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Good science is comparative. Because horses are hoofed herd animals, they have much in common with cattle and deer. Because they are mammals, they have much in common with raccoons and dogs. They are animals and so have much in common with octopus, birds and fish. Our lineage defines our form, but our behaviors can often be traced far back on the family tree. When we find common behaviors across different twigs of the family tree, we can know that we have found an ancient behavior and can often learn about one species by looking carefully at another. When a sandpiper, baby raccoon, or horse threaten, they all bend down, assume a snowplow position with their heads, and move forward. Surely animals have been threatening each other for eons. New species do not bother to invent new behaviors when the old ones work perfectly well.

Are Horses Like Dogs?

Our familiarity with dogs provides us with a model for how we see horses and what we expect of them. For many people, the first childhood experience with an animal is with a dog or cat. Familiar animals serve as a baseline of expectations of unfamiliar animals. But horses aren’t dogs.

Dogs are about 25 times as common as horses, and so we are more likely to ask “Are horses like dogs?” than “Are dogs like horses?” Dogs give us a baseline for expectations. Horse are obviously much bigger than a cat or bird, so we think a horse should be like a big dog. If it likes us, it should follow us around. It should obey us, respect us, crave affection from us.

Horses disappoint those with such expectations. And such expectations are rarely fully shed.

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