The relationships between horses and their riders, as well as alpacas and their owners, are fraught with misunderstandings. Although the cowboy view of the horses tended to be a bit less introspective, the “schools of natural horsemanship” that have recently become popular believe that many of these problems are caused by one fundamental difference: we are predators and they are prey.
When I first started riding horses, Mom pointed out to me that one of the most obvious differences between predators and prey is the position of their eyes. Most prey, like horses and alpacas, have eyes on the sides of their heads. That widens their field of vision, allowing them to keep an eye on more of the world around them.
Predators, bobcats and humans being two pertinent examples, have eyes on the front of their faces. This enhances depth perception. Since predators are less worried about what’s in the bushes behind them and more intent on judging the distance between them and food, it’s a logical sort of adaptation.
They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Personally, I say that eyes are highly developed sensory organs made of specialized rod and cone cells. Because they are. Yet even with this unromantic view (punny!) of the matter, I often find myself personifying the animals’ behavior. And since we have several thousand years of history between ourselves and prey species, it’s not too much of a stretch. When Tulip rears her head back and glares at me with one eye, it’s probably safe to interpret that as “I’m really uncomfortable with you looking at me. Come one step closer and I will either spit at you or run for it.”