I have been observing a certain attitude slowly develop in my little herd - if they were human I would say they are developing a belief in the ultimate benign nature of the universe and their ability to cope regardless of what challenges face them.
I find it difficult to fully express this, so please bear with me.
When I got Freckles he had very little confidence - in himself, in others or in the nature of new things, situations and tasks. He also "blamed himself" for everything he thought he did wrong and displayed an "Oh crap, what are you going to do to me because I made that go bad" attitude. If my emotions were off he believed it was somehow his fault. I somehow managed to fumble my way through getting him to understand that failure to achieve something I asked was not a big deal, and failure in general was not something to be particularly concerned about - tomorrow is another day and we can try again.
Over time he has become very capable of calmly trying new things without feeling any performance-anxiety or fear of failure
. His anxiety about the consequences of his choices and actions has reduced drastically. The other horses in the herd do have obvious concerns about the consequences of their behavior and what the humans are going to do about it. I am seeing them slowly lose that anxiety.
One of the major areas where this has become obvious involves the sugar-cane that we give them every night. The cane is difficult to eat after it has been cut down, because they can't pull against it's roots anymore. They can pick it up and swing it around but that doesn't break off a piece that they can eat, so they often don't manage to eat much of the actual stem of the plant. I spent a LOT of time with Freckles showing him how I could break off pieces, and over about 3 months he developed a horsey equivalent of that technique which allows him to eat a lot more of the plant than he could previously. He deliberately plants one hoof on the hardest end of the cane, and rips bites off the other end.
Sometimes he delicately nips the bamboo-like "bark" of the plant and peels a length of cane for himself.
He is obviously proud that he no longer "needs" my help with it, although he still does welcome my assistance when I choose to give it. The other 3 horses have observed Freckles and learned "his" technique and are managing much better with the eating of the cane.
The interesting story is little old Rocket. Now, the pony has weak teeth due to age (he squeaks when chewing grass, for example, and frequently spits out well-chewed mouthfuls because he just can't get it soft enough to swallow) and often struggles to eat things the other horses manage well. Rocket can't bit an apple in half - he needs it cut. He struggles to bite through a big carrot. When the other horses are eating cane he often tells us he can't do that and he wants some grass or some help with the cane. He's been getting both
but last night he said "You know - I don't want that grass you brought for me because I have figured out my own way to eat this cane" and he was SO proud of himself. It was so obvious that he was thrilled
that he no longer NEEDS human assistance because he CAN DO it himself. He searches out the thinner stalks and copies Freckle's ways.
So this makes me wonder - is feeling capable and competent and self-sufficient as important to horses as it is to most humans? Do horses feel a kind of optimism based on their own ability to take care of themselves? Does it affect the buoyancy with which they view their future? Is independence as important factor on their path to self-esteem as it is to humans?