Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of things about horses that I assumed to be true. Some are just silly, others seem to make sense. As it turns out, a lot of them are bunk.
For instance, the myth that a healthy horse never lays down. You know, like a shark has to keep swimming or it will suffocate? Well, if you believe this, the first time you go by a field of resting and sleeping horses you’ll think a horrible horse massacre has just occurred. Horses not only can lie down to sleep, they need to. Another reason to keep your horse’s stall clean.
Here’s one of my favorites: a horse is just a big dog. Now, in some ways, this is true – they are furry and four-legged, can be very playful and curious, and depend on their owner for their care. However, there are fundamental differences between dogs and horses, all relating to the fact that dogs are genetically predators and horses are genetically prey. The biggest difference here is that a dog can be happy-go-lucky and have a good time – he’s at the top of the food chain! A horse has to be a lot more wary, always on guard for something that might want to eat him (a dog, a tractor, a tree blowing in the wind, a plastic bag blowing in the wind, the wind…). So, unlike your goofy, fun dog, a horse is easily spooked. They’re also not so good at playing fetch. Ha ha.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase healthy as a horse. Where on earth this came from, I have no idea, because – and I don’t want to scare you away from horse ownership here – horses are remarkably fragile. Well, take a look at that very large body on top of those spindly little legs. That’s a recipe for disaster right there! There are a million ways a horse can injure one of those legs. Horses also have a tendency to spook easily, causing them to act in ways that are harmful to themselves and others. They also will eat things that are not good for them and are susceptible to a host of diseases carried by insects, parasites and the inappropriate things they will put in their mouths. A horse owner must be ever vigilant for dangers in their horse’s environment: Keep the pasture free of debris. Don’t ever use barbed wire. Keep the stall as clean as possible. Follow a strict deworming and vaccination schedule. Keep an eye out for signs of injury or illness and treat promptly, consulting your veterinarian sooner rather than later if you’re unsure.
A myth that used to be true but is no longer is that a horse with a broken leg must be put down. Advances in medical technology have made it possible to treat some horse leg fractures with metal rods and other methods. Thank goodness for science.
Another funny little saying is that horses don’t like their ears touched. It’s true that some don’t, but you should be able to touch your horse’s ears – after all, you’re going to be putting halters and bridles and such over those ears. You also may need to clip around the ears, i.e. for a “bridle path” (the part of the mane where the top of the bridle or halter rests), or administer medication. If your horse is sensitive around the ear area, you need to work to help him get over it.
So don’t just assume that things you’ve heard for years are true. Do some research, read some books, watch some Horse TV. Even risk sounding like a newbie by asking an experienced horse person a dumb question. I usually keep that one as a last resort.