This morning at 0600 Marianne and I went out to feed the horses at the barn, as always (almost) on Saturday mornings our daughters are sleeping a little longer. The horses wasn’t on the front porch and we couldn’t hear any sound from inside the barn so we presumed they were out in the corral, but as we were about to open the door to the food storage, Windflowers sleepy face showed up in one of the doorways to the stable , then came Rosie, and after her Bluebell. They seem so relaxed and safe, living in the stable by their own free choice, they don’t even consider it necessary to keep a guard on the front porch anymore.
Then at breakfast I came to think about horse behavior and how horses can go from one situation considering a place dangerous, to another considering the same place completely safe.
I recalled two occasions when the horses showed a behaviour I didn’t pay any special attention to at the time. The first was the day we opened the drove road from the pasture up to the area in front of the horse barn; the second occasion was a day or so after New Years Eve (when the horses had been scared by fireworks near/above the horse barn.
The common denominator was that at both occasions the horses were exposed to an interesting but unknown or “unsecured” area. Their curiosity is predictable since horses are always looking for new feeding grounds, water holes or nice places to rest and sleep, as well as a good tree for scratching.
So, did our brave horses just walk up to the “new” place to check it out?
No that would be a little too brave even for a wild survivor. If they just walk up slowly and carefully, they will be a sitting duck for an eventual predator in an ambush. So instead they used common wild horse knowledge; they ran up tight together as a band of stampeding wild horses from the pasture up to the stable area, made a run-down-and-stop and a roll-back (well, more like a quick turn, but just so you can get the picture) and then just as quick back again. They repeated this a couple of times and then they decided it was safe, so the third (or fourth) time they stayed at the stable and checked it out thoroughly and enjoyed their expanded territory of safe places.
Out in the wilderness the technique is probably a smart way to check out a new area that is hard to overview and full of probable hideouts for predators, because if they stampede into the unknown area and then quickly retreat again, they will stir up and surprise eventual predators and make it difficult for them to catch their prey. If they just walk in slowly they will make it easy for a predator to attack.
So again we have noticed how intelligent Nokota horses are and how much knowledge about survival they possess, thanks to their wild ancestry and for been given the opportunity to grow up in a herd with old wise horses.