Not every horse can cut it as a trail horse in my town. And that’s not just because most of our trails are set alongside neighborhood streets. Most horses, if ridden by a confident rider, can get used to cars, trucks and motorcycles. Even lawn mowers and leaf blowers become boring after a while. So what seems to cause psychotic breakdowns in otherwise lovely horses around here? It’s the prevalence of what I call “zoo stock.” These are animals that fit somewhere between typical farm livestock and exotic zoo creatures. I’ve written about some of these quirky characters before.
For those of you unfamiliar with the breathtaking beauty and refined elegance that is the common emu, I present this photographic image.
Lacking the fairytale coloring of the peacock or the pet-like charm of, say, a duck, the emu is remarkable for its mud-colored feathers resembling porcupine quills and a triangular beak that looks like a transplant from the world’s meanest rooster on steroids. Emus are flightless birds, just like their cousin the ostrich. But why bother to fly when you can run 35 mph? That’s about the speed of the average gallop. Maybe horses are instinctively aware of this disturbing piece of emu trivia.
Fortunately, after four years, Wally has accepted our town’s zoo stock, although his initial emu encounter sent him fleeing in the opposite direction so fast that it literally gave me whiplash. Now he’ll pass quietly by the emu house, though with some trepidation: His neck stiffens and his nostrils flare. I compromise, and allow him to give the emu a wide berth. Danny, on the other hand, is a much slower thinker than Wally. By the time he realizes he’s come upon the emu house he’s already past it. If I were to stop, show the emu to Danny, and make a big production over the frilly monstrosity, it’d be like telling Danny, “Hey, this is really something to be concerned about. SO LOOK AT IT. LOOK AT IT REALLY, REALLY GOOD, AND NOTICE HOW BIZARRE IT REALLY IS!”
Then Danny would see this staring face back at him, and that’s probably not a good thing.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has to deal with zoo stock. If you trail ride then you probably have some strange sights that you and your horse encounter, too. I suppose that’s what makes riding outside of an arena both interesting and adventuresome. There’s always some sort of challenge ahead, with or without emus.
Back to Life with Horses
I love your blogs! Our horses are afraid of cows so I can’t imagine what they would do if they saw an emu. The most exotic creature we’ve come across was a Crawdad and it was so dirty that it resembled walking poop so the horses weren’t too concerned.
I’ve gotten lucky. TJ a horse I love to pieces isn’t affraid of much. He was started as a trail horse at 3-4 years and lives on a ranch that has a small petting zoo of exotic or just strange animals. Water buffalo, emu, deer, you name it they have it. Though it’s usually the riders that freak out thinking that the horses are going to spook….the ranch hands love to give tours of the petting zoo on horseback just to watch the riders freak out 😉
Very interesting! Good grief, the Emu is really ugly. I don’t blame the horses for spooking.
COWS? YOU’D THINK THERE’D BE MORE COWS IN MY TOWN, SINCE SO MANY OF THE RIDERS OUT HERE SEE THEMSELVES AS COWBOYS/COWGIRLS. BUT THERE AREN’T. SO I’M GUESSING THE LOCAL TRAIL HORSES WOULD BE SURPRISED AT FIRST BY COWS, TOO.
I AGREE THAT IT’S OFTEN THE RIDERS WHO TENSE UP AND THEREFORE MAKE THE HORSE WARY OR SCARED, WHICH LEADS TO A BIG SPOOK. IF THE HORSE YOU’RE RIDING LOOKS TO YOU AS THE ‘HERD LEADER’ AND YOU ACT AFRAID, THEN IT’S SORT OF NATURAL FOR THE HORSE TO THINK IT’S TIME TO FLEE.
I haven’t seen anything too crazy while trail riding, but the crazy owner of the farm where I work recently decided it would be cool to get some alpackas. Almost all the horses are afraid of those things. They don’t spook at them, but kind of slow down and stop…and it becomes a stare off.
My neighbor has pet deer. The horses always get freaked out by them. We don’t go that way very much anymore.
Am emu recently showed up and made its home in and outside of my back pasture. Horses not initially pleased, but I think/hope they will work it out.
I like the dude!!!!!
I can relate to this, only its rhino and giraffe in our neighbourhood. However, its the horse-eating guinea fowl dropping from an overhead cable that can turn my docile boy into the most agile horse ever seen
My horse used to live in the same pasture with emu’s… They aren’t any scarier than a deer or cow. It’s all about what the individual horse has been exposed to.