I suppose that, being a writer, I am what could easily be called finicky about word usage. I like words to do the work that they are supposed to do, explaining an idea in a logical way without being allowed to go off the deep end and getting above themselves.

The work of herding the words is up to the writer, of course, which means that writers are often glorified word cowboys.


But cowboys, too, have their standards. If you understand the meaning of the phrase "all hat and no cow" you understand how a cowboy feels about a fellow who talks big and doesn't have the ranch behind him to prove his ideas are sound.

This is why, when faced with what is called "new" research into the workings of the equine mind I am doubly on my guard. The equine mind hasn't changed all that much since Xenophon wrote his seminal book "On Horsemanship" sometime before 354 BC. He did a pretty good job of explaining things back then and, more recently, we have had some fine horsemen and horsewomen who have also done a good job of getting the word about the equine mind out to the hoi polloi.

After having said all of the above you will understand why I became somewhat upset when I read this phrase "Naive horses that watched an experienced demonstrator horse perform a scary task — crossing a tarp, in this study's case — were less spooked when it was their turn."

First of all, I have never met a horse that was truly "naive" in all of the senses of that word. If you look at it, naive covers a lot of ground. You could say that a young horse was "jejune, unsophisticated and guileless" if you wanted to but it would be more to the point to call them "instinctive, unjaded and ingenuous."

If you wanted to get right down to it, you could say more honestly that a young horse was "unschooled, wide-eyed and countrified."

This business of calling a horse naive is so far around the barn that if you buy into that idea you might forget that a young horse is usually not "unsuspecting and uncritical" nor is it necessarily "unwary."

Mother Nature herself has endowed young horses with an innate wariness and a finely adapted natural amount of suspicion and critical awareness of new experiences. This is why it is often necessary to use that "experienced demonstrator horse [to] perform a scary task."

Either that or you can just spend the entire afternoon attempting to lure your decidedly NOT naive young horse to cross some object that it sees no need to go anywhere near.

Even a guileless and ingenuous young horse can get wide-eyed very quickly. A wide-eyed horse can become such a force of nature that it would knock that sweetly gentle naivety right out of the box on its way to higher and far more distant ground where it could regard the whole idea of any scary task — particularly crossing a tarp on the ground — with a mind that has little to do with any notion of naivety.

Horses are above all realists. They know exactly where their safety rests and it is far from any silly demonstrations of how to cross a tarp no matter how many older and, if you will, more jaded horses are likely to walk across that tarp. Horses are not willing to risk their legs to uncertain ground. In a world of prey animals they are the ones who are the preyed upon and they know that "no legs" equals "no life."

They may not rationalize it that descriptively but that knowledge is ingrained into their innate intelligence all the same.

So, if this new way with words is yet another ploy to make a young horse's natural wariness more suitable for public consumption it has failed rather spectacularly. The business of working with young horses needs to be left to the world of experienced persons who are aware of the real dangers that reside therein. A frightened young horse has nothing to do with the word naive.

By the way, in all of the many definitions of the word "naive" the single common denominator of that veritable blizzard of defining words (remembering that no two snowflakes are alike even in a blizzard) is the word "green."

It is a good word, it is an old time horseman's word and it covers a very specific definition of a very specific time in a horse's curriculum vitae if we wish to maintain the tenor of our high flown verbiage.


Green is green ... unschooled, barely broke, don't know much and sort of worried about learning anything more, that's what green is. They should have just stuck to saying green, you know?