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Equine Etiquette -July Meeting

The 4th July meeting of e-YARD was a little different from previous meetings. Instead of presentations and discussions about limit points, observations, POWDERY checks, those Members assembled were given an insight into etiquette when we encounter horses.

This was not a presentation telling us what we should do. The presenters already knew we were all responsible considerate road users, but much more of why we do what we do.

Rachel Glossop and Astrid Paget gave up an evening of mucking out stables (or whatever they do) to tell us a little more about the animals. I cannot recall who said about horses that they are dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle, a view I concur with, but nothing I heard that night changed my view.

Rachel and Astrid are keen, knowledgeable horse riders, and are members of Trec GB, White Horse Trec Group, British Horse Society and Ebor Vale Riding Club. They own their own horses and teach in the clubs they are members of. They also try to spread the word about being responsible and safe on the road to other riders.

I think most already knew horses are flight animals. Hunters, like humans, big cats etc need stereoscopic vision to judge distances, so have eyes in the front of their head, the hunted, horses, cattle etc have to run from hunters, so have their eyes more on the side of their head so they can see to the sides and rears and literally keep an eye out for predators. Liken it to permanent lifesavers.

What we didn’t know was they are very sensitive to light, and different shades or colours and can be easily spooked by something as simple (to us) as a wild rhubarb leaf being light side up. That is without noise or movement. Add in a bird, like a pheasant launching form a hedgerow and it is almost in panic mode. Without us doing anything we have a situation where 500kg plus of equine muscle controlled by a relatively small brain is doing what comes naturally, running away.

Bizarrely, the horse is likely to be more frightened of the leaf or bird than the noisy metal thing passing on the other sided. That is before we even mention pigs.

Horses have a primeval fear of pigs. Apparently from days when horses were a lot smaller and wild boar were bigger. Boar used to eat horse. Makes you think, the horse population of France must be nervous wrecks, boar underfoot (or hoof) and humans who have been known to eat horse, on their backs. Give them a wide berth. If you are riding or driving in pig farming areas, be extra aware that the horse might already be a bit skittish.

Horses can be trained to understand that vehicles are not a danger, but it takes time and exposure to vehicles. Unfortunately, they do not carry a sign saying they are so trained. Might be a safe bet if it is a police horse though!!

There were lots of other little pieces of information which help to paint the complete picture and there was great interaction and discussion between Rachel and Astrid and Members.

A related point which may be of use, especially to motorcyclists, is that farmers who have shoots on their land will put feed down for game birds to attract/keep them near or on their land. The down side is they put the feed at the base of hedgerows because it is easy. As a result you will find game birds in the verge rather than where they used to be in the past, in the fields. But something to bear in mind especially in the Autumn, a well fed pheasant or partridge is a heavy bird to hit at 60mph. Still nobody knows why the pheasant crossed the road, do they Alwyn?

Kelvin did make a useful contribution by suggesting that motorcycle horns should make the sound of a pig so horses would run away from motorcycles. It received, shall we say, a luke warm reception from Rachel and Astrid. Me, I think he might be onto something.

The evening was a convivial and good humoured session where members gained a useful insight into why we do what we do near horses.

You still will not get me on one though!

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