Ok, well, I know I have been very editorial instead of informational this week. I promise, next week will be more newsy. However, today, I woke up with this on my mind…
I hear that disclaimer too often. “Well, horses in the wild don’t need ______(fill in the blank). For example: “Well, horses in the wild don’t need shoes” or “Well, horses in the wild don’t need supplements” and “Well, horses in the wild don’t have a dentist…”. You get my drift.
Now, this blog isn’t here to point a finger at anyone or call anyone out. I’m merely wishing to put forth my point of view on the subject. Who knows, maybe it will stick somewhere…
HORSES IN THE WILD ARE NOT SIMILAR TO DOMESTIC HORSES
So here is my basic point. Horses in the wild are not similar to domestic horses when it comes to fortitude and emotion. Sure, they can breed together and sure they look alike, but if you ponder closely (inside and out), these two groups are worlds apart. Simply, if these groups were similar, there wouldn’t be thousands of mustangs in BLM holding pens going unadopted. Now, I’m not saying that wild horses are bad. On the contrary, I have two. What I am saying is that they are a very different animal than the domestic horse. (Paint horse photo: ©Photograph by Elyse Gardner)
So, when I hear people start a sentence with, “Well, horses in the wild…”, I shudder a bit because although I understand that most people think wild horses and domestic horses are the same animal just different situations, if they ever tried to make friends with a wild horse, they would know what I mean. And, the misunderstanding that a wild horse is just a “location challenged” domestic horse is what keeps the mustangs in holding pens, allows some owners of domesticated horses to make poor choices and ultimately makes me sad all around.
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
I guess it boils down to this. Survival of the Fittest vs. Humans Breeding Horses. You see, somewhere in there when the human took over the natural selection of horses by breeding them himself, the concept of survival of the fittest got lost for the equine. Actually, this totally makes sense since we, as humans, have fought against it for generations. Heck, survival of the fittest only applies to football games and marathons for us. It certainly doesn’t apply to our species anymore or our domesticated horses. So, it appears that we have forgotten that it still quite applies to wild horses. This is a big point so I will pause here.
In a nutshell: Domesticated horses are not genetically as sound as wild horses because we bred that out of them. Domestic horses may share some equine behaviors cross culturally with their wild brothers but their equine physicality and emotionality is very different.
What I’m getting at here is the domestic hoof is not like the wild hoof. The domestic skeleton and teeth are not generally as strong as the wild horse variety. The domestic horse is more susceptible to disease, immune disorders, metabolic disorders, food allergies, skin allergies, etc. You can see where I’m going here. What the domestic horse has gained in the skills of human interaction and diplomacy, it has lost in genetic fortitude.
I think this concept has been lost or is slipping from our conscious mind. Often I will hear people say that their horse should be able to do a number of different things that the wild horse can do. After all, a horse is a horse. Sigh.
WE CREATED THE DOMESTIC HORSE
If man hadn’t have stepped in, there would be no domestic horses. We created them. But, when we were creating them, or taking over their natural breeding process, we weren’t really concerned about what Mother Nature had in mind. Sure, we wanted robust and hearty horses, but we didn’t do a genetic test for all gene carrying diseases or think about the hoof, let’s say… When we are breeding, most of us look for what sells or what is popular or what works for us humans. You know what I mean: color, performance, gait, way of going, conformation, size or temperament… But, you don’t read ads about “internal fortitude” or “solid teeth” Herein lies the problem… Mother Nature might allow a bad breeding, but someone will probably die because of it. Harsh but true. Wild horses die if they get a blundered coupla bummer genes. Bad teeth you die. Bad feet, you die. Bad innerds, you die. The good news is that you don’t pass on any wild horse bad genes to future generations. But alas, the same is not true with our horses. In fact, sometimes we breed a disease or anomaly INTO our horses (HYPP, DSLD, HENDA…). “Maybe it will skip this generation…” or “It only happens 40% of the time”… I know you have heard this from breeders and so have I.
So, my point is that we cannot treat our domestic horses as if they have the constitution of a wild horse. We cannot forgo the dentistry, farrier care, medical care, feed programs … because “they don’t have dentists/farriers/meds/supplements… in the wild.”
We humans bred the collective ability for domestic horses to care for themselves OUT of the domestic horse. Booya! As a former breeder, I totally get wanting to breed this to that to get the “perfect” horse. And, the desire to breed for this and that has welded the blinders onto the human.
OK, I’m going to stick my neck out here and follow down some thought processes in regards to domestic vs wild.
MY HORSE SHOULD BE ABLE TO RIDE BAREFOOT LIKE A WILD HORSE
When I hear this comparison, the response in my head is to ask if that particular horse
was bred for a strong hoof like the wild horse. I don’t know about you, but it isn’t often I hear a breeder promote “Six generations of solid hoof wall” in their sales pitches even though we all know the saying, No hoof, no horse.
But, let’s go a step further back, shall we. Yes, it is true that wild horses have better feet because they would die otherwise, but going barefoot isn’t always great for the wild horse either. Succumbing to hoof issues is one way they die. If a wild horse gets a stone bruise and cannot continue, he gets eaten. So, a wild hoof may be a lot stronger than a domestic hoof, but it isn’t impervious. No hoof is… And speaking of the wild horse hoof, let us not forget that wild horses learn from a very early age to pick their route over the countryside. Not our horses. Most of them are in paddocks or soft pastures for their early lives and then are shod once training begins. These young horses barely look where they walk let alone look for sharp things or slippery things. If we are not training our horses to learn how to navigate the landscape in bare feet AND we don’t breed for hoof strength, we need to be doubly careful when asking them to carry us barefoot.
So that concept brings me to the bare foot domestic riding horse. I am not against it. I have two riding horses that do not wear shoes. What I am against is forcing a horse to ride barefoot without very carefully dissecting that particular horse’s hoof anatomy. As we have already discussed, we’ve bred hoof integrity out of our horses. Or, let’s just say that we don’t breed for it. For example, if you want to ride your domestic horse barefoot, you need to make sure what that horse can tolerate structurally. Just because a domestic horse is a horse does not mean that its foot wall construction or frog can withstand barefoot riding. And, to be honest, if we want our domestic horses to emulate the wild horses foot trimming scenario, we would really have to allow that hoof to chip naturally or file them naturally, not all four at once — which would never happen in the wild. We humans tend to trim all the feet at the same time which is unnatural for the wild horse. Then we let him sit for a week while he grows back some hoof wall. Or, we get upset if after a few miles, the horse starts stepping ouchy. Hey, I’m not pointing a finger because I do the same thing… I’m just saying, it isn’t “natural” to trim all four and ride. What makes more sense to me for natural hooves is to understand that the wild horses move many miles per day and that is part of the process. This constant motion tends to bring circulation to the hoof and makes the walls and frogs grow faster and stronger. Again, our horses live artificially, mostly, and we should understand what creates a healthy hoof when we make decisions for our domestic horses. Like the famous German farrier, Gunnar Schillig says, “One major part in “natural” care for horses is correct hoof trimming and diet as well as many miles of movement every day. ”
Now, I’m not suggesting that we shoe all of our horses; I’m merely saying to look at the individual hoof carefully and mindfully. Our horses are not born with wild hooves. Neither are we… After all, there is a reason we humans invented shoes. Somewhere along the way, we thought it was easier/better/more comfortable to cover our feet. So, I guess I’m saying that proper fitted footwear (boots or shoes) may help the compromised feet of certain domestic horses.
I also wonder, if we could get inside a horse’s mind, if he would like proper fitting hoof covering versus going barefoot. It would be interesting to hear. I wonder if a wild horse would kinda like the relief once and a while. Dunno.
THERE IS NO EQUINE DENTIST IN THE WILD
Well, kinda there is… Dr. Mother Nature. Wild horses graze all day (when possible) and eat very differently than domestic horses which contributes to their healthy teeth structure. Those with bad teeth and bone don’t last long. Neither do the sad few who cut up their cheeks and cannot eat. The same fate goes for the few who get an infection or have spaces in their teeth so something can get caught in there or who don’t shed a cap properly. Survival of the fittest. Those imperfections in the wild horse teeth get bred out of them. The same is not true for domestic horses. Our horses don’t graze all day. They don’t have their choice of what to eat and they don’t work their teeth constantly.
And, don’t get me started on wolf teeth. Horses in the wild have wolf teeth, too, yes. But, they don’t wear bits. So, Dr. Mother Nature isn’t too concerned about wolf teeth extraction. But, we should be. And, since Dr. MN isn’t around to help our domestic horses with genetics, it is our duty as breeder and caretakers to take a look under the hood. I cannot tell you how many “rank” horses have been relieved of their pain and settled after a simple float or wolf teeth extraction.
I’m not saying anyone has to go crazy with the dentist, just have your horses checked fairly regularly and if they wear bits, have them checked for sure. It is only fair since I’m guessing none of us purchased/bred our horses based on dentition. Imagine if your human friends never saw the dentist. Ouch and Ugh.
HE’S A HORSE, HE LIVES ON THE LAND
Lastly, I want to touch lightly on feed. Wild horses don’t just eat alfalfa twice a day. In fact, they never eat alfalfa. All I will say here is for us humans to try to be feedwise and mindful in mixing it up. Horses need a variety to be healthy, just like we do. I know different supplements or different hays or feeds can be expensive. But, maybe, just get two types of hay that are good compliments to each other and alternate. Or, do a little equine nutrition research on the internet or talk to an equine nutritionist like Gabrielle Sutton. There are cost effective, simple solutions. After all, we are what we eat and so are our horses.
WILD HORSES ARE NOT DOMESTIC HORSES
(The following photos via: ©Photograph by Elyse Gardner)
We’ve been chatting about how domestic horses are not wild horses. But, that highway goes both ways. Wild horses are not domestic horses.
It breaks my heart to see our wild horses rounded up in droves. But, what is even harder to see is them sitting in jammed holding pens because they are “tough cookies”, “hard to handle” and “unbreakable”. What they really are is misunderstood. Apples and Oranges. Or maybe more clearly, Apples and Pears. They kinda look the same and kinda smell the same and kinda taste the same, but they are vastly different.
Wild horses are born to distrust in order to stay alive. They don’t look to us for food and have no predecessors that have had a relationship with humans. Wild horses don’t understand our body language and need a reason to bond with us. More to the point, wild horses have to find a reason to want to bond with us.
And what do we do? We treat them like rank domestic horses that just need to be broken.
But truly, the wild horses are just trying to survive and a human is an unknown threat. Since Mother Nature has had her hand in the creation of wild horses, what we have here are the best of the best in procuring wild horse safety. Yup, our wild horses aren’t going to give in without a fight because that is how they’ve survived. They know from their very being that flight and running is the best way out of any mess. Circle the Wagons and kick the bejessus out of the attacker!
Sadly, it is a rare human who has the understanding, compassion or patience to acknowledge the wonderful perfection of the genetic traits that create a successful wild horse. Who has the time, right? So, it is a vicious cycle.
A Wild horse sees no reason to befriend a human who is not befriending the wild horse.
Sadly, this is why there are so many of them that go unadopted. Wait, let me back up… I’m not sure they should be taken off the range to begin with for us to adopt… but that is another story. What I’m saying is that poor unsuspecting people adopt these wild horses and are met with real and serious challenges. Hence, hardly any wild horses are adopted older than weanling/yearlings because it just is too much work for most people. So sad. Wild horses are not domestic horses.
This brings me full circle to a very sad and disturbing photo I saw earlier this week. Here it is. All the poor mustangs stuck in very unnatural pens, removed from their bands and looking at a fate worse than they ever deserved. To me, if this is the best solution their guardians (us) can come up with, something huge needs to be done. Wild horses are not domestic horses. So, why are we treating them like domestic horses? Put a wild thing in a cage and it loses its heart. Give your heart to a wild thing and you are both uncaged.
If you feel a desire to help the wild horses please look at theses three links. One is for Elyse Gardner, humane observer for the BLM. The next is a website devoted to all the actions you can take (financially or just moral support) for the wild horse and the third is Madeleine Pickens.
As far as helping the Mustang rescue facilities, if you feel moved, these folks are deserving. Some lovely person took the time with my Mustang and I am forever grateful. I have listed here a link to Strawberry Mountain Mustangs who can steer you in the right direction if you’d like to help them or a Mustang rescue near your home. A bale of hay, a tube of wormer or just a kind word goes a long way in the arduous but ultimately gushingly rewarding challenge of befriending the Mustang. You could not rip from me the two I have here. They are truly amazing.
I promise to get more newsy next time… So, until we meet again, bless the wild ones.
HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth… if you like this, please pass it around!