Wild Horses Couldn’t Drag Me Away

I have described the horse as a domesticated animal, but now I am not so sure.  The biologist Jared Diamond suggests six critieria to determine whether an animal is “domesticated”: 1) a flexible diet, 2) a reasonably fast growth rate, 3) an ability to be bred in captivity, 4) a pleasant disposition, 5) a temperament that makes it unlikely to panic, and 6) a social heirarchy that can recognize a human as pack leader.  An animal that is not domesticated might be wild or untamed, captive-bred or semi-domesticated.  

What do we get when applying Diamond’s criteria to the modern captive horse?  

1) eats hay and grain and colics at the drop of a hat (not such a flexible diet);

2) growth rate reasonably fast;

3) may be bred in captivity;

4) disposition depends on the breed, gender, day of the week, time of day, weather, season, hormonal level, barometic pressure and mood;

5) likely to panic at almost anything unless desensitized; and

6) recognizes human as provider of food, keeper of the gate and pain in the butt, but questionable as to herd leader.  In my observation, the horses tolerate rather than accept humans as herd leaders, not unlike how many people felt about George W.

Photographer Roberto Dutesco took amazing photographs of the “Wild Horses of Sable Island” in Nova Scotia.  You can see Dutesco’s collection at the Sable Horses link at his online gallery.  

Photographer Lynne Pomeranz spent two years photographing the “Pryor Mountain Mustangs” of Montana/Wyoming.  Her book Among Wild Horses:  A Portrait of the Pryor Mountain Mustangs, contains beautiful images of the horses at liberty.  

One of the Pomeranz photos is of a horse named “Exhilarate (aka Bandito),” who is described at page 123 in the book as the only surviving foal of 28 foals born in 2004.  “Nature chose her favorites and left nothing but ghosts of the rest.”  This illustrates one reality of a “natural” life for horses; natural selection.

A consequence for humans of domesticating animals is zoonotic disease.  And the related, emerging field of “conservation medicine.”   

Are “domestic” horses truly domesticated or are they all really still wild at heart?


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