In the wild, horses are animals that are preyed upon.
Because of this they have developed a wide field of vision to help see their predators early enough to outrun them, improving their chance of survival.
To gain this wide field of vision the horses’ eyes are large and placed on each side of their head giving them almost a three hundred and sixty degree field of vision.
Having their eyes positioned high up on their head also allows them to have the greatest field of vision when their head is down grazing.
They are naturally most comfortable in surroundings that allow them good visibility.
Horses have much keener hearing than humans.
Their ears can move a hundred and eighty degrees in order to face the direction of sound and determine what the noise is and isolate where a noise is coming from.
They are gregarious animals meaning they are social and fond of company and have a strong herd instinct.
They find security in familiar surroundings and can become stressed if they are moved to an unfamiliar place or become isolated.
They like to be housed where they can touch and groom each other and should always be able to see another horse.
Horses are grazing animals with small stomachs adapted to ingesting small amounts of fibrous feed constantly as they move and walk.
In the wild a horse with undefined boundaries will graze for sixteen hours and walk up to twenty kilometres per day.
For this reason horses that are stabled or kept in space restricted yards for long periods will require regular daily exercise or access to a grazing area for a period of time each day.
Stabled horses can develop serious gastrointestinal problems without constant or very regular access to fibrous food.
Horses have quick reflexes and can panic in certain situations.
This means that they should always be approached in a calm, quiet way and handled in a firm and non-hesitant manner.
They have a great ability to sense fear therefore handlers should be confident in their actions.
The way that horses behave during handling is a result of the amount of handling they have had, the quality of that handling and their genetics.
When catching a horse in a paddock it is important to approach the horse slowly, ensure it is aware of your presence and then confidently and quickly fit the halter.
Horses should always be led from the handler’s right hand side with the handler walking near the shoulder of the horse.
All horses should be trained to be tied up but care needs to be taken as a horse that is tied up and becomes frightened can easily injure itself.
This risk can be reduced by always tying the horse to a single loop of baling twine so that if it takes fright it can break away easily.
Horses should never be tied up using a bridle.
Hitching rails need to be well constructed on a non-slip surface.
Quick release knots must always be used as this allows the horse to be quickly and safely released if required.
Cross ties involve tying the horse from both sides of its head stall.
The advantage of cross ties are that they minimise the ability of the horse to pivot around a central point which can make handling easier when working alone.
They must be designed by an experienced person.
When performing a husbandry procedure that is likely to frighten the horse, have the horse held by a second handler with both people standing on the same side of the horse.
If the horse does jump away it will jump away from the handlers reducing the chance of injury.
Having a second handler lift an alternate leg makes the job of applying a surgical dressing or clipping a leg much easier as the horse is forced to keep its remaining three legs on the ground.
Training horses is important to improve handling outcomes in all situations and for all purposes including catching and leading, washing and grooming, for routine husbandry procedures and training for specific work and sporting disciplines such as eventing, dressage and show jumping.
The most fundamental principle in the training of performance horses is that of negative reinforcement, pressure and release.
When riding the pressure is applied through the connection of the hands to the bit and the legs to the side of the horse.
When the horse gives the appropriate response it is rewarded by removal of the pressure.
This pressure maybe applied to ask the horse to move forward, change direction, alter its frame, shorten its stride, jump over an obstacle, increase its pace, decrease its pace, come to a complete halt or complete a variety of dressage movements.
The effectiveness and ethics of negative reinforcement training are determined by the way the pressure is applied and the speed and accuracy of release when the horse offers a correct response or behaviour.
Good training reduces the risk of injury, improves the experiences and pleasure for both horses and humans and ultimately leads to a trusting and rewarding bond between the rider and the horse.