons, shows - I have no doubt in my mind that he was fed up when he retired. His spirits lifted visibly when I walked him out after retirement. His field mate though, loved being retired - to him, the field was his gentleman's club - he did the equivalent of sitting reading his paper with a cup of tea. Because Hogan was a field ornament for 2 years, I'd swear he gets fed up if he's left for more than a few days. He also gets irritable if he's hungry. If you took a dozen horses, brought them up, schooled and fed them exactly the same, you would still get 12 very different horses, with a wide spectrum of likes and dislikes.
 

newforest

Bring Out the Baileys
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You might find this interesting as well.



It's an interesting topic. I try not to put my human thinking and emotions on to her, because she has plenty of her own. She's not in the least shy in her thinking and feeling so it's a case of listening. I know when she's unsettled and worried, I can see it, if I am on board I can feel it.
It's not something i want to see. Nobody wants to see a horse scared that's it's physically shaking.

As for horses being happier, I would hope that as owners we are all able to do something that we can see a change either way.
If mine is hungry she nickers, if she's in season she's likely to nip!

Horses can definately feel loss, its unlikely to be how we feel it, but it's a word I am choosing because you will understand it.
When I got the cob I took her away from her mum that she had lived with for two years. She disappeared inside herself and stayed there for months. I was grieving for the loss of J and we were just two lost souls who interacted with each other and didn't have any expectations.
She nipped all the noses of the herd that wanted to say hello to and stayed by herself. I did think, oh crap what have I done.
 

Jessey

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Dec 20, 2004
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Horses can definately feel loss, its unlikely to be how we feel it, but it's a word I am choosing because you will understand it.
I think this is a good point, many of us know it is not exactly the same as how humans feel/perceive/*insert whatever else applies* but the words we naturally use are the ones we use for ourselves, it doesn't always mean we believe it to be exactly the same thing.

Case in point, the old 'blooming heck its cold tonight, I'd better put a thicker rug on' comment. I've said it a million times, but I know my horses don't really feel the cold at all until is pushing freezing temps, but I also know if I have noticed that it's dropped 10c between lunch and tea time then they will have too IF it has dropped to the bottom of their thermoneutral zone, is windy/raining etc.
 

Bodshi

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What is an emotion anyway? Is it simply a chemical reaction in the brain that helps us survive? For instance the 'happiness' derived from food, shelter, company etc is just a way of making a human or animal seek these things, because it would die without them.

Sorry that was a bit deep. I know it gets more complicated than that, because we all have our own individual likes/dislikes and things that make us happy. I wonder if some horses prefer the company of people to their own species, just as some people prefer the company of animals!

I don't know whether I'm anthropomorphising or what, but I always get the feeling that horses know far more than they let on. I just have a feeling they can read our souls better than we can, and it puts me in awe of them a little bit :rolleyes:
 

Jane&Ziggy

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This is certainly raising some very deep questions for me. I felt oddly tearful reading the contributions so far. Horses mean so much to us and are invested with so many of our emotions: I think we really want them to be "happy" whatever that is (more in a minute on how I see that) and I know I really like them to like me.

So Charlie, who is young and always in a hurry, doesn't like me to handle his head. He'll let me touch him wherever I need to as long as he feels there is a purpose to it (burrs in his mane, putting on a head collar, scratches). Just touching him because I like to: no, thank you. He's busy, doesn't want to stand still to let me stroke him. I'm trying not to let this upset me, but I think of Ziggy, who would turn his face to my hand and close his eyes and sigh (sorry, I'm crying now).

I think "happiness" is not necessarily a useful emotional descriptor for horses. They certainly have and express emotions, to each other and to us humans. "Content" I recognise: one of the things I loved about Ziggy was that he was very self reliant and could be content in all sorts of different situations. "Playful", "excited", :mischievous", "pushy", "chilled/relaxed" I think are also useful. "Happy?" Not so sure. I'm not so sure that we know what we mean by happy, most of the time.

I've just moved the boys to a completely ungrazed section of the field next door. Thick, lush, tussocky grass. Were they ecstatic? No, for a couple of days they asked to go back to their own paddock. The new paddock presumably smelt different, and the grass was different, and the footing was different - all those tussocks! - and they didn't know where to stand to be comfortable - out of the wind, say - and they needed to get accustomed to more road noise. So for a couple of days they were not ecstatic. Now they have settled in and they are content. I can tell because of how they're behaving. They were unsettled and now they're not.

Loss? Don't get me started - Mattie after Ziggy died exhibited a case of what in a human we would call clinical depression. He needed a friend, and went back to his old self almost as soon as Charlie arrived.

As for stroking Charlie, I could train him with the clicker to accept it, but I'd rather not. I think that in time, with age and learning to stand still and getting to know me better, he'll let me express my affection the way I like to. Or maybe not. We'll find out.
 

Ale

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Case in point, the old 'blooming heck its cold tonight, I'd better put a thicker rug on' comment. I've said it a million times, but I know my horses don't really feel the cold at all until is pushing freezing temps, but I also know if I have noticed that it's dropped 10c between lunch and tea time then they will have too IF it has dropped to the bottom of their thermoneutral zone, is windy/raining etc.
This isn't anthropomorphism is it? That just sounds like being a good attentive owner. Which isn't to say that if you do treat them like a human you are not a good owner!

It's more saying, I am cold so they must be cold. Roadwork is boring for me so it must be boring for them. When actually with respect to the roadwork maybe it's actually alot more stimulating but when you ride them they sense your hesitancy/ boredom and response as though roadwork is bad. First thing that came to my head.
 

Ale

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Horses can definately feel loss, its unlikely to be how we feel it, but it's a word I am choosing because you will understand it.
Of course they do and in ways we probably can't imagine. It's that understanding that gets confusing through if we treat them like they are the same as us. For example I believe you are supposed to let them see the body if possible. But I know with the horses ends I have been with they were hidden away from their friends, covered with a sheet, is that just because it's maybe a bit easier for us that way?
 

Jane&Ziggy

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Of course they do and in ways we probably can't imagine. It's that understanding that gets confusing through if we treat them like they are the same as us. For example I believe you are supposed to let them see the body if possible. But I know with the horses ends I have been with they were hidden away from their friends, covered with a sheet, is that just because it's maybe a bit easier for us that way?
I expect that's so. I let Mattie see Ziggy go down, and he was OK with that, but when the man winched the body onto the trailer Mattie turned into a fire-breathing stallion and I think would have attacked the trailer to try to protect his friend. I had no idea he would be so distressed and furious. I wish I had let the body stay where it was for a while until he left of his own accord.
 

Ale

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Funny you should mention David Attenborough @Skib for its his work a number of years ago that was accused of doing just this with the animals. Obviously the scenes with the chimps were very special to him and of course I'm jealous. But the more recent shows have definitely shown the animals in a more natural way.
 

OwnedbyChanter

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Wow what a deep thread.

So ginger is now on his own I know he is not happy. When he is with me he is just lovely. He likes the one on one when out of the field but I know he is lonely in the field. How do I know? he is cribbing again. I know Edward will be with him in a month or two and I know he will be ok again. It is killing me but it’s short term.

As for Edward he likes company he has never been without it. Once back with ginger I then have to start the separation process as ginger will be going away with me and Edward staying. I am not looking forward to it.

Edward loves people he pushes his head to you wanted scratch’s I have never had a boy wanting this much attention and cuddles.

As for rugs I never go with how I feel I go with how they feel
 

Ale

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Horses have emotions, but I think because they react instinctively, it manifests differently to humans. Personally, I do think they can be depressed, bored, lonely, content, etc. Ramsey was at his most content when he was in work - hacking, lessons, shows - I have no doubt in my mind that he was fed up when he retired. His spirits lifted visibly when I walked him out after retirement. His field mate though, loved being retired - to him, the field was his gentleman's club - he did the equivalent of sitting reading his paper with a cup of tea. Because Hogan was a field ornament for 2 years, I'd swear he gets fed up if he's left for more than a few days. He also gets irritable if he's hungry. If you took a dozen horses, brought them up, schooled and fed them exactly the same, you would still get 12 very different horses, with a wide spectrum of likes and dislikes.
I agree, I too think they experience all sorts of emotions. But I sometimes think they differ quite largely from what we place on them. Quite often pain is perhaps thought as just stubbornness for example
 
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Ale

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What is an emotion anyway? Is it simply a chemical reaction in the brain that helps us survive? For instance the 'happiness' derived from food, shelter, company etc is just a way of making a human or animal seek these things, because it would die without them.
This is an interesting way of looking at it. Our horse calls to us and we might say they love or care for us, when in reality the horse is thinking I depend on this person to survive. Or they could indeed love us, who knows!
 
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Ale

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This is certainly raising some very deep questions for me. I felt oddly tearful reading the contributions so far. Horses mean so much to us and are invested with so many of our emotions: I think we really want them to be "happy" whatever that is (more in a minute on how I see that) and I know I really like them to like me.

So Charlie, who is young and always in a hurry, doesn't like me to handle his head. He'll let me touch him wherever I need to as long as he feels there is a purpose to it (burrs in his mane, putting on a head collar, scratches). Just touching him because I like to: no, thank you. He's busy, doesn't want to stand still to let me stroke him. I'm trying not to let this upset me, but I think of Ziggy, who would turn his face to my hand and close his eyes and sigh (sorry, I'm crying now).

I think "happiness" is not necessarily a useful emotional descriptor for horses. They certainly have and express emotions, to each other and to us humans. "Content" I recognise: one of the things I loved about Ziggy was that he was very self reliant and could be content in all sorts of different situations. "Playful", "excited", :mischievous", "pushy", "chilled/relaxed" I think are also useful. "Happy?" Not so sure. I'm not so sure that we know what we mean by happy, most of the time.

I've just moved the boys to a completely ungrazed section of the field next door. Thick, lush, tussocky grass. Were they ecstatic? No, for a couple of days they asked to go back to their own paddock. The new paddock presumably smelt different, and the grass was different, and the footing was different - all those tussocks! - and they didn't know where to stand to be comfortable - out of the wind, say - and they needed to get accustomed to more road noise. So for a couple of days they were not ecstatic. Now they have settled in and they are content. I can tell because of how they're behaving. They were unsettled and now they're not.

Loss? Don't get me started - Mattie after Ziggy died exhibited a case of what in a human we would call clinical depression. He needed a friend, and went back to his old self almost as soon as Charlie arrived.

As for stroking Charlie, I could train him with the clicker to accept it, but I'd rather not. I think that in time, with age and learning to stand still and getting to know me better, he'll let me express my affection the way I like to. Or maybe not. We'll find out.
This is really really interesting. How much do horses touch each other with no purpose? Genuine question as I'm not too sure. Do you 'groom him' like horses groom each other? Ales not fond of being stroked or me resting my hand on his face etc but just occasionally I get this right by scratching at his withers or neck and he will groom me back. Always find that quite special
 

Ale

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I expect that's so. I let Mattie see Ziggy go down, and he was OK with that, but when the man winched the body onto the trailer Mattie turned into a fire-breathing stallion and I think would have attacked the trailer to try to protect his friend. I had no idea he would be so distressed and furious. I wish I had let the body stay where it was for a while until he left of his own accord.
You did what you could for him and that's all any horse can really ask for. When I was with the horse who was down in the field his herd mates kept coming over to try and comfort him I believe, behaviours I have never seen before as he never really acted as part of the herd. They they were all taken in to give the horse space, but is this what he would have wanted I'm not sure
 
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newforest

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When we move fields the horses are full of beans. It's the ideal time to get the action shots. But they always graze, gate out. So as the year goes on they get further away and I take to riding her in!

What is emotion.
My take on it is it starts with a thought, this thought leads to the brain releasing a chemical or two. That causes changes within us both physically, behaviourally and mentally.
Can the horse sense that, of course.

When j collapsed the horses grazed with him. One seen to paw to get him up.
A herd member is part of that herd.
The cob on box rest was fine. Then the herd started calling her, boyfriend started standing by the gate. They wanted her back.
 
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Huggy

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My thoughts tend to always veer towards endowing horses with human emotions, I admit. But when I look at my picture of me holding Ramseys face in my hands, just before he was pts, I do see love in his face. Maybe after 27 years, it really was. I hope so. Hogan though, really doesn't seem to give a damn - his god is food, not me. Perhaps what i saw in Ramsey was trust (and now I'm emotional). Hogan, (rightly, its early days)hasn't come to trust me yet. Does it depend on the owner's attitude? I know people who enjoy their horses, look after them well etc, but love them? No, I don't think so. And when I look at their horses, I don't see what I fondly imagine I saw in Ramsey. So, do horses maybe reflect back the love, or whatever, that their owners put out to them?
 
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