Predators, Prey & Peace
By Dean Roles
I write these articles knowing that the people reading it will probably have little to no experience with horses. I write these articles because of this assumption – in the hope that I can prevent the cycle of violence that is so harmful to horses and humans, that seems to occur way too often, causing harm to one or both parties. So if you’re new and wondering what you can do to help prevent the cycle of violence I would recommend three things:
1. Realize that when people are interacting with horses in a situation that is physically and/or mentally challenging, just the shear size of a horse can make this experience overwhelming to a human. When a human feels overwhelmed by a horse they tend to have an emotional response which basically means that they will respond in predatorial manner. When a predator interacts with a prey animal, the prey animal tends to react usually at first by attempting flight. If flight fails, the next reaction tends to be fight and the final response is what I refer to as freeze. Freeze simply refers to the catatonic mental state a horse will achieve as last ditch effort to accept the unacceptable. As you can see this usually creates a cycle. This cycle escalates and becomes violent. To be honest, this cycle of violence is the norm in the equine world. It’s sad, it’s wrong; it’s far from what most people expected when they entered the horse world.
2. You’re doing it right now! Read, learn, and understand what you’re stepping into. Horses are powerful, dangerous, expensive, beautiful, peaceful creatures who can offer you more pain and pleasure then you ever dreamed. I can guarantee you that if you have a hole in your life a horse can fill it, but you owe it yourself and the horse to get educated before you become part of the norm.
3. Observe yourself and the horse closely. If something seems not quite right, I am here to tell you it’s not. Discontinue and find a way to fix the relationship. Riding horses is fun and fulfilling and should be for the most part, always that way for the horse and rider. Remember life is short, so have fun!
Onyx came into my life in January 2009. In the past 3 years she has battled strangles and founder. In the spring of 2012 I decided this mare needed to have a job and I was desperate to find someone who would work with her without sacrificing my horse’s soul. And so it begins…
On June 9 I brought Dean a horse with soundness issues due to her foundering previously. I brought him a horse that had no desire to please a human, but who would rather intimidate people with her size and power.
Dean saw that Onyx’s issues ran deep and they weren’t all psychological…her physical well being needed to be addressed as well. He took such care to get my horse physically comfortable in the first three weeks by trimming her feet, giving her massages. Anything he could think that would help, he did. He could have physically pushed my horse, took my money for a month’s worth of training and sent us on our way, but he didn’t!
This man cares about the horses and he cares about the people who own these horses that come through his gates. He has a plethora of knowledge and he loves to share it. He spent hours talking to me and sharing the lessons he has learned in his career…and he does it with passion! He is teaching me how to speak horse and to translate the information my horse gives me and to have a relationship with Onyx.
It’s been a beautiful experience to have Dean train me and teach my horse and I’m excited to say my journey isn’t over. I’m continuing lessons with Dean and he is also continuing to trim Onyx’s feet to keep her sound. – Donna Austin, Clayton, DE