I’m still shaken from what happened at the barn. Herd mentality has its dark side.
Like getting caught in gang crossfire and narrowly escaping a bullet, I was pinned into a corner while my otherwise sweet, gentle Thoroughbred gelding exploded into a series of furious, double-barreled kicks. I didn’t process fully how dangerous the situation was until seconds after the fact when two of my barn friends who witnessed it and my trainer rushed over to me, wide-eyed.
“You have a guardian angel,” someone commented and I firmly believe I do. And a praying mother. I’m physically fine, but emotionally a bit on edge.
A Violent Outburst
Let me replay the events for you. I walked my boy Knight into the cross ties and clipped him in. We have a “bay” with three crossties and are due for a few more. Anyway, a friend’s horse was tied behind the cross tie area fencing, right behind Knight. Think of it like one horse being in front of another horse in a horse trailer.
My friend’s horse made a face at Knight as I led him in and Knight didn’t respond. I wasn’t surprised; Knight’s a friendly, mild-mannered horse. Or so I thought.
Without any warning, while I was brushing Knight’s hindquarters, an angry squeal erupted as Knight kicked and hit the metal bar behind him–the bar separating “his” section of the cross ties from my friend’s previously tied up horse, she was in the processing of leading her gelding away. I dropped the brush and it ricocheted across the concrete–now that I think about it, I can’t recall picking it up–I backed away from the flailing hind feet and was as far away possible as I could get, standing helpless and frozen.
It didn’t occur to me to run forward, away from the striking hooves, but I had presence of mind to know I couldn’t risk ducking down under the metal bar into the next cross tie, for fear of getting my head too low while ducking. Too close to the missile-like shod hooves.
And so I stood there, trying to make sense of the violence. I think I yelled, “NOOOOO!!!!” but the angry vocalizations and the striking sounds of horse shoe against metal bar drowned out my attempt to intervene.
I wasn’t scared until I saw the worried responses from the bystanders.
“Now you know he has that in him,” one of them said.
“I thought for sure he nailed you! Are you okay?”
“That was so scary.”
The consensus was that it was a miracle that my horse didn’t strike me and take out my knee or worse.
Why Would He Do That?
I thought Knight got along with all horses. I assumed it was from having a nice personality and from being used to being so close to pony horses on the track from his racing days. In fact, I have only seen Knight pin his ears at another horse once. Once.
He is pleasant to the mares with whom we’ve been to horse shows. Further evidence of his tolerant demeanor is that on a trail ride a few weeks ago, one of the mares bit him on the butt. He didn’t even flinch. When I walk him around the barn he frequently wants to stop and say hi to other horses whose faces are hanging over their stall door. Sometimes I let him sniff and say hi for a few seconds. I’ve never witnessed Knight react, but have had horses who seemed welcoming pin their ears or shake their heads at us which conveys the appropriate message for us to move on. Knight’s never made a mean face in return.
Other than a long, narrow bloody gash on each hind cannon bone, Knight “went back to normal”after his actions and we had a decent riding lesson. He was sound. He even got a little rushy when we started jumping, but that’s not a new challenge.
I’m physically fine, but can’t take away the mental image of my livid horse and the fury he released for reasons I can’t explain, and how I narrowly escaped serious injury.
After debriefing the scenario with both my trainer and another set of barn friends who weren’t there to witness it, we concurred that it’s good to be reminded that horses are not cuddly stuffed animals or even like overgrown dogs. They are large and to be respected. Their herd mentality is at the core of who they are. No matter how well-trained, sweet, and lovely, if the conditions are just so, any one of them can react in a way true to their fight or flight nature.
I still don’t know what set off Knight. One theory is that he kicked at the horse who made the face and when he hit the metal bar (because it hurt) he thought he was being kicked and then retaliated. Herd mentality. We just don’t understand why there was a time delay between the face being made, a minute of calm, and then the violence. I will be extra cautious next time my friend’s horse and Knight’s paths cross. And I am going to pay close attention to Knight’s body language when out and about.
I still love my horse and think he’s incredible and sweet, but I now know “what he has in him”–what all horses have in them really, and I will be vigilant and overcautious, which is probably not a bad idea anyway.
Please Comment: Have you ever witnessed your own horse or a horse you know snap out of character and behave in such a dramatic, true-to-nature way? Have you taken extra safety precautions as a result?