Nonetheless, because their physiology is also suited to a number of work- and entertainment-related tasks, humans domesticated horses thousands of years ago, and they have served humans ever since. Through selective breeding, some breeds of horses have been bred to be quite docile, particularly certain large draft horses. On the other hand, most light horse riding breeds were developed for speed, agility, alertness and endurance; building on natural qualities that extended from their wild ancestors.
The instincts of horses can be used to human advantage to create a bond between human and horse. These techniques vary, but are part of the art of horse training.
There also is a dominance hierarchy in any herd. They will establish a "pecking order" for the purpose of determining which herd member directs the behavior of others, eats and drinks first, and so on. This behavior pattern also applies to their interrelationship with humans. A horse that respects the human as a "herd member" who is higher in the social order will behave in a more appropriate manner towards all humans than a horse that has been allowed to engage in dominant behavior over humans.
Horses are able to form companionship attachments not only to their own species, but with other animals, including humans. In fact, many domesticated horses will become anxious, flighty and hard to manage if they are isolated. Horses kept in near-complete isolation, particularly in a closed stable where they cannot see other animals may require a stable companion such as a cat, goat or even a small pony or donkey to provide company and reduce stress. When anxiety over separation occurs while a horse is being handled by a human, the horse is described as "herd-bound". However, through proper training, horses learn to be comfortable away from other horses, often because they learn to trust a human handler, essentially ranking humans as a dominant member of a "herd."
Bands are usually on the small side, as few as three to five animals, but sometimes over a dozen. The makeup of bands shifts over time as young animals are driven out of the band they were born into and join other bands, or as young stallions challenge older males for dominance. However, in a given closed ecosystem such as the isolated refuges in which most wild horses live today, to maintain genetic diversity the minimum size for a sustainable wild horse or burro population is 150-200 animals.
In times of stress, whether from predators or extreme weather, the center of the herd is the safest because it offers the most protection from the elements and is further away from predators than any other part. Because of this, "punishment" of misbehaving members is sometimes delivered in the form of expulsion from the herd--temporarily or sometimes permanently.
Most young horses in the wild are allowed to stay with the herd until sometime in their yearling or 2-year old year, when they reach full sexual maturity. Studies of wild herds have shown that the herd stallion will usually drive out both young colts and fillies. Experts who study wild horses theorize that this may be an instinct that prevents inbreeding, so that the herd stallion does not mate with his own female offspring. The fillies usually join another band in fairly short order, and the colts driven out from various herds usually join together for safety in small "bachelor" groups until those who are able establish dominance over an older stallion in another herd.
The edge of the herd is the domain of the herd stallion, who must fight off both predators and other males. When the herd travels, the stallion brings up the rear, watching for predators and driving straggling herd members on, keeping the group together. During mating season, stallions tend to more aggressively attempt to keep the mares from straying off. However, most of the time, the stallion is fairly relaxed, spending much of his time "guarding" the herd not by herding the mares around, but by scent-marking manure piles and urination spots in order to make clear his position as herd stallion.
By living on the periphery of the herd, exposed to weather, predators, and challenges from other stallions, the herd stallion endures a somewhat vulnerable existence. He is exposed to more risks than any other herd member and can be replaced by a stronger successor at any time. Interestingly, a herd stallion will occasionally tolerate one young stallion to live at the edge of the herd, possibly as a sort of designated successor, even though the young horse will eventually gain mastery over the older stallion and claim the herd.
More often, mature domesticated stallions are commonly kept by themselves in a stable or small paddock with a strong, high fence that prevents escape. When stallions are stabled in such a way that they can both see each other and touch nose to nose, such as through bars or a grill, they will often challenge one another and sometimes attempt to fight. For this reason, stallions are often kept from sight and touch of other stallions, due to risk of injury and disruption to the rest of the stable, even if several are kept in the same barn. If they have access to paddocks, there often is a corridor between the paddocks so the stallions cannot touch one another, and in some cases, stallions are let out for exercise at different times of day so they do not see or hear one another.
To avoid stable vices associated with isolation, some stallions, though not all, do well when stabled with a non-horse companion, such as a gelded donkey or a goat. (The Godolphin Arabian was said to be particularly fond of a barn cat). While many domesticated stallions become too aggressive to tolerate the close presence of any other male horse without fighting, some tolerate a gelding as a companion, particularly one that has a very calm, unflappable temperament. One example of this was the racehorse Seabiscuit, who lived with a gelding companion named "Pumpkin." Other stallions may tolerate the close presence of an immature and thus less dominant stallion.
While stallions and mares often compete together at horse shows and in horse races, stallions generally must be kept away from close contact with mares, both to avoid unintentional or unplanned matings, but also to minimize their instincts to fight one another for dominance when in the presence of mares. When horses are lined up for placing at shows, handlers keep stallions at least a horse's length from any other animal and do not allow their horses to touch noses with any other animals. Stallions can be taught to ignore any mares or other stallions that are in close proximity while they are working.
However, stallions do live peacefully in bachelor herds in the wild and in natural management settings. Domesticated stallions are still herd animals, and some farms feel that carefully managed social contact benefits stallions. Well-tempered stallions who will be kept together for a long period of time may be stabled in closer proximity, though this method of stabling is generally used only by experienced stable managers. An example of this are the stallions of the Spanish Riding School, who travel, train and are stabled close together. In these settings more dominant animals are kept apart by stabling a young or less dominant stallion in the stall between them. Sometimes a stallion raised in isolation from other horses cannot be stabled in this fashion at all due to aggressive behavior.
In recent studies of domesticated horses, new evidence indicates that horses appear to benefit from a strong female presence in the herd. Groupings of all geldings, or herds where a gelding is dominant over the rest of the herd (for example, if the mares in the herd are quite young or of low status), may be more anxious as a group and less relaxed than those where a mare is dominant.
Horses are creatures of habit and have excellent memories, which make consistent training extremely important to the horse. Untrained young horses, even with top bloodlines, can be bought for relatively little money compared to those with training. Once a horse is started under saddle and demonstrates that it is trainable, ridable and has some athletic talent for its work, the price easily triples.
To a wild horse, humans are usually viewed as potential predators. However, horses are also innately curious and may investigate any creature that is interesting but not threatening.
Any domesticated horse with some experience with humans usually views people as generally harmless objects of curiosity worth at least minor notice, especially if they know that humans may bring food or treats. Rarely will any domestic horse become truly vicious unless it has been spoiled or abused by humans, though many stallions have a great deal of naturally aggressive, dominant behavior that requires that they be managed only by knowledgeable handlers. However, any horse is a large animal that retains some wild instincts, so can react unpredictably by running, biting, striking, or kicking. Thus humans must always be alert around horses because they can accidentally harm people.
The ability of humans to work in cooperation with the horse is based on both the natural curiosity of the horse and the strong social bonds that horses have with each other. Horses do not like to be separated from their herd, because to be alone is to be exposed to predators on all sides. Also, in a herd, less dominant horses tend to gravitate toward the most mature and confident members. Therefore, many horse training principles are based upon having the horse accept a human as the dominant herd member. Ideally this is not done by force, but by the horse developing trust in the ability of the human and confidence that the human will be a responsible "herd leader."
Horses are also adapted to covering large amounts of territory and must have a certain boldness to do so. A horse that is afraid more than necessary will expend energy needlessly and then may not be able to escape when a threat is real. Thus, horses have an ability to check out the unusual and not immediately flee from something that is merely different.
This willingness to consider new things can also be used by a human trainer to adapt the horse's behavior to an extraordinary range of activities that are well outside the range of instinctive horse behavior, including acts considered naturally dangerous by the average horse such as bullfighting, jumping off cliffs, diving into water, jumping through a ring of fire, or walking into a modern television studio, complete with enclosed space, bright lights, and tremendous noise.
People who train horses first have to educate them that some normal herd behavior is inappropriate around humans. For example, biting and "shadow boxing" (rearing, striking) that is common play among young horses, colts in particular, could be injurious or fatal to people. Other instinctive traits, such as running away when frightened, bucking off anything that lands on a horse's back (like a mountain lion or other predator), or never entering a small enclosed area, also have to be overcome before the horse is useful to humans.
Even when trained, most horses will still test boundaries, at least mildly, and some horses with dominant personalities will openly challenge a weak or inexperienced handler. For example, if handled with incompetence or abuse, a horse may ignore its training and attempt to nip, bite, kick, refuse to be led, or try other ways to challenge human dominance. Without consistent handling, some horses, especially young ones, will revert to their untrained ways. However, due to their good memory, horses with solid training from trustworthy handlers often retain what they have learned, even after a gap of many years.
Horses are able to sleep both standing up and lying down. They are able to doze and enter light sleep while standing, an adaptation from life as a prey animal in the wild. Lying down makes an animal more vulnerable to predators. Horses are able to sleep standing up because a "stay apparatus" in their legs allows them to relax their muscles and doze without collapsing. In the front legs, their equine forelimb anatomy automatically engages the stay apparatus when their muscles relax. The horse engages the stay apparatus in the hind legs by shifting its hip position to lock the patella in place. At the stifle joint, a "hook" structure situated on the inside bottom end of the femur cups the patella and the medial patella ligament, preventing the leg from bending.
Unlike humans, horses do not need a solid, unbroken period of sleep time. They obtain needed sleep by means of many short periods of rest. This is to be expected of a prey animal, one that needs to be ready on a moment's notice to flee from predators. Horses may spend anywhere from four to fifteen hours a day in standing rest, and from a few minutes to several hours lying down. However, not all this time is the horse actually asleep; total sleep time in a day may range from several minutes to a couple of hours. Horses require approximately two and a half hours of sleep, on average, in a 24-hour period. Most of this sleep occurs in many short intervals of about 15 minutes each.
Horses must lie down to reach REM sleep. They only have to lie down for an hour or two every few days to meet their minimum REM sleep requirements. However, if a horse is never allowed to lie down, after several days it will become sleep-deprived, and in rare cases may suddenly collapse as it involuntarily slips into REM sleep while still standing. This condition differs from narcolepsy, though horses may also suffer from that disorder.
Horses sleep better when in groups because some animals will sleep while others stand guard to watch for predators. A horse kept entirely alone may not sleep well because its instincts are to keep a constant eye out for danger.
The Horse Behavior Problem Solver.(The Horse Behavior Problem Solver : Your Questions Answered About How Horses Think, Learn, and React )(Brief Article)(Book Review)
Sep 01, 2005; The Horse Behavior Problem Solver Jessica Jahiel Storey Publications 210 Mass MoCa Way, North Adams, MA 01247 1580175244 $19.95...