Neu Perspectives

Self-Preservation

Sometimes I’m asked what type of horse scares me the most. Sure, it’s a weird question, but I have some weird friends.

Anyway, when I get on that subject, my mind runs through all the many unappealing options at hand.  

Would I rather have a horse that bucks? Flips over? Runs off? Spooks excessively? Swishes his tail and kicks up every time you ask him to go? (Fun options, no?) 

Naturally, the box I would like to check is “none of the above,” but if I really put some thought into it, a horse with no self-preservation is by far the scariest one of all.  

Some folks have never run into this type of animal, and for their own well-being, I’m thrilled for them. But unfortunately, I cross paths with one of these once in a while, and it’s always a terrible feeling.  

A horse with little to no self-preservation does not know how to take care of himself or watch out for his own personal safety. He has no thought or concern regarding injury and often reacts blindly to situations that feel tight mentally and physically. This type of horse is tough to teach anything to, as he is only conditioned to react. 

Sometimes, it’s a horse that panics or worries when he is alone and blinds himself to any danger, just to get back with his friends. He will attempt to jump fences, hit walls, run into things or flat smoke over a person if she is standing in his way. He only thinks about what he wants to do and doesn’t see anything but the worry and panic in his own mind.  

This type of horse doesn’t have to be wild, either. A very gentle horse can have zero consideration for his own well-being, be it the way he navigates a hill (pushy, awkward, stumbly and clumsy) or gets himself into trouble with mangers, feeders, tubs, buckets and troughs. Naturally, I hate this feeling because a horse that doesn’t take care of himself certainly isn’t going to take very good care of me. This type of horse is often a liability, as he injures himself easily and doesn’t learn how to avoid trouble, since trouble doesn’t bother him in the first place. He’s the type that scrapes saddles, splinters fences and always has something on him to doctor.

The term “self-preservation” can also hold a lot of clout in a performance horse. Our animals communicate with us to the best of their abilities in their actions, reactions, habits and traits. I’ve seen cutting horses, who may not be as talented or athletic as some of their competition, really smarten up on their movements and how they read a cow to perform their job well. I’ve seen rope horses that anticipate their rider’s intentions (in a good way!) and know how to keep themselves stout, sound and strong going to the ground when they neck a yearling steer and shut down motion from a gallop. I’ve seen ranch horses navigate through low-growing cacti and thick sticker brush by following a rabbit trail to avoid being poked. To me, these all prove possession of self-preservation in a horse. 

Sure, there can be “too much of a good thing.” I don’t need a horse that’s terrified of every piece of cellophane on the side of the road, nor is so afraid of getting hurt by another horse he won’t lead into a pen. A horse doesn’t have to sacrifice confidence or ability to think through a tight situation in order to be cautious of his own well-being. 

And no, I won’t sit here and write that I’d be thrilled to take a nasty bronc, a lazy grouch or a runoff any day as my main mount just because he has a little self-preservation. 

But when I’m around something that doesn’t have the sense to take care of himself, it sure makes me glad for the ones that do (even if they do crowhop now and again!)

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