Thursday, September 8, 2011

Extremes of Horse Behavior

Casting the horse as the ultimate prey animal and the human as the ultimate predator is a useful teaching device to drive home the important differences between our two species. However, it’s also important to remember that both horses and humans move up and down the behavior continuum, demonstrating the capacity for everything from tenderness to savagery. Equestrian explorer, author, and Long Riders’ Guild founder, CuChullaine O’Reilly, examines the dark end of the spectrum in his new book, Deadly Equines: The shocking true story of meat-eating & murderous horses.

Listen to my interview with CuChullaine here.


ross jacobs said...

I'm not one to normally post a response, but I feel I can't let CulChullaine's interview go without comment.

He is attempting to turn hearsay into fact. He provides no evidence that horses are capable of eating meat. As a physiologist I can tell you that they neither have the dentition to be hunters nor the gastrointestinal system to sustain themselves on a diet of meat.

UFO sightings have more credibility than ChulChullaine's anecdotal evidence.

dontmatternonee said...

Hope he talks about Nevele Pride, he killed 2 people and was a champion racer.

Rick said...

Hi Ross,
Thanks for the post. Perhaps CuChullaine will reply.

cheryl said...

I too am think the poster, Ross Jacobs is correct. Ask Dr. Eleanor Kellon if horses are even capable of digesting meat. She is the expert in equine nutrition in this country.

Written history of horses attacking and killing people? Absolutely. These accounts were of stallions if I remember and given the way horses were probably treated and managed then, (or today) or what we know about horses wanting to dominate in various ways, it's very believable. A stallion savagely attacked it's handler a few years ago at a local horse expo in front of the crowd here in Mi. Horses are not born this way, we know that they are made that way by man. It's also very believable that if someone other than a horse person saw an attack like this and saw lots of blood drawn and the horse's bloody mouth, might believe that the horse was eating the human.
Maybe Dr. Deb Bennett would be another one to consult with on this matter. Her knowledge of horse behavior and equines in history is extensive.

Thanks Rick for another thought provoking show.

Rick said...

Cheryl, thanks for your comments. There are several outstanding equine nutritionists that contribute to our programs and I would love to hear from any of them. I would hesitate to say that horses are incapable of consuming and digesting meat simply because they are not designed to do so. Those are very different things to me. I've seen a video on YouTube of a horse that has developed a fondness for hamburgers. He also sits in the back seat of a convertible when his owner visits the drive-through. So I remain open to the possibilities. It doesn't change one little bit my appreciation of what is normal and natural for the horse, nor the implications for care and training.

CuChullaine O'Reilly said...

This is a three-part answer by the author to the posting by Ross Jacobs.

“He provides no evidence that horses are capable of eating meat.”

No evidence? Surely anyone who had read the book would be able to cite ample evidence that horses are omnivores.

History documents how European explorers witnessed Tibetan horses "eagerly" eating raw antelope flesh from their owners hands. Nor should we neglect to consider the Assaimaras horsemen of Africa, who, after conquering their enemies the Danakils, fed their horses the hearts and livers of the children they had slain.

Even on a more mundane level, the evidence of omnivorous action is startling and evidence of meat-eating horses exists on every continent, including Antarctica. When the book was published the known list of meat which horses had known to have consumed included: Antelope, Beef, Birds, Chicken, Fish, Goat, Hamster, Horse, Human, Moose, Offal, Onager, Polar Bear, Rabbits, Seal, Sheep, Whale, Yak. Since then the list has grown.

For example, in the last 72 hours we have received news about horses in Arabia who consume raw camel meat, American horses who devour live crayfish, the BBC filmed horses eating fish on the beach of an English island, and Mariwari horses in India enjoy consuming goat's head soup.

And we have just been informed of a horseman who a few hours after completing his reading of the book, offered his horse pound of raw ground beef. The horse eagerly ate it.

Thus, despite the commonly held belief that horses are strict herbivores, new evidence suggests that these are omnivorous creatures which are more robust than we suspected.

What I believe is noteworthy about this particular message, and the reason I decided to respond, is that I believe it symbolizes a cultural opposition to the re-emergence of this information.

Millions of people have become out of touch with the natural world of horses. The result is that first-hand knowledge regarding dangerous equine behaviour and dietary deviance has been replaced with a fairytale view of horses which portrays them as helpless, grass-eating victims.

As the list of protein/meat/flesh/offal continues to grow, the idea that horses are herbivores will be increasingly difficult to defend.

And why should we defend it? As I told Rick, I’m an equestrian researcher, not a missionary. I don’t personally care what people feed their horses.

What I object to is when a narrow cultural definition of this multi-faceted animal attempts to dominate an on-going international debate.

CuChullaine O'Reilly said...

"As a physiologist I can tell you that they neither have the dentition to be hunters nor the gastrointestinal system to sustain themselves on a diet of meat."

Let’s begin with the dentition of hunters.

While the occurrences are rare, evidence demonstrates that equines can shift their traditional role and become, as one horseman stated, “Predators by choice.”

In 2002 the Long Riders’ Guild Academic Foundation learned of a disturbing report which originated in the United States. According to that country’s veterinarian publication, The Horse, readers reported cases of horses killing animals and devouring their prey.

One horrified reader wrote to the magazine to describe a “bizarre and frightening” episode wherein a horse grabbed a goat, shook it to death, and began devouring it. A few minutes later the witnesses observed other horses approach the dead goat, who began consuming the flesh and drinking its blood.

“They all grabbed some part of the goat with their teeth and literally tore it into pieces with all the tugging and pulling. The one who had killed the goat had the biggest part of what was left…. Soon, two little colts less than three months old came over to what was left of the goat and they took some bites and just stood there chewing and eating…. My friend and I were absolutely stunned over what we had just witnessed.”

There is a cultural disagreement regarding the horses diet, with North Americans and western Europeans on the one hand, versus Oriental equestrian cultures on the other. In fact, as the book explains, there are equestrian cultures which predate the founding of the United States that have long known about the horse's dietary capabilities.

History demonstrates that horses have survived on a protein diet on many occasions, with the most astonishing examples linked to the Kazakhs.

In 1950 Douglas MacKiernan became the first CIA spy to die in action. He was killed in Tibet, after having ridden a specially trained Kazakh meat-eating horse across the Takla Makan desert. In November, 1954, National Geographic magazine reported that the a large section of the Kazakh tribe had fled the advancing Chinese communist army by escaping into India on meat-eating horses. Apparently the Nat Geo editors saw the words, but, like many people today, could not grasp the reality.

No matter, as "Deadly Equines" was about to begin the printing process, it was halted at the last minute when startling last minute evidence arrived – again linked to the Kazakhs.

British explorer John Hare uncovered evidence that knowledge of meat-eating horses had never disappeared among these tribal riders.

”On my recent trip I travelled with four Kazakhs, all of whom are related to the Kazakhs who completed the Gobi crossing. I asked them if they had had experience of flesh-eating horses and they all confirmed they know how to train a horse to eat flesh and if I would like to buy such a horse they would start training it now.”

The modern equine mouth provides another clue. It is an intriguing fact that in addition to the flat herbivore teeth residing there, horses have canine and wolf teeth. Conical canine teeth are used on meat, not plant life. Oddly enough, these canine teeth are shared with humans, not carnivores.

The jaw of a modern horse can move side to side, to chew vegetation, or front to back, to consume meat. Once again, humans also have this adaptable mandible capacity.

Horses digest their food in one stomach, rather than in several, as cows, camels and sheep do, with the equine digestive system making use of a single stomach, intestines, cecum and the colon, much like another omnivore, the human.

Researchers have now concluded that large mammals, including ancient horses, also altered their diets as their climate changed. Both of these new findings contradict a common assumption that species maintain a dietary niche.

Thus, like their human riders, horses possess teeth, jaws and digestive systems which would allow them to be omnivorous.

CuChullaine O'Reilly said...

“UFO sightings have more credibility than CuChullaine's anecdotal evidence.”

What I found most interesting and encouraging about the interview I did with Rick was how he a) urged his listeners to keep an open mind and b) concluded by stating that my book “recants our modern definition of horses.”

That’s a bold intellectual statement for a man in his position, and I would like to thank him for having the editorial courage to host this important equestrian dialogue.

Yet in response to the comments posted by this reader, what strikes me is the surprising lack of intellectual curiosity about our collective equestrian past.

Instead of considering what factors could be contributing to such a fundamental modern misinterpretation of the horse’s diet and emotional behaviour, the research has been condemned, I suspect, without having been read.

If humanity is to build on what it knows, instead of what it thinks, then we must begin by realizing that that persistent error exists in today’s equestrian community. Once we acknowledge the existence of these anomalous horses, we realize that additional evidence of its existence is in plain sight.

Sadly, maintaining loyalty to an outdated equestrian concept is nothing new. In 1847 the renowned historian, Rollo Springfield, warned that the equestrian community was in danger of becoming rooted in tradition. The result, he said, would be an obstinate refusal to examine new ideas.

“These men will continue from generation to generation doing something absurd from force of habit and utter want of thought,” Springfield advised.

As Professor Richard Bulliet, of Cornell University points out in the book, modern humans tend to harbour an idealistic mental image of the horse as being a spiritually pure and innocent creature, akin to the unicorn. The notion of horses devouring meat or killing other animals shatters this idealized image.

In closing, I am always happy to discuss this project, as my time allows. However, I take exception when internet users (or rather abusers) leave deliberately offensive, abusive, antagonistic and bullying messages on social networking sites and message boards.

The book was published, after careful consideration, because it was felt that the recent death of an Australian infant by an equine warranted public inspection. In the two weeks since the book has been released similar episodes, and human deaths, have been noted in New Zealand, America, Holland, Egypt and India.

Thus I hope that while this vital on-going investigation continues, we can agree that ridicule and scorn play no part in this debate.

ross jacobs said...

I'm not sure CulChullaine understands the difference between evidence and anecdotal reports. He offers a lengthy reply to my comments, yet still presents nothing more than stories.

I think if one is to suggest such a large paradigm shift in our understanding of horse behaviour, actual evidence from peered reviewed studies would be the bare minimum any author should present.

I would also suggest that having an open mind (as CulChullaine recommends) is part of the problem. An open mind is a useless if it is not accompanied by a critical mind.

saddlechariot said...

I read CuChullaine O'Reilly's book, Deadly Equines and it made me wonder about my assumptions that ponies are vegetarian. It also made me wonder about the assumption that flight is the normal response to danger, but that I haven't experimented with that yet. Obama, my pony, has catholic tastes at the best of times . I can cope with his enthusiasm for Pizza, and chips, but I find his habit of grinding chewing gum off the pavement mildly embarrassing, so when we were at an Organic Farm Open day together, and I had decided to treat myself to a really high quality organic burger, I thought of the book and decided to see what Obama preferred.
I had hoped to pass off all the various exotic varieties of lettuce, none of which impress me, to Obama, but he rejected each and every one. Actually they were better than I expected though I did detect raised eyebrows from other guests at a man eating lettuce that his pony had turned down.
I broke off a small piece of burger and Obama ate it with obvious relish, then shared the hard boiled egg, ate most of the pasta in tomato sauce but rejected the fresh tomato. I gave him a second bit of the burger which he ate with even more enthusiasm so I carefully finished it myself. I don't graze his field so he can leave me my burger.
I am aware this is not a peer reviewed double blind trial, but then Newton's apple landing on his head wasn't either. I was genuinely surprised that he would eat burger with relish and reject lettuce. If he had wolfed the lot, I would have just assumed it was Obama trying to annoy me, or showing off to an audience, but his discrimination suggests that meat is a taste they like.
I am aware from my time on the road with Obama that he will eat an incredible range of material, including charcoal and earth, and two large handfuls of potters clay, but I didn't offer meat because I assumed it was totally alien. I am not trying to convert him to a meat diet, but I am glad that Deadly Equines made me look at his diet again. Our dogs eat grass, and everyone says it is because they need it as medicine. Is it possible that horses, ponies and indeed all herbivores need meat occasionally. And as the book has shown, they can also survive on it if nothing else is available.

Cari Alter said...

Wow! This info upsets my apple cart. I found it by googling "Are horses omnivores?". I have been taking an amazing joint/cartilage/tendon/bone supplement with spectacular results and they have an Equine Blend as well. It has chicken collagen in it and I worried, needlessly apparently, about horses eating something derived from chickens. Seems you might be interested in this supplement if you're interested in horses: