Saturday, January 22, 2011
Don't Ignore What Your Horse is Saying
(A Room With a View. That's my favorite chair to the right--it's turned so that I can see easily out the window and over to the opposite turnout where Beautiful and the pony are. I can see two turnouts from here. Sometimes the horses switch turnouts, but right now the stalls work out best this way.)
I have the privilege of watching my horses just about sixteen hours out of the day. One of the better things I did for myself was design the barn and turnout to be in direct view of my favorite chair in my reading/writing room. One entire wall of this room faces North and is 7/8's window. We placed the barn/turnout right outside of it. The back deck also overlooks this area, as does the hot tub on the patio below.
This was no accident, it was our dream realized. My husband and I have owned several homes--Lord willing, this will be our last. At all the other homes, we used to think, this would be great if only we could see our horses, too. In our last house, we could hear them, but not see them because the turnout and barn were too far to the East. Not being able to see them made everything else only half as good. For us, much of the joy of having them is "being" with them--part of them--and watching over them.
Call me crazy, but I want to see my horses all the time. At night, when it's dark, I'll sometimes shine a flashlight on them and watch. Or, I'll just stand in the dark with them and call out to them--sometimes they respond back with a whinny and, though I can't see them very well, I know where each one is by their unique sound.
(view from the deck--too cold to sit out there now. The playset for the grandkids and nephews and nieces is unused this time of year. See Red and Cowboy?)
This morning, as I was having coffee, I got to watch a particularly funny scene. The horses were fed and happy. They'd all assumed their positions in the turnout of standing sleep. The sun is shining, it's warming up, and they were soaking it in.
Then, along came our dog, Riagan, the Irish Wolfhound, and her next door neighbor buddy, the Doberman, Tory. Riagan is out there all the time and has learned to read the horses and listen to me, so she's safe with them, but Tory has generally avoided them and so, hasn't learned the lessons.
Riagan walked right behind Cowgirl. I watched as Cowgirl cocked her foot--slightly--Riagan saw it, too, and moved away. Then, Tory followed behind her, went up and sniffed Cowgirl's cocked foot and Cowgirl took it up a couple of notches to a semi-strike. Tory, the Dobie, darted away quick and missed being caught. In my experience, when a horse wants to really kick something, it does. So, I take that as Cowgirl was still threatening, but the next one was going to be the real deal.
I love this stuff. I can't be out in the barn 24/7, but when I'm not, it sure helps to be able to watch them from here. I can see how they move--how far do they put their fronts forward and where their backs strike after. I can see when and how often Cowboy camps out his front left hoof (the P3 fracture). I can see who is eating when and how much and who is lying down and how long. I can see who is threatening who or being disobedient to their herd leaders (Shadow and Red. When the mares are disobedient, it sometimes means they're coming into heat and want to go socialize with the stallion next door. They can't get to him, or him to them, but they'll call out to him and be flagrant little hussies--make the poor geldings work overtime).
Some of what the horses do is very, very obvious. When they want more food, they'll stand at the edge of the fence line and stare right into these windows. Or, if the UPS guy, a stray dog, or person walking down our driveway appears, they'll all be looking that direction with their ears trained on whatever it is.
Part of listening to our horses is knowing what's normal for them and how they say it. They all have different personalities, body types, weaknesses and strengths. The more I'm around my horses, the more I've wanted to be a good steward of them, and learn to be observant.
I'll add this one at #4 in my list. It is the most pleasurable, and it may be the most important part of the whole equation. Sitting with a cup of coffee, watching my horses, preparing to go drag out the turnout and clean some stalls--heaven. This is different than #3, the signs of your horse threatening you, but very similar--it's just knowing who your horse is and what's normal for him/her.
And this will lead to #5--an observation I did not understand. The day I saw my old horse, Red, standing out there licking his water. Yes, licking it. He'd lick, stop, lick, stop, lick, stop. What did it mean? What was he telling me? I didn't know. My husband didn't know. We had to call in help. And let me tell you, talk about 20/20 making you look stupid! To be continued--#5.