Long Rider Discovers Defence Against Deadly Horse Attack
Most people think that equestrian travel is a "dead" topic; ie everything has been revealed and described. But Samantha Szesciorka proves otherwise. During her second journey through “America’s Outback,” the experienced Long Rider made a discovery regarding equine behaviour.
What Samantha encountered and endured were multiple hostile encounters with aggressive wild horses. Her eyewitness experiences resulted in the creation of a simple, effective and inexpensive device that could save human lives.
Such an innovation is long overdue because this is not a new problem for Long Riders. While those who inhabit an urbanized world may be unaware of it, horses have long presented a potentially lethal threat to humans and other animals.
Evidence of equine aggression was recently published in the British press.
The image (above) shows a mustang stallion in Wyoming’s Red Desert trying to kill a dog owned by photographer Rob Palmer.
Changing Views of Nature
The Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration explains that for the first time in history large numbers of humanity have no meaningful daily experience with the animal world. They have never fed or nurtured a farm animal. They have never ridden or worked a horse. They have never hunted or dressed a game animal. They have never had to protect themselves from imminent death from a predator. In the space of a few generations the majority of mankind’s collective knowledge about such matters has disappeared. The result is man’s voluntary exclusion from the natural world of prey and predators.
Professor Richard Bulliet has warned there is a danger connected to not understanding animals accurately. Bulliet is a professor of history at Columbia University, one of whose specialities is the influence of animals in the development of human society.
Bulliet contends that in our current era civilized man has undergone a sea-change in terms of his relationship with animals. People remain dependent upon animal products, even though they no longer have any daily involvement with actual producing animals. Because they lack the elementary interspecies dynamic enjoyed by their ancestors, basic knowledge of animal actions has been replaced by a quaint, and ultimately destructive, apologia for aggression displayed either for or against animals. The result, Bulliet cautions is, “a pronounced humanization of companion animals that shows up particularly in their becoming characters in novels, movies, and cartoons.”
Thus, the average human being’s daily knowledge of animal nature has diminished to an alarming extent. It has been replaced by a Disney-esque version of events where there is no dark side to nature. In the movie, The Lion King, for example, prey animals, such as a meerkat and warthog, are depicted as wise teachers who counsel the predator. In this anthropomorphic fantasy animals are motivated by benevolence, not hunger.
Long Riders can’t afford to take such a misguided view of Nature. But many people are unaware that equines represent a serious potential threat.
The Loss of Knowledge
Until the end of the 19th century a large percentage of humanity knew that horses were capable of behaving in an aggressive manner and were perfectly capable of protecting themselves
Yet thanks to a variety of recent cultural misconceptions, horses are now commonly depicted as being peaceful herbivores that lack any defence except flight. Advocates of his theory have forgotten about the “Sultan Stallions” who were observed utterly destroying wolves on the Central Asian steppes. Nor was this equine aggression restricted to one sex, as was proved by Lisette the French army mare who gleefully disembowelled enemy soldiers during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.
Yet because of massive equestrian amnesia, modern man has forgotten how dangerous horses can be.
Part of the blame is connected to the rise of the automobile culture. The motorized age undermined the need for horses in transportation, agriculture and warfare. The resulting equinocide saw millions of horses destroyed, as mankind eagerly embraced the motor and destroyed the horses which had served him for millennia. For example, because of Josef Stalin’s ruthless agricultural policies, 47 % of all Russian horses, fifteen million animals, were lost in the two year period of 1928 to 1930.
As a result of the overall demise of horses in farming, military and travel in the last century, the groundwork was laid for the unforeseen formation of an intellectual equestrian vacuum. The majority of humanity now resides in industrialized monocultures. Few have retained any collective experience or personal knowledge of horses.
Adding to this collective human amnesia is the contributing fact that the vast majority of people who are still involved with horses primarily limit their dealings to mares and geldings. In a post-domestic world 98% of the horse-owning population never sees a stallion, except perhaps on a race-track.
Thus, despite thousands of years of evidence indicating how dangerous equines can be, millions of people have become largely out of touch with the natural world of horses. They prefer to believe the fairytale perpetuated by modern horse whisperers which portrays horses as timid prey animals who need protection from mankind and carnivores.
In fact history demonstrates instead that the horse is in fact capable of murderous violence
Equipped to Fight
The idea that horses may present a possible threat may surprise many people because of the commonly held belief that horses have only one response to danger, to flee.
It may be true that if a horse is presented with an act of deliberate aggression, say a snarling wolf, he may flee. But wouldn’t you? That’s called common sense.
The difference between the Long Rider and his horse is that unlike the puny human, who lacks sharp claws, deadly fangs, extraordinary strength or great speed, the horse is well equipped to stand and fight a predator if he chooses to.
The horse is an agile athlete who can run, jump, rear and turn round in less than the length of his body. His supple neck sways like a rearing cobra, ready to strike with a mouthful of dangerous teeth. Next, he’s strong. The average equine is seven times stronger than the most powerful man. Also, he is equipped with iron-hard hooves, anyone of which can deliver a blow as deadly as Thor’s lethal hammer.
Scientists have established that receiving a horse kick is similar to being struck by a bowling ball travelling at 80 mph. When horses use their front hooves in an aggressive manner, a blow is struck by the sharp edge of the hoof which smashes their enemy into jelly. This used to be such a common occurrence that Charles Dicken’s killed off a prominent character in Great Expectations by having the man die in this manner.
By matching their agility to their ability to deliver crippling blows, horses can strike left, right and backwards with incredible precision. Victims of such an attack, be they harmless humans or dangerous predators, have had their skulls shattered, bones fractured and internal organs severely injured by such heavy blows.
|The force of this zebra’s kick halted a fully grown lion in its tracks. Photo courtesy of Tom Whetten.|
For example, a study by the Emergency Medical Journal noted the case of a woman who was kicked in the stomach. An x-ray revealed a perfect outline of the hoof on the victim’s liver.
Finally the horse can bite.
To understand what destructive and powerful weapon’s a horse’s teeth can be, we need only recall the description of one of the many victims of the “Man Eater of Lucknow.”
According to nineteenth-century English authors, Great Britain’s King George IV presented a beautiful bay thoroughbred to his fellow monarch, the Maharaja of Oude. For reasons not yet determined, after the horse arrived in India he became a repeated killer and thus earned his blood-soaked name.
An English journalist, William Knighton, was almost slain by this ferocious beast, who had escaped captivity. Moments before he was attacked, the still-unsuspecting traveller saw the results of what a horse’s teeth can do to a human body. This occurred when Knighton chanced upon a trampled bloody mass which bore a faint resemblance to a human figure. When he stopped the buggy to satisfy his curiosity, the journalist discovered it was the corpse of a native woman who had been terribly disfigured by the horse which was terrorizing the city of Lucknow.
“The body was bruised and lacerated in all directions, the scanty drapery torn from the form; the face had been crushed by teeth into a shapeless mass; the long matted hair, which fell in bundles over the road, was all clotted with blood. It was altogether as disgusting a sight as one could well see anywhere.”
Three-year-old Steven Goldsmith was grabbed by a horse and thrown more than five feet in the air. The attack, which occurred in Sunderland, England in 2012, left Steven with bite marks, bruising and swelling on his chest. Photo courtesy of North News Ltd.
The combination of agility, strength, speed, deadly kicks and meat-ripping teeth allows a horse to inflict terrible wounds or kill his opponent with relative ease should he feel the need to defend himself.
Many people lump horses in with cows; believing them to be non-violent herbivores who use their teeth to nibble succulent greenery. Previous generations knew better,
Though he is well known today for having created Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a devoted student of history and a keen observer of deadly horses. In his book, Sir Nigel, Conan Doyle not only provided a lengthy account of the Hundred Years War, he described the actions of a stallion who had slain many men.
These events occurred when a number of hapless 14th century priests attempted to capture the stallion. The resulting attack on the churchmen was merciless.
“The great creature turned upon his would-be captors and with flashing teeth grabbed the prior and began shaking him as a dog does a rat. A loud wail of horror arose from the priests, as the savage horse, the most terrible and cruel in its anger of all creatures on earth, bit and shook and trampled the withering body.”
The method by which this fictional English stallion slew the priest matches the eyewitness descriptions of how real stallions kill a wolf. The infuriated horse catches the victim in his teeth, shakes him viciously, throws him into the air and then stomps him to death.
Nor were such attacks restricted to animals. The research released in my book, Deadly Equine – The Shocking True Story of Meat-Eating and Murderous Horses, provides ample evidence of how horses have brutally slain humans throughout history.
One infamous example was the Canadian stallion, Rysdyk, who killed four men in the late 19th century. In 1886 he killed his last victim, a Canadian groom named Brady, by shaking the man to death.
The combination of agility, strength, speed, deadly kicks and meat-ripping teeth allows a horse to inflict terrible wounds or kill his opponent with relative ease should he feel threatened or the need to defend himself.
Long Riders in Peril
Previous generations of Long Riders knew that horses were potentially deadly. For example, English Long Rider James Wentworth Day wrote, “Anyone who has been chased by a stallion, as I once was, will not forget the nightmare of those bared teeth, flashing eyes and blood-curdling screams. There have been horses which knelt on men and kneaded them to death. Others have got a man and bitten half his face off.”
This seldom understood part of the horse’s nature hasn’t disappeared and Long Riders have encountered aggressive equines in a variety of countries. Bill Holt in France, Jane Dotchin in England, Temple Abernathy in America, Mefo Phillips in Spain, Henry Savage Landor in Tibet and Bonnie Folkins in Mongolia, all endured aggressive attacks by equines.
Nor are a large number of miles any guarantee of success, as one of the world’s most well-travelled Long Riders was nearly killed by a horse.
A Survivor’s Story
American Long Rider Bernice Ende has ridden more than 25,000 miles during the eight journeys she has made in the United States and Canada. She is the only person in history to ride “ocean to ocean” in both directions on the same journey. Beginning in 2005, the veteran equestrian explorer has survived a host of predictable problems such as bad weather and aggressive drivers. Yet she nearly lost her life because of a savage horse.
|Bernice Ende, her mare, Honor, and dog, Claire. The trio of travellers barely avoided being seriously injured or killed by a vicious horse.|
In an interview granted to reporter Pat Wolfe in 2015, the veteran Long Rider recalled how she “came as close as possible to being killed.”
Having reached New Mexico in 2006, Bernice stopped for the night. With several thousand miles under her saddle, the experienced traveller left the paved road, opened a gate, entered a large fenced area, rode a quarter of a mile into the open countryside and made camp as the sun set. She had no tent, so after placing her mare, Honor, on a 25 foot picket line, the weary Long Rider got into her sleeping bag.
It may have seemed as if things were normal but Bernice had wandered into trouble.
“I broke one of my own rules, which is never to sleep near water because too many animals come down to drink.”
In addition to camping close to a water hole, unbeknownst to Bernice, a large drum of shelled corn had been put out as bait for wild pigs. The combination of water and food proved to be alluring and noisy. By midnight the wind had picked up, the moon was down, and Bernice was no longer alone. First a pack of wild pigs came to the water hole, followed soon afterwards by a herd of wild burros.
“Then I heard a scream. It was an old black stallion. Suddenly he was over me on his hind legs with his yellow teeth bared. The stallion was trying to kill me and steal my mare.”
Even though many years had passed, describing the event to the reporter caused Bernice distress. After scrambling out of her sleeping bag, the terrified Long Rider began fighting for her life. To protect herself and Honor, Bernice tried to drive the stallion off by swinging and hitting the aggressive animal with a rope. When the stallion retreated, Bernice rushed to pack her possessions and saddle her horse in the dark. All the while the stallion kept up his relentless attack.
In keeping with the tradition of an attacking equine, he came at Bernice with a lowered head and with his ears laid back. When her attention was momentarily diverted, the stallion would rush in and bite Bernice’s horse.
“My dog Claire was covered in cactus and crying. I was throwing things together and hitting the stallion with the rope every time he got in close enough to attack me.”
After she managed to saddle Honor, Bernice tried to escape but became lost in the dark and couldn’t find her way back to the gate. Luckily her dog, Claire, found the path and led them to safety.
“All the while I was trying to lead Honor, the stallion was mounting her and tearing at the pack. Eventually I found the gate and got through.”
Having been overcome with fear, the seasoned traveller sat on the frost covered ground and wept with relief. When Bernice finally swung into the saddle, the stallion followed along on the other side of the fence until daylight. She has had other close calls, Bernice told the reporter, including encounters with grizzly bears, but that night time attack was the worst experience she has ever endured.
Bernice was not the first to record how a horse attacks.
Though he is more often remembered as the “father of evolution,” English Long Rider Charles Darwin was an avid equestrian traveller who rode in South America, Africa and Australia. A lifetime horseman, Darwin published a warning about dangerous equines.
“Horses when savage,” Darwin wrote, “draw their ears closely back, protrude their heads, and partially uncover their incisor teeth, ready for biting….Every one recognises the vicious appearance which the drawing back of the ears gives to a horse. This movement is very different from that of listening to a sound behind.”
At first glance, one might be tempted to instantly define the actions of these horses as being abhorrent or abnormal. They are neither. The horses were responding to their natural need to protect their herd or defend their territory.
And luckily Samantha Szesciorka realized that a common household item could be turned into a potent weapon for self-defence.
Answers in America's Outback
In 2011 Samantha Szesciorka adopted a BLM mustang gelding named Sage. Many people adopt wild horses. But Samantha is the only one to have ridden her mustang across the deserts of Nevada – twice – so as to draw public attention to the need to support wild horse study and adoption.
Known as “America's Outback," the desolate desert country of Nevada has few people but is home to one of the largest wild horse populations in the USA.
In the summer of 2016, Samantha completed her second extensive journey through the wild horse country of northern Nevada.
“The weather,” she explained, “ranged from oppressive heat to snow to rain to dust storms. The terrain was incredibly formidable.”
Not only was the country tough, in addition Samantha and Sage had another problem to contend with.
“For Long Riders exploring the American West, encounters with wild horses are extremely likely (especially in Nevada, which is home to more wild horses that any other state).”
“These encounters have the potential to be very dangerous,” she warned and then revealed a surprising observation.
“I suspect no one has been attacked by wild horses more than me!”
|Samantha Szesciorka (right) has explored the deserts and mountains extensively on her BLM mustang, Sage. Photo courtesy of Samantha Szesciorka|
The vast majority of people do not view wild horses as being potentially dangerous. They adhere to a common belief that horses are "prey animals" who "mean you no harm."
In stark contrast, Samantha and Sage found themselves either being inspected by curious mustangs or fending off attacks by aggressive wild stallions.
“Almost each day of my ride I had to scare off bands of horses.”
The number of horses who fearlessly approached Samantha included small groups of two or three horses. But one notable exception occurred when a herd of fifty wild horses boldly galloped up and entered the Long Rider’s camp.
“They can be extremely territorial - and not just the stallions. Sometimes I had entire family bands (babies and all!) charge into camp after having spotted Sage.”
|This herd of wild mustangs had no hesitation in coming into Samantha’s camp to inspect her mustang, Sage. Photo courtesy of Samantha Szesciorka|
“Riders must be very aware,” Samantha warned, “when traveling through wild horse territory and be prepared to protect their horse at all times. Stories abound here about domestic mares being stolen by wild horse stallions. Even geldings aren't immune to the aggressive nature of wild stallions. I can only imagine how much more potentially dangerous it would be to ride a stallion into wild horse territory.”
A Simple Solution
Some things, like the wheel, seem painfully obvious to those of us who have grown accustomed to such technology. Yet despite its simplicity, civilizations such as the Incas and Zulus had no knowledge of the wheel.
Having endured multiple encounters with wild horses, Samantha gave serious thought to how she might protect herself and Sage from curious or aggressive equines.
|An inquisitive mustang inspects Sage. Photo courtesy of Samantha Szesciorka.|
The answer, she realized, was to incorporate what she knew about equine psychology with a readily available resource. The Long Rider’s ingenious solution, which I have taken the liberty of describing as a "wild horse protection stick," could be a life saver.
“My 100% effective method to scare off wild horse attacks (no matter the size of the herd) is... a plastic bag! I tied an ordinary plastic bag (like you get in a grocery store) to the end of a short English riding crop. It weighs almost nothing and takes up almost no space in the saddle bag. I carried it with me every day. A few times when we were camped in wild horse areas, I took plastic bags and hung them around camp like a perimeter. If there was an evening breeze, the sound and movement also helped keep wild horses back. It was a handy trick for camp and certainly made me more confident to fall asleep."
Multiple tests, done in the field, with varying numbers of wild horses, proved the effectiveness of Samantha’s device.
“Obviously Sage is desensitized to it but wild horses are not. So when they charged, I simply pulled out the crop and gave it a few shakes (this inflates the bag and makes that distinctive crinkly sound). This can be done while in the saddle or from the ground, but it worked every single time. I've used it to scare off lone bachelor stallions and I've used it against herds of 50 plus horses. It always works.”
And in recalling how Bernice Ende endured a night time attack, Samantha learned that the device works equally well in the dark.
“Unfortunately, the attacks often came in the middle of the night when I was fast asleep so I took to keeping the crop/plastic bag contraption in my tent with me so I could rush out to defend Sage. There were many, many nights where I had to do so several times in one evening.”
|This mustang stallion and his band of wild horses kept their distance thanks to the noise created by Samantha’s wild horse protection stick. Photo courtesy of Samantha Szesciorka.|
Wild Horses on Different Continents
Given the aggressive behaviour demonstrated by some of the Nevada mustangs, a person might be forgiven for thinking that all wild horses are potentially dangerous.
In fact another Long Rider, making a journey at the exact same time, on a different continent, proves otherwise.
Kimberley Delavere is a young Long Rider who is making a 3,500 mile solo ride along Australia's tough Bicentennial National Trail. That country has an extensive wild horse population and Long Riders in that country have encountered aggressive "Brumbies."
Having learned about Samantha’s encounters with antagonistic wild horses, Kimberley was slightly apprehensive when she and her horse, Archie, rode into the extensive Guy Fawkes National Park.
“Our ride through the GFNP was intense. It is home to about 2,400 wild horses, and at the moment there's a lot of discussion in the news about culling and preservation of the Brumbies. So I was a bit nervous heading into the park, but the Brumbies were so shy they would gallop off whenever they saw us."
|Wild stallions are seen fighting for control of a herd of mares. Photo courtesy of Vedran Vidak.|
The difference in horse behaviour on two different continents seems to be connected to how humans interact with the animal in question in each country.
If Australia's Brumbies are not as aggressive, could it be connected to the horses having been culled, which has left a strong residual association between humans and danger?
Having studied wild horses for several years, Samantha has had time to digest her experiences, reflect on them, and develop perspective. She believes she knows why the Brumbies reacted differently than the Mustangs.
“Not all the herds we encountered were aggressive. In fact, some were extremely scared and ran away as soon as they spotted us miles away. And in some places the horses were neither wary nor aggressive - they were simply indifferent!”
The key to the puzzle is not the horses, Samantha believes, it’s the humans.
“I believe these three types of behaviors are based on two factors: often they are exposed to people and what that exposure entails.”
American wild horses are strictly protected. It is illegal to feed, water, harass, touch, or capture them. Nevertheless Samantha revealed the possibility that the behaviour of wild horses can be influenced by humanity.
“In my experience, the horses that have been indifferent are the ones that live extremely close to residential areas. We call them ‘neighbourhood horses’. They wander into the neighbourhoods, graze on people's lawns, stand in traffic, etc. They are very accustomed to seeing people, dogs, and other horses - and usually these interactions are positive. People love to see them so they stand around, get too close and take pictures. A lot of people (illegally) feed the wild horses that come in the neighbourhoods, so the horses have no cause to be wary or aggressive. They're quite used to seeing people.”
Yet Samantha’s journeys into the sparsely populated and remote regions of Nevada confirm that horses which have little or no interaction with humans can present a potential threat.
“In contrast, the horses that have been scared or curious/aggressive are the ones that live in more remote areas and have less interaction with people. The BLM rotates through herd management areas to conduct periodic gathers. Some herd management areas go years - even decades - between gathers. What I noticed was that the wary horses tended to be in areas which had recently undergone gathers, whereas the curious/aggressive horses tended to be in areas which had not seen a gather in many years.”
Wild Horse Warning
The well-known Australian explorer, Mr. Stuart, recorded a striking account of stupefied amazement together with terror which resulted when an Aborigine native witnessed a mounted man for the first time.
"He turned round and saw me. What he imagined I was I do not know; but a finer picture of fear and astonishment I never saw. He stood incapable of moving a limb, riveted to the spot, mouth open and eyes staring. He remained motionless until I rode within a few yards of him, when suddenly he jumped into a bush as high as he could get. He could not speak, and answered not a word to my inquiries, but trembling from head to foot, waved with his hand for me to be off."
That might seem to be a quaint episode from the colonial past, except for the fact that as fewer people journey on horseback the sense of amazement has returned when pedestrians witness the unexpected arrival of a Long Rider.
Case in point happened in 2011 when Long Riders Billy Brenchley and Christine Henchie arrived in Uganda. Their horses ignited a social storm. It didn’t take long for the Long Riders to discover that most Ugandans had never seen a horse before. The arrival of the Long Riders electrified the countryside. An estimated 800 children crowded around and began shouting questions.
“Is that a kangaroo? Does it grow horns? Why doesn’t it have cloven hooves? Which one is the female? Does it eat people? Can we eat it? Is it true your horses used to speak Arabic but now they speak English?”
Awareness of horses and how they react to humans continues to diminish. As Kimberley in Australia demonstrates, the possibility of encountering wild horses is not restricted to Nevada.
Nor should it be assumed that only wild horses present a potential threat. Domestic horses can also be aggressive, territorial and have severely injured and killed many people.
Regardless of whether the horses encountered are wild or domestic, a Long Rider would be wise to remember the hard lessons of the past.
Samantha warned, “Long Riders should take care not to camp too close to a water source when in wild horse territory because the horses will travel throughout the day and night to it, increasing the likelihood of an incident.”
And while interacting with the animal world is commendable, protecting yourself from it is a necessity. That is why Samantha's simple solution may well save a Long Rider’s life.
Her “wild horse protection stick” is simple, inexpensive, effective and can work anywhere.
|Samantha’s discovery has been deemed to be of such importance that information regarding its discovery was added to the Horse Travel Handbook and the Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration. Photo courtesy of Samantha Szesciorka.|