Diana Wynne Jones famously deduced that the horses of Fantasyland are vegetative bicycles. Here are some ways that real horses are anything but:
1. Horses are very large animals. This is something that you can know in the abstract, as we all do, and still be taken aback by when interacting with an actual horse. Horses take up space
. Their heads are massive chunks of bone
. Even when they're being affectionate, they're still a good eight to ten times larger than a human being, and they are proportionately stronger.
My perspective on large dogs has completely changed after two years of dressage lessons.
1a. Corrollary: horses have very large, hard, heavy, inflexible feet. Obviously, if one steps on you, it's going to hurt
. But even a glancing accidental blow is likely to leave bruises. As I was bringing Milo in the other night, my foot happened to get in the way of his. (See above re: horses take up a lot of space.) Entirely accidental on both sides. And I ended up with a welt on my heel where the edge of his hoof hit me.
2. Horses are, on average, thousand pound herbivores. This means their digestive systems have to keep on trucking pretty much constantly. Which is to say, they are poop machines
. And you want them to be. A horse who isn't pooping regularly (by
which I mean several times a day) is a horse who is in trouble.
Also, and I'm sorry to burst the bubble of everyone who grew up with My Little Ponies
*, horses fart. Noxiously. A lot.
3. Horses are also thousand pound prey animals. They do not think like human beings. They also do not think like cats or dogs. Even a very calm, sensible horse is going to spook, and he's going to spook at things that make no sense
. Milo is in general unflappable, but he has spooked, for no apparent reason, at tree stumps, a wood pile, and an elderly VW. (He's also spooked at the barn cat, but I can kind of see his point there. She did
emerge from under the bench quite suddenly, so we'll ignore the fact that she's at best 1/100th of his size.) He's also spooked at himself
4. Horses are creatures with opinions. The are, for instance, herd animals. A solitary horse is an unhappy horse. They will try to follow each other pretty much automatically, which can be awkward for their riders. Take away their pasture mate(s), and they're going to be distressed. They're likely to call for their absent friends. (One of the horses at the barn screams
.) And in general, if they don't like something, they will find a way to let you know.
5. A horse's primary means of interacting with the world is her mouth. (Hard, heavy, inflexible feet, remember?) Anything that isn't a threat is likely to be something that needs to be tasted. Also, horses are opportunistc and greedy (see above re: the needs of their digestive systems). Anything that can
be tasted, will
be tasted. And eaten if possible.
To sum up: horses have presence
. They take up space in the world. They are intensely biological. They have opinions (often very inconvenient ones). And they have needs, both physical and emotional. They get bored. They get scared. They get lonely. They are the farthest thing from vegetative bicycles you can imagine.
*Completely OT, but can I just say how utterly creeped out I am by how thin
My Little Ponies have gotten? (Compare the first link, which is current MLP, to the second two, which are '80s MLP.) I mean, seriously, Hasbro, WTF? They're PONIES, not heroin-chic fashion models. FEED THEM.