Fire HorseByliner July 23, 2012
A Byliner Original
Let’s say a racehorse is a gelding—in other words, the end of the line. His worth, his entire value, lies only in himself. No colts or fillies will trail him on the pedigree tree. Either he performs or he fails. He might find himself one day in an air-conditioned stall in Dubai being massaged, hoof to top line, by the best masseuse in the equine business, fed his preferred twenty-two or so pounds of oats, nine pounds of hay, and thirteen gallons of water. He might take a dip in his pool after a workout. That is, if he can run.
If he can’t run, he might find himself watching a questionable stranger screwing a broken lightbulb above his moldy stall as lightning flashes, and then feel the switch of a whip. When his frantic nose hits the wiring and he falls to the hay electrocuted, he’ll become tomorrow’s insurance settlement. Or he might find himself holding together a child’s diorama, because indeed horses still can be rendered for glue.
What exactly goes on in their brains? Apparently not much flows between right and left lobe, but they are keenly sensitive to the emotions and desires of humans. Take Clever Hans, for example, a turn-of-the-century horse thought to have extraordinary mathematical abilities because he could tap out the answers to difficult equations with his hoof. He toured Germany on that talent. But when a commission decided to investigate the claims, they found that this horse could guess the right answer only if he could see his questioner and if the questioner knew the answer. Clever Hans would judge small shifts in body language, an angled head, a stiffening neck, cues the questioner didn’t even know he was giving.
Horses might not be geniuses, but they know a lot about us humans.