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I fell in love with my horse on our first date, and I know he loves me back. For the last decade, he and I have worked on understanding each other. This book focuses on what science has learned about horses and horse-human interaction. It is not a book about riding, diet, illness, shoeing or showing. It is more about how horses work than about how to work them, more about what they want to do than what you can make them do.
We all want to understand the things we love. For those who love horses, understanding comes through observation and interaction with a horse, by attending clinics and reading books and browsing web sites, and by listening to the counsel of friends who know horses. We gather information, and try to assemble it into some sensible pattern. We come to believe that we understand.
We don’t understand. Clinics, books, and web sites that focus on horses either get it wrong or get it right but misunderstand why. And so when we seek the counsel of friends who have read these same books, attended these clinics and browsed these web sites, we are no better off. Such a circular swirl of myths about horses produces a bowl of dogma from which we can’t expect to escape.
Good science is comparative. Because horses are hoofed herd animals, they have much in common with cattle and deer. Because they are mammals, they have much in common with raccoons and dogs. They are animals and so have much in common with octopus, birds and fish. Our lineage defines our form, but our behaviors can often be traced far back on the family tree. When we find common behaviors across different twigs of the family tree, we can know that we have found an ancient behavior and can often learn about one species by looking carefully at another. When a sandpiper, baby raccoon, or horse threaten, they all bend down, assume a snowplow position with their heads, and move forward. Surely animals have been threatening each other for eons. New species do not bother to invent new behaviors when the old ones work perfectly well.
I happen to live on a farm, so it seemed only natural that instead of buying a sailboat to waste money on, that I’d buy a horse. My first horse has taught me that they are just as good as a sailboat, maybe better. You can buy one for less, for instance. You can have a great time on them even if the wind isn’t blowing. You can ride up the side of a mountain, which is hard to do in a sailboat, and you won’t get bored with the scenery in the woods, the way you can when you are surrounded by ocean.
I have tried to bold face all of the big words I had to use in the text, and define them when I first used them. This glossary may help if you encounter a term and the definition is not nearby.