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Why the Long Face?

A Horse walks into a pub. The barman asks, “Why the long face?”


But it turns out that, in Dubai, comparing people to horses can land you in quite a lot of trouble. Whether they have long faces, big teeth, or they’ve just married your ex-partner, describing a person as a horse on social-media could earn you two years in jail. Or perhaps brief incarceration followed by a fine of more than £600.

It’s doesn’t seem very enlightened, tolerant or liberal to lock people up for calling other people horses. But then again, maybe we should all be obliged to think twice before abusing others on social media. Either way, it’s the horses I feel sorry for.

Because I don’t think Laleh Shahravesh was being complimentary when she responded to a photograph of her ex-husband and his new wife by posting, “You left me for this horse?” I doubt she was making a comment about his bride’s glossy mane, sleek body or elegant poise. More likely that she was trying to say that his new partner had a big nose, swivelling ears and eyes positioned on the sides of her head.

But it’s wrong to use horses as a comparator for derision. As I child, I used to enjoy pretending to be a horse. I’d snort and kick and canter around the garden, jumping piles of lawn clippings arranged at intervals like Grand National fences at Aintree. If I wasn’t impersonating Red Rum, then I’d be Zongalero (who was second in the Grand National to Ben Nevis). Sometimes, I still think that I’d prefer to be a horse than a human (maybe one like Big River, my selection for the Scottish Grand National on Saturday). They get all that love and attention; food, grooming and warm blankets. I’d be less enthusiastic about the nasal swabs.

It’d be tough though. Remember Richard Harris in the film ‘A Man Called Horse’? He had a hellish time after he was captured by Native Americans, enslaved and treated like an animal. You might have said it was a dog’s life, if the title of the film didn’t direct you otherwise. But anyway, the point is: in earning the name ‘Horse’, Harris’s character was eventually recognised as having the right blend of nobility, dependability and strength to lead the tribe.

Like Richard Harris, we can all learn from horses. Equine assisted therapy is a growing field, used to assist the rehabilitation of prisoners and the development of social skills in people with learning difficulties. Horses have an instinctual fear of danger and can read the intentions of others at a great distance. This means that they can accurately detect what we’re really feeling, even when we’re not aware of it ourselves, and reflect those feelings back to us through their reactions.

Learning how to interact with horses through body language, can help us to appreciate how our actions affect people in our own human herd. Funnily enough, the solution to getting on with people rarely involves calling them names or locking them up. But then, it doesn’t usually involve blowing up their nostrils and feeding them carrots either.

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