Horses and Wolves, Raptors and Felines, Women and Girls

I think that women and girls initiated the close interspecies relationships between humans and wolves, horses, raptors, large and small hunting cats. Wolves and horses entered into interspecies cooperation during nomadic hunting and herding social activity, and cats entering into cooperation in lieu of agriculture, with pests and rodents frequenting granaries and riverside temples.

The imagery is deeply ingrained in the collective imagination and crops up in fantasy art and tattoo designs, digital art and other media often. The brains of wolf-dogs and modern horses changed to reflect these symbioses. (Cats’ and raptors’ brains stayed the same — mostly wild.) Human brains must have logged changes also, to accommodate the counter-intuitive-seeming new affinities.

I think human females accomplished this due to a combination of greater empathy, intuition, imaginative connectivity and nurturing impulses extending to ‘others’ — a capacity for fierce, barrier obliterating love, like that felt for fellow creatures by many if not most girls during adolescence (especially horses, dogs and cats of all sizes, if I am any example).

I think that early hominids became ‘human’ due to the females of the species entering into menses (moon courses) in symbiosis with a cosmic ‘other,’ the lunar cycle, abandoning the estrus cycles observed in all other mammalian species. This did something revolutionary to the brain and the formative bicameral mind, the capacity for choice, recognition of (and chosen unions with) all manner of ‘others’ and recognition of kinship beyond that dictated by scent became an imaginative possibility. Impossible to prove of course, but perhaps possible to speculate upon through the mapping of anatomically-inferred brain changes over the course of human development.

The choice factor entering into the scene — nothing is any longer necessarily mandated by purely physical changes. Poetic affinities, allegories, the metaphorical mind — all sorts of complicated love stuff. Whew! There are photos of mothers nursing orphaned baby animals on one breast while their human kid is suckling on the other. Of course! Why not, when all life is connected, and all creatures are the children of The Mother?

Psychologist Denita Zavanova says, “I’m guessing women used their mothering instincts to raise wolf pups and other baby animals. I’ve always believed that domesticated animals like dogs must have evolved, changed, due to interactions with humans — and conversely that we also evolved/changed due to our interactions with dogs, horses, etc. — and that hominids became human with menses? Makes sense to me. Also there’s a longer time allowed for human offspring to learn to walk, care for self, be independent — much longer than other mammals.

Equestrienne and wildlife photographer, Debra Garside, told me how, around 5,000 years ago, the modern domesticated horse made its advent with significant changes in the brain. Just as wolf dogs formed a bridge from wild wolves to modern dogs, the prehistoric wild horse was a different creature than the modern horse found worldwide today. The only surviving prehistoric-type wild horse herds, residing in Europe (Poland), like the African zebra, have different brains than their modern cousins. The neurological changes facilitated cooperation among humans and horses, just as the transformation of wolves, to wolf-dogs, to dogs did.

Modern horses are rewarded for cooperating with humans’ training and instructions with a burst of pleasure hormones in the brain. They receive this inbuilt pheromone reward even when they ‘get’ an aspect of their training right, even if they are not worked with non-punitively, respectfully and cooperatively. When trained with positive reinforcement techniques, this set of biological facts makes bits, spurs, crops and other punitive goads not only unnecessary but counterproductive, with pleasure and pain vying for positive and negative reinforcement in a confusing mix.

The surfaces of horses’ grinding teeth are very sensitive; steel bits resting against these surfaces, even passively, cause pain, let alone when tugging and pulling commences and irritates the extremely tender corners of the mouth. Modern working horses basically perform well in trials, races, rodeos etc. in spite of the bit (crops, spurs. etc.), not because of it. Horses raised and trained with cooperative and humane methods (mostly by trainers in Europe who have embraced this research and the brain studies on horses) perform better — amazingly, wondrously well. Even badly damaged, violent and dangerous horses have been rehabilitated via the new/old methods.

The image above shows a 5th Century BCE gold ring of Greek design showing a Scythian woman warrior, the inspiration for the Classical Greek myths about ‘Amazons,’ hunting with her eagle and sight hound. She wears the short toga, or battle kilt, and long cloak later adopted by Spartan, Macedonian, Mycenaean and Greek warriors and noblemen. Her horse has no bridle, but only a loose halter and no girthed saddle.

Native American plains peoples obtained great performance from their horses with no bits, no saddles, and only slight pressures of knees and ankles and light touches on either side of the neck, in hunting, racing, counting coup tricks and in war. No coercion required. The ‘No Steel in the Mouth’ equestrian movement will hopefully grow and spread and retroactively change our species for the better, as well as benefitting horses in their millennia-long service.

Horses have worked with humans and their hunting dogs, raptors and other predator species from earliest times. Female shamans, eagle hunters and chieftains of the Eurasian Steppe were sometimes buried with their eagle mitts still on their hands; several have been disinterred from the frozen tundra, mummified, with all their grave goods and clothing well preserved.

The mummified eagle huntress found still wearing her leather eagle-hunting mitt, found in the Tarim Basin and dating from the 4th-3rd century BCE, held in the Urumqi Museum, is one such. She would have flown her raptor from horseback, with her sight hound or large feline, hunting techniques later awarded to the great Janyl Myrza, the legendary warrior woman, eagle huntress, chieftain and heroine of a famous Kyrgyz epic poem.

For large hunting birds to bond with their human partners, they must be hand raised and hand fed from infancy and, as with canine, feline and equine partnerships with humans, the bonds are indelible. The above image is of 13-year old Aisholpan Nurgaiv, a modern avatar of the revival of the ancient tradition of Eagle Huntresses, as she trains her young golden-eagle to hunt in contemporary Mongolia. Her horse suffers no bit, but wears only a loose halter for guidance.

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Yvonne Owens, PhD

Yvonne Owens, PhD

I'm a writer/researcher/arts educator on Vancouver Island and all round global citizen who loves humans even though we're such a phenomenal pain-in-the-ass.