"Why does he do that?" "What is she so scared of … there’s nothing there!" Most—if not all—horse owners have been there and asked those questions. Even though we don’t always understand equine behavior, there’s got to be a reason behind it, right? Absolutely. Horses’ behaviors date back to equine evolution, and horse owners greatly benefit from an understanding what goes on in a horse’s brain, according to one veterinarian. At the 2012 Western Veterinary Conference, held Feb. 19-23 in Las Vegas, Nev., Robert Miller, DVM, a former equine practitioner from Thousand Oaks, Calif., relayed the top 10 things horse owners, caretakers, and riders should understand about how the equine mind functions.
"There are 10 genetically predetermined behavioral qualities unique to the horse that have been established by natural selection over the 50 million-year period during which the horse evolved," Miller began. "Failure to understand these qualities makes it impossible to have optimum communication with horses."
Flight—"We tend to attribute the flightiness of a horse as stupidity," Miller said, but when horses spook and run from things, it’s simply their innate instincts kicking in. He explained that unlike the majority of prey animals that depend on horns, tusks, or antlers for defense, the only mechanism horses are armed with—their "life-saving" behavior—is the ability to run. The following nine qualities, Miller said, stem from the horse’s flight response.
Perception—"The horse is the most perceptive of all domestic animals," Miller said, adding that this quality allowed for the quick detection and escape from predators in the wild. He gave examples using the five senses: