I always ask myself if the image about what horses are is real or just imaginary. I think in the romanticism which we associate to horses, as a magical aura, giving them holy powers of purity. We always affirm that “horses never lie”, people feel very secure about that statement, and many of us build our relation with them based on that fact. But is it a fact?
Dr. Pau Ekman, a psychologist pioneer in the field of the emotions related with lies in human behavior describes in his studies that every single human on earth lies. He explains that sometimes reality is too hard or too strange, and our emotions are too complex, so our natural defense mechanism is to lie, in order to deal with the mysteries of life. Of course there are different types of lies, but some are to protect others or ourselves.
I got obsessed with the idea that horses may be able to lie under the same criteria, that is, to protect themselves or their group. I began to look around, and observe nature and the behavior of its population. I studied wild owl’s behavior in North Chilean Patagonia, and I got aware of so many things that made me think that animals and nature do lie. For instance, the “Bubo virginianus magellanicus”, a nocturnal Chilean owl, they can hide very well in the trees during the day, because their feathers look like the surface of the trees in a very similar way, so if an enemy is around, they trick them. To me this is a lie to survive. It is a natural and genetic lie, but in the end it still is a lie. It is a genetically lie, a natural lie, or whatever you prefer to name it, but a lie. I can provide many examples: plants trick insects to attract them in order to eat them, how some fish feign death when they are in danger and then escape to survive, how butterflies fake having giant eyes that are only painted on their wings, to scare away enemies, and so on. So lying is natural, it is part of the universe and of the general behavior of living beings.
So instead of getting disappointed about the faux nature of the holy and romantic image of the horse, I was amazed about this other idea.
We can observe different lies in animals, and especially in horses, a behavioral lie. When a horse is in danger, and it feels it, they generally escape. But that only applies to horses living in freedom, where they have an open space, such as an open field. Generally, horses prefer to escape if they can. Yet in the cases where horses cannot run, like when they are in a box, they have no chance to escape at all. So their reaction is to get aggressive, they will try to bite, rear, etc. In this case, their behavior is a lie. The horse feigns braveness and aggressiveness, but it really is in a state of fear, it merely reacts in that way to have a chance to intimidate the enemy in order to survive. The horse is scared, but in some way and for some reason horses control their fear, and they feign being in control of the situation and being fearless.
Some horses group are not willing to control their fear, they slip into erratic behavior, shaking, biting itself, etc. There is a situation where every horse lies, which is when a horse is ridden with a bit, and the horse gives up to use it. The horse does not give the mouth as some people say, the horse does not understand that the bit is good for it, the horse just lies. They feign to like it, but they just lie to avoid the punishment they get when they refuse the bit.
We can now say that, in order to ride a horse with a bit, our mutual relationship is based on a lie. A lie the horse makes up to deal with reality, to be able to survive. Bitless riding will take the weight off of their shoulders, and give wings to the relationship between horse and rider.