Wednesday, March 17, 2010

When horses (don't) attack

Ok last but not least, I wanted to comment on the following that Cathy posted a recent blog about:

[sorry, I had initially embedded the wrong video however when I linked back on youtube to the correct video, to obtain its embedding code, it had already been removed by its poster. Sorry to any who missed it, it was a pretty neat video!!]

Here is Cathy's blog. Now I am not saying that the parent should not have been more careful. Heck, the very first time I saw the horse turn its hind end towards the child, I held my breath in fear, hoping someone would rush in and save the day. However that is really neither here nor there. We are not there to judge the situation.

First off, yes, of course the horse intended to knock over the 4yo. It is not even a question of whether it was a stumble or an intended knock. But it was not a 'horse attack', it was simply a horse being dominant over a kid who was annoying it, much as it would a foal who was acting disrespectful. If the parent did not want their kid bowled over by the horse, they should have reprimanded the child before the horse felt it had to. However that is besides the point. People and parents make mistakes (and perhaps the parent misjudged the horse's body language, though that thought makes me nervous) and in this case both parent and child were (apparently) lucky.

Just going over the video quickly, I wanted to point out:
0:13 the horse turns its hind end towards the kid once, warning it
0:15 the horse pins its ears at the child, steps towards it, and gestures to it with its head, to scat
0:20 that doesn't work, so it turns its hind end towards the kid again...and walks away, removing itself from the situation
0:31 child runs after the horse, so horse again turns its hind end in, and trots away
0:38 finally the horse has had enough; the child follows it again, so it sideswipes her (and even then, the horse moves slow enough and lays back its ears to the kid during its initial move, that had the child bopped out of the way immediately, as the horse indicated, the horse clearly would have stopped itself)
That poor horse gave not one, two, or even three warnings, it actually gave the child (and by extension, camera-man) FIVE warnings that it wanted the kid to respect its space and back off. Just putting it out there. I do think that whoever was watching this could and should have halted the incident before it even occured, however like I said, 'accidents' happen, common sense is not always all that common, and some people just cannot read equine body language.

I actually take issue with two individuals on this video though, hence my reason for posting:

First, I take issue with the poster of this vid with its kind captions. Mr.Poster, you are yet another media source who is so thankfully spreading the word of 'attack horses', sort of like 'attack of the clones' or something of the sort. This horse did not attack and you are just another who is spreading the word that horses, and animals in general, are dangerous and not to be trusted, that they are unpredictable. Thanks to videos such as this one, I am then yet another equestrian burdened with exasperatedly explaining to the next non-horsey individual that *sigh* no, horses are not dangerous attack animals (seriously). This is mis-reading, mis-interpreting, and mis-representing animal behaviour. If you are going to make a bold statement such as 'horse attacks four year-old', please then at least have the sense of mind and respect to investigate and speak with professionals beforehand, to properly represent this animal's behaviour. You claim to be a doctor, for heaven's sake, please do your research and be careful with your videos. Videos such as this grossly mislead the public in regards to animal behaviour and are yet another shovelful of sand creating a rift between animals and people, which only leads to poor consequences for the animals (which ultimately affects us as well). If it is clearly a joke, fine, post away, but when a video seriously asks such questions, I just personally feel it is misleading and harmful.

My second bone to pick is with Cathy Atkinson.
"I doubt it registered on him that the small, noisy thing was a human."
You are joking, correct? Are you now telling people that horses cannot tell the difference between a small, yappy dog (complete with a wagging tail, very different movements, and different body language), and a small human? Please forgive me, but I have to side against you on this one and say that horses are not that dim. I can tell you for a fact that a) horses in general can tell you the difference between a dog and a human child, and b) this horse was aware of the difference. My brother and I used to play with our horse herd growing up all the time and I can tell you they knew the difference. At one time I went missing (yes, this is the classic story all mothers who have horses seem to have, lol). My mother went to find me and alas, finally did. Between the hind legs of my dad's Quarter Horse x Arabian (and she threw to the Arabian side) mare. Playing with her tail. That mare loved all babies, from human children she carefully packed around, to foals she stole off of other mares. Actually, she still takes care of young human children - she is 30 this year and is still team-penning with a friend's young kids. You cannot tell me she did not know I was not a human, as opposed to a dog. Not only do I think she would have made the connection due to the interaction between my own mother and I, but she drove off any dogs, coyotes, or other such animals, yet cared carefully for my brother and I. My own horses regularly drive off dogs. Not only have they learnt to drive off pesky coyotes, but they also have learnt to drive off the Sheltie that annoyingly circles and nips at them at one of the places I board at. Yet they would never chase off a human child the way they would a dog or coyote the instant they recognise the animal - head snaking down, teeth out, ears back. Animals just are not that dense.

In addition, the horse did not 'smoosh' the child, it knocked the child over. Very carefully, in my opinion. Several times, that horse could have (and I thought it would) double-barrel kicked the child. It could have bit the child. Or run over it with its front legs. Even stomped the child into the sand. But it didn't. Instead, it strategically hit the child with its barrel. Moving purposefully sideways. This is just my opinion, but I have never seen a horse take out a dog, coyote, or any other such predator in such a fashion. It is the type of maneuver I could imagine a mare using to knock down a cocky foal who was bugging its elders. Or, a child. A maneuver that is not likely to cause irreversible harm, but a maneuver that is likely to get the message across to the youngster, human or equine alike. A horse would never expose its barrel to a predator with teeth (such as a dog), who could rip its belly open. It would do so to something it felt was harmless and simply needed a lesson in respect. That horse was simply doing what the human parents should have done - teaching the 4yo some respect (and it toted the child around the next day??! What a saint!!).

Now, my other bone to pick with Cathy is in her black-and-white statement that 4yo's should never be allowed in the pasture with horses. While I strongly advise parents to have careful supervision over their children, a) kids will get into trouble at times and you cannot have your eye on them 24/7 (though of course you can do your best to prevent situations such as this and this is a bit of an exception with someone filming the whole thing), and b) we cannot bubble wrap our kids. I learned a lot of innate horse behaviour by playing with our horses and our entire herd (save for one colt, haha, but we learned pretty quick to be careful around him!) was very careful and safe with us kids. Now while I do not recommend doing what my brother and I did at our age (obviously mom and dad were busy with their eyes elsewhere at certain, rare, times), however we lived to tell the tale and learned a lot in the process. I do not think that the situation is a blind, 'never allow kids in the pasture', but instead it should be:
1. Teach your child to respect animals, including the horses, and teach them animal behaviour (as much as you can given their age)
2. Set boundaries for your kids and supervise as much as is possible (Cathy, have you ever even babysat any rugrats? Those things are everywhere! You are going to miss some things...of course this situation is a little different though, but still).
3. Allowing your kids to interact with the horses, in pasture included, in my mind, is ok, provided the herd is comprised of 'safe' animals and your child is supervised and accompanied.
There is much more to this one and I know I'll want to bubble wrap my kids one day too. But we can't. Shit happens, and most horses are ok with kids, even in a pasture setting; it simply depends upon the scenario. It's not simple black and white. I can actually recall my mom chastising me from a distance as I walked in amongst our herd of cattle (regularly). I cannot recall why she did not walk in and scoop me up herself, though I seem to recall it likely having something to do with a fear of spooking the cattle over me or accidentally goading a cow to charge in the wrong situation. Anyways, even supervised, you cannot control everything your child does. My mom was within speaking distance but of course I did not listen and would walk right in amongst the cows and pet them all. I can recall this one yellow and white cow in particular whom I always loved to pet - out in the pens and pasture. Those cows were quiet, safe, and always took care of me. Of course it did help that my parents never kept any nutcases or dangerous cows around (and I did listen when instructed if told to stay away from someone obviously dangerous, I remember instances such as that), but still. I do not think that the answer is to bubble wrap our kids and lock them away from everything. Instead, educate them and do what you can, but they should also have experiences. I just don't buy the 'horses are all dangerous, keep them away from our kids!' theory. Sorry.


Karolina said...

I can't say I understand the bone you felt you had to pick with Cathy. I stumbled across her post and your comment by a complete accident, just to clarify things.

I don't feel that the issue of whether the horse recognised 'the annoying thing' as particularly human had any special importance as far as Cathy's comment goes. The argument went along the lines of the horse getting fed up with something and eventually showing it in a physical way. I don't think Cathy said anything that should've prompted you to become so defensive of the horse's apparent recognition of humans and apparent respect for them/a way of treating them differently. It's rather heart-warming to hear your story about sitting down in between a mare's hind legs but I genuinely find your disapproval of Cathy's opinion quite bizarre.

Secondly, the issue of 4-year-olds being allowed in the field with horses. I fear I might not be able to argue this point in a fair manner because, for whatever reason, I appear to have quite firmly set views on it. Letting children 'interact' with animals in their most natural setting is, at all times, irresponsible and downright stupid. If I were a social worker who witnessed the aforementioned incident, I'd be straight on the phone to the welfare officers, should I have been a parent of the child concerned, you'd be likely to find me bashing my head against the wall at this point.
I want it to be clear that I am no lay person and have been professionally involved with horses for over 11 years - I feel experienced enough to stand by my opinion.

All the inflammatory comments aside, I have indeed been enjoying your blog for a while now.

Equus said...

Oops, I just realised that I embedded the incorrect video - I will fix that tomorrow.

No, you're right, it really was not a big enough deal to warrant my picking a bone however I guess I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder from watching Cathy utterly destroy (some very good) people and from having to deal with her little sheep constantly, on a personal level.

So then I look at her blogs and I see some of the misjudgements and lack of knowledge she is spewing and feel like I have to at least try to point some of it out. If you lack the knowledge, please do not teach others the same mistakes - research research research, get your facts straight, and if something is simply your opinion (for example, that horses are not intelligent enough to differentiate between children and small dogs), present it as such, rather than fact, so as not to mislead others. Other times I just want to show that there is always another side to a story and to offer another perspective. That's all. I try to stay away from commenting about her blog too much because I do not feel that it is healthy for me to be focusing on it too much, but sometimes I feel like I should play a bit of devil's advocate.

Hopefully that explains myself a bit, but I will take into account what you have noted. Thanks for your perspective (in regards to the children as well) also, and, for reading the blog :)

Equus said...

To add: I was also in a foul mood after reading all the usual anti-NH stuff. My apologies, I will try to refrain from allowing some of it to reach my own writing, I'm starting to sound a little too bitter ;)

Karolina said...

A personal issue with Cathy, I thought as much (I don't mean it in a nasty way!).

Thanks for acknowledging my comment, I will defnitely continue reading.

Equus said...

Well it is not 'personal personal' per se, but as I said, it ruffles my feathers a bit and gets my hackles up when I see an individual behave the way she does, which starts me looking at the influence that individual is having on others. If she listed incorrect information, that is one thing (we all make mistakes and cannot claim to know it all), however when she lists incorrect information then sets attack dogs on the loose based on said incorrect information...well now I have a problem with it.

For example, the most recent blog concerning the 20yo who rode her high-caliber horse in a w/t class as a schooling show. Rumour has it that the rider and trainer asked both the judge and the show commitee if it was ok to use the class as a schooling show - it was. Rider did not flip her number though and was judged (perhaps a misunderstanding?), but did not accept the blue ribbon, which went to the 2nd-place rider. Now, which version is true? ALL of it is just heresay. Maybe the rider was in the wrong, but maybe she wasn't (I find it difficult to believe the rider did what she did on purpose, to win a simple w/t ribbon, wearing her farm coat to boot). Cathy really sprang at her and publicly humiliated her without ALL the facts on the table. It's stuff like that that makes me worry about the other 'facts' and causes me to post. And *sigh*, that chip, lol.

We have to be careful in how we are influencing those around us and what we teach others in our vicinity. I'll take a page from that book though and like I said, try to tone it down a bit ;) Deep breath!! Haha. Thanks again.

Equus said...

Just to briefly clarify, when I say it is not closely personal, it is because Cathy has never attacked me herself. However those who read her blog and interact with her much, have (attacked myself and others of like whom I know, that is), on no basis, same as they attack the subjects of the blog. So that is the 'personal' part. It sort of inadvertently pushes me to analyze her blog a little more and what she says.

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