Are Horses Unpredictable

Daniel Brown
• Thursday, 22 October, 2020
• 8 min read

This can be a controversial subject amongst horse owners and riders and there seems to be two opposing views on it. Maybe you are lucky enough to have a family member who supports you in your horse endeavors but has had little to do with them.

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(Source: society6.com)


Horses are prey animals, their lives depend on them taking flight first and asking questions later. Our domestic horses still have this inbuilt system to warn them of impending danger, some more so than others.

When your horse sees a bush rustle in the distance their immediate thought is “there is something in there that IS going to eat me?”. Horse riding, some more high impact fast-paced disciplines, can be a dangerous sport.

While the statistics are sobering the responses from riders interviewed is quite telling: “As far as the riders are concerned, one research study suggests that events are generally more concerned about injury to their horses than to themselves, and that riders identify the horse itself as the source of risk, at the same time expressing the view that an effective partnership between horse and rider is the best form of risk mitigation.

In Australia, in early 2016, two promising young riders were killed during the Cross-country phase of three day competition. Caitlyn Fisher and Olivia English were both experienced riders on relatively experienced horses and the media at the time provided their usual beat up exclaiming the sport was dangerous and that horses are unpredictable.

To this I disagree, in both cases the horses did nothing particularly unpredictable which lead to the rotational falls. When you talk to experienced horse people they will often tell you they saw an accident waiting to happen long before the actual event.

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(Source: thehorse.com)

It needn’t take a lifetime to gain this experience though especially with your own horse. In our scenario above most horses will indicate their intention to buck by starting to hump their backs, being reluctant to move forward and possibly giving you fair warning with a few bunny hops (sometimes called pig roots) before throwing in the real thing.

When you do the girth up he lifts his hind leg, kicks out just a little or nips towards your arm. You go to get on and your horse suddenly darts forward or backward or sideways.

Man, this horse is making it hard for me today you think. When the rider ignores these signs or in some cases misses them entirely and then the horse goes to bucking as soon as they swing their leg on they say “good grief that was unpredictable ”.

By practicing the basic groundwork exercises you will have a toolbox full of skills you can use in any situation where your horse is not acting like a partner (but more like a prey animal). We explain each of the exercises in detail and where and how to use them in our Groundwork Basics Series which you can check out through the link provided.

We have also written an article on the one rein stop (also called the emergency stop) and when used in a timely fashion under saddle will reduce your risk of getting into a train wreck with your horse. Both your horse and yourself need to action the one rein stop as a matter of instant muscle memory for it to be effective.

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(Source: www.pinterest.com)

Once your horse has started bucking as an example you have missed your opportunity to enact the one rein stop and get off before it goes pear-shaped. They only tell the truth and if you learn to read your horse and understand his perspective you can counteract most behaviors long before they become a problem.

It has been my experience that once we start seeing and understanding the world the way the horse does, he won’t seem nearly as unpredictable. Once you start taking notice of the signals they give, you’ll find the horse’s behavior can make a lot more sense.

Her 5-year-old Canadian Warm blood that she has in training threw her yesterday, and she had a minor concussion with amnesia for about a half hour afterwards. Kyra said she had the presence of mind to ask the teacher to lunge the horse when she sat down and recovered.

Kyra bought her a year ago from a farm about 5 hours north of Vancouver in Canada, and she was unbroken. Kyra is a good and patient trainer, and she has been very excited about her find.

Mares are even more unpredictable as they have the hormonal changes occurring on such a regular basis. It should be, in my estimation a minimum of 20 – 30 minutes of concentrated, focused ground games and exercises with the goals of not only warming the horse up, but establishing a very strong and immediate connection.

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(Source: www.pinterest.com)

Once I am riding the horse, if I notice any attention away from me even for an instant, I immediately correct it. I always like the analogy of the parent and child relationship as applied to horses.

When working with children, keeping the child's attention is very important and not always easy. I do think it is easier with the horse to hold its attention as we are so physically active with it, when we are working with it.

It does require constant vigilance without any lapses in our attention to the process. Connection with the horse happens at a lot of levels simultaneously.

There is an instant before the action of the horse that we can be aware of if we are really consciously in tune with the animal. This is high level stuff and is hard to teach to a degree.

Just talking about it though can begin to give one thought and awareness they might not have without the discussion. Success with horses can be taught as a meditation, which I do if I have a receptive, high level audience.

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They are the ones more likely to get hurt and hit their blocks faster and the horse's, even though they may be accomplished and winning riders and trainers. There is a joining, a knowing, and a sense of oneness that can happen consciously.

The death of 17-year-old horse rider Olivia English in March this year rocked the global equestrian world. The cross-country phase is considered particularly dangerous as it involves galloping over solid obstacles on mixed terrain.

Wayne Roy croft, from the International Equestrian Federation, called them freak occurrences ”. A highly cited article, published in 1999, by Australian trauma specialist Dr Bruce Paid claimed that evening was more dangerous than motorcycle or car racing.

Paid’ calculations were made in relation to injury rates per time spent in the saddle. A recent critique suggests that risk is not evenly distributed across an evening competition, hence the public popularity of the water jump.

A recent critique by Denzel O'Brien suggests that a more accurate way to measure injury is to determine injury rates per jump attempt, as it is at jumps that horse and rider are at greatest risk of a rotational fall. A single misstep can be very costly when evening. Kat Settler/Flickr, CC BY-ND In Australia alone, there are an estimated 20 deaths from horse-related injury every year.

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(Source: equineink.com)

The risk of safety apathy among equestrians is further compounded by the widespread acceptance that horses are dangerous because they are inherently unpredictable herd animals, whose flight instinct is ever ready to kick in as their riders get kicked off. While no sentient being is fully predictable (humans included), a number of technical controls can be introduced to reduce the likelihood and consequence of an accident, injury or fatality.

Instead of talking about how unpredictable horses may or may not be, what if we spoke about how well humans can “read” and interpret horses ? For example, researchers developed the Horse Grimace Scale to enable scoring of the equine pain face.

It directs the assessor to pay detailed consideration to the horse’s ears, eyes, chewing muscles, chin and facial profile. Many an experienced rider or trainer who is particularly observant and attuned to horses will frequently claim “they could see something coming from a mile away”.

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1 ballotpedia.org - https://ballotpedia.org/Voter_turnout_in_United_States_elections
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5 www.presidency.ucsb.edu - https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/statistics/data/voter-turnout-in-presidential-elections
6 www.fairvote.org - https://www.fairvote.org/voter_turnout