Mood and Emotion

I believe that all animals have moods. Sy Montgomery writes “hormones and neurotransmitters, the chemicals associated with human desire, fear, love, joy, and sadness, are highly conserved across taxa… This means that whether you’re a person or a monkey, a bird or a turtle, an octopus or a clam, the physiological changes that accompany our deepest-felt emotions (moods) appear to be the same. Even a brainless scallop’s little heart beats faster when the mollusk is approached by a predator, just like yours or mine would do were we to be accosted by a mugger.”

Dealing with Danger

The herd or band provides the horses in it with many benefits.

Each horse is superbly endowed to detect a predator at a distance. But when two horses are on the alert for predators, their chances at early detection improve even further.
If the herd chooses to flee, then when it is running, a predator in pursuit wastes valuable time trying to select a victim and trying to track it as the horses run away.
If the herd chooses to fight to protect foals, a foal has many defenders, and has a much better chance of survival than if he is defended by only one mare.

Fear, Flight, Fight, Freeze

Pain doesn’t merely affect a few nerves. It affects the entire nervous system. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is an unconscious control system found in all animals that regulates such things as heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, and the fight-flight-freeze response. When triggered, the ANS quickly decides if we should fight, flee, or freeze. If fighting appears to be the best solution, the ANS triggers anger and aggressive behavior. If fleeing seems like a much better way to solve the problem, then flight is in order. But if neither will do — perhaps because we are in the jaws of the tiger, we may go limp. This freeze response, it turns out, is often the best way to avoid further injury from a predator.

Your horse’s desire to flee a dangerous situation is no different than yours. He and you differ only in what you judge to be dangerous. So we might be wiser if we were to say “flight or fight” rather than “fight or flight”. But that leaves out freezing, which is our last best hope for survival. If we cannot escape and cannot win a fight to the death, freezing may come to our rescue. Horses are flight animals. Fight animals. Freeze animals. They will do what it takes to stay alive. That makes them just like all other animals, including us.