It’s a rainy day and I’m watching my horses drink from a mud puddle in their turnout area. They actually walked away from the fresh, clean water I gave them in order to drink from a mud puddle. What’s going on here? Times like this are wonderful learning opportunities if you believe, as I do, that horses are perfect just as God made them, and that everything a horse does has meaning. So what is the meaning of their preference for dirty water over clean water? My first thought would be that they feel the need for more minerals. After all, horses sometimes eat dirt and chew on rocks and that is usually seen as their way of getting minerals, the nutrients that come directly from the earth’s crust. But my horses are fed according to the latest scientific research on how horses should be fed: lots of forage plus a really fine vitamin and mineral supplement. I honestly don’t believe they have a mineral deficiency. Maybe this is just a hard-wired thing, something horses – even well-cared-for domestic horses – feel compelled to do. That compulsion would serve them well if they were turned out for months at a time to truly live off the land. Both of our horses have lived that way in the past and I hope they’ll have the opportunity someday to do it again.
Horses are different from us – I would have to be very thirsty to drink out of a dirty puddle – but they are also different from one another. Our Icelandic mare prefers to stand out in the rain for hours on end; our Quarter Horse mare prefers to have a roof over her head. The challenge we face as horsemen is recognizing both the innate characteristics of the species (its ethology) and the unique life experiences of the individual (its psychology). Both are contributing factors in shaping horse behavior.