Thursday, August 2, 2012

I wanna pet the pony: Is it ever OK to approach loose horses?

A stranger approaches a horse grazing near her family. The mare gives him some very clear body language before going in for the bite. Simple, clear signs like ears pinned, that don't take a PHD in animal behavior to recognize.

(Snagged from Snarky Rider)

Suprisingly, the comments on the video are mostly calm and common sense. Even the poster of the video admits it "wasn't the smartest idea".

I wonder, however, if the man learned anything more complex than "don't approach horses you don't know".

As a general rule, it's a good lesson. However, I've done this myself, and I would do it in the future under the right circumstances. I've studied horses enough to know when it's probably OK to say hi, and when it's better to back off and admire from a distance, and I've never been injured (all my horse-related injuries were from horses I did know).

I'm not trying to preen; I'm well aware I'm a lucky person in general. I just think there's more of a lesson here than simply "don't interact with animals, they're dangerous". How about learning to respect animals as individuals and animals instead of either unpredictable and unknowable demons, or uniformly docile and friendly cardboard pop-ups straight from a children's book.

One time in Wales, I was out walking on a public trail that cut through private land and a stallion approached me. He was calm and relaxed and there were no other horses around so I stood there and let him sniff me over and, after a moment, I gave him a few chest scratches. Then I walked slowly backwards to the gate. I was extra cautious because I was alone and at least a half mile from the nearest building/road and, hey, it's often a bad idea to turn your back on a stud.

Bangor 77

The next time I walked that trail, I saw the same stallion and I approached him this time to take some photos. He remained calm and relaxed.

I think it was that same day, on a different part of the trail, that I ran into a mare with her foal. It was large, at least a yearling if not older. The mare wanted nothing to do with me, and walked away, but the colt came right up to me and after a minute started to become dangerously playful and pushy. So I backed toward the fence and left.

Bangor 74

These brief encounters may seem unnecessary, but done correctly and respectfully, interacting with  animals is very rewarding. Why would I give that up because there might be some risk? If that's the way I lived my life, I'd never get into a car.


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