The Lady Lion
The issue of ‘to pat or not to pat’ is a serious matter for the horse/owner/rider/trainer to consider. Remember what we horse owners are aiming to do is to teach the horse into becoming a responsive domesticated animal. The animal is to be part of our wider family and it may find its role alongside the dog, the cat and maybe even the budgie. However the foal is born with feral instincts and in theory it could live untended by man as do its wild brethren. The foal learns from its mother and any young stock it may run with, a way of surviving. It was born with fear and it is taught by its equine peers of what to be afraid.
Then along come we humans who seek to teach it how it can be useful to man.
Actually we can’t teach it very much that it does not know already through its genes but what we can teach is performance upon command. To achieve this objective calls for patience, understanding, observation and experience on the part of the tutor. The horse cannot speak but otherwise its senses of hearing, smell, touch, sight and taste are acute. Therefore we humans must adapt our methods of communication with the animal to achieve our aim. The horse does not understand our words. A single syllable word such as ‘halt’ or ‘stop’ to a horse merely a sound which calls for an acquired response once learned. Whereas it can feel the presence of a fly upon its skin. Touch becomes therefore a powerful tool in our schooling.
The fundamental obstacle to the human when schooling the horse is the fear which has been inborn in the horse as an instinct for survival. In a country like the UK, we humans are the top predator of the animal kingdom and the horse soon learns that undoubted fact. It has its own ways of judging us as fellow creatures on this hostile planet and it makes that judgement from experience with us. When we go up and stroke the horse on the neck, or the shoulder, the belly, the back, the leg, then we humans are offering peace and companionship. Along with us should come safety, shelter, food and tender loving care.
So, as long as ‘a pat’ is not ‘a slap‘, then the horse won’t object to our touch, even if we are named as a predator, indeed it make come to welcome the contact with a fellow Earth dweller - especially if the human comes bearing treats. And if the response to a pat is returned by our equine companion either as a lick or a gentle nudge - then are we not blessed?