Thursday, May 20, 2010

My horse apologized to me (and other equine emotions)

Just listen, I have so much to tell you!
Tucker letting me know his opinion!

So the other evening, Tucker did something that he has never done before...not ever in the 6 and a half years of owning him. Not even when he was a baby going through his, well, his baby phase of tasting everything. He BIT me!
Now it wasn't intentional..I don't think! I had come into the barn in a whirlwind. It was my OPRC (Old People Riding Club...stop smirking, please) meeting that evening and I wanted to arrive in time to hear the guest lecturer, Dr. Fowinkle. So I raced to the barn after work and rushed into the barn, grabbing feed buckets. It was a stark contrast to my normal sedate easy going entrance, where I say hello to everyone and pat the barn cats. So I think the horses instantly reacted to my body language.
I had dumped everyone's feed except for Bates and Tucker. As I was standing in front of Bates stall, about to dump his feed, Tucker reached over from his door opening, which is open with only a stall guard across the front, and BIT me! HARD! On my hip! I have to say, the pain was a bit of a shock, just as much as the fact that he had just bitten me for the first time. My first instinct was to throw an empty feed bucket at him. It made contact with his big ole head and he quickly retreated to the back of the stall. After standing there, getting pissed and thinking, "wow, this really hurts", I finally entered his stall, giving him a good slap on his side for good measure. I dumped his feed but refused to allow him near it..not that he tried. He knew he was in the doghouse and stood his ground, waiting for me to grant him permission to eat. I finally allowed him, admonishing him as he made his way to the feed tub and telling him how much he had hurt me.
Well, I proceeded with my chores, making breakfast, putting the evening hay out in the pastures and turning the mares out front and turning the other geldings out. All I had left was Tucker. But as I approached his stall, he was not in his usual spot, which is standing in the doorway, waiting with his head over the stall guard. No, he was standing with his head in the back corner! Seriously! He had put himself in the corner!

I tried to stifle a laugh as I realized what he had done. I tapped him on his butt, told him he was forgiven, and to come on around.

Well, he turned around and then, proceeded to apologize to me!

How does a horse apologize? Well, he schnuffled me (I think that is a term only horse people use!). I mean, he took his soft muzzle and started, well, you know, schnuffling me! He was running his muzzle up and down my arms. Then he started to lick me! And don't you know, he was very, very careful not to even let me feel his teeth!
He had this genuine look of remorse as he was doing this, and I think if he could have spoken, he would have apologized a hundred times.
Now this is the horse that has broken dozens of fence boards, knocked over jumps for fun during turnout, loses his fly mask in under 2 minutes, and once stepped on my foot, all 1400 pounds on 2 toes which he pivoted on before moving off it, breaking them in the process. Not once did he ever, ever apologize! But here he was, showing me an emotion that I had never seen from him before! It was very touching!

I have witnessed other enduring emotions from my horses. Most notably, humor and scolding.

Have you ever been scolded by a horse? I have!

It was a couple of years ago. Imp is the Queen of the barn. She is very prim and proper and she knows the barn rules. She obeys the rules 99% of the time, except for when she gets into a rare funny mood. She does not tolerate other horses not abiding by the rules either and will pin her ears back and let them know that their behavior is childish and unacceptable.
This one particular morning, I pulled up to the barn, bright and early, as usual. My boarder had fed the night before. She had let Imp into her stall from the back pasture, using the gate in her run, instead of the stall door in the barn aisle. She did not know that the stall door, which was covered with winter blankets, was not locked, just shut tight.
Well, when I pulled up, my heart skipped a beat, because I saw her door wide open and no sign of Imp, who usually hangs her head over the door when I arrive. I thought for sure she must have left her stall and since I had not seen her as I drove up the driveway, I was convinced she had wondered off the property.
But as soon as I opened my car door, Imp's head suddenly appeared over the opening of her stall. I was so relieved! I couldn't believe that she was in her stall and didn't escape!
As soon as I entered the barn, that is when the scolding began. She started shaking her head at me, up and down, left and right. And she verbally blasted me, making all kinds of deep nickers and grunts. Her ears were pinned back as she did this. Her little charade continued for a few minutes, and I realized, wow, I am being scolded by a horse! I knew that if she could have talked, she would have said "Hey, humans screwed up! You left my door open and I could have escaped. I could have gotten into the feed room and had my fill. I could have wandered off the property and gotten into who knows what kind of trouble. But I at least have some common sense and know better, even if you don't. So I stayed where I know I should be, safe and secure in my stall. Now, hurry up and feed me, and you better be giving me extra treats". Yes, that is exactly what she said to me that morning!
Now this same horse, does have a sense of humor. It is not displayed often, unlike her barn mate, Bates, who is the barn clown. So when she does get a humorous side, it makes it all the more amusing.
Just last week, she got such a wild hair. I had turned her and Dolly out in the front pasture, for their evening turnout. I had 3 piles of hay, and had returned to the barn to retrieve GiGi. I left the gate slightly open, because, unlike the geldings who would not hesitate to take advantage of such an offer, Imp would not dare, and Dolly, who would normally not wait to take advantage of such a situation, was not about to leave hay. As I am walking GiGi to the pasture, I see Imp suddenly spy the open gate. She looks at me, looks at the gate, and starts walking for it. I see what she is up to and increase my pace. So does Imp. I break into a trot. So does Imp. She reaches the gate just before I do, breaks into a canter, and out she goes, right past me. I swear she laughed at me as she went by!
I quickly got Gi-Gi in the pasture, removed her halter, and took off after Imp, who was cantering around the barn yard.
Experience has taught me that food is absolutely useless in reining Imp back in. Unlike the other horses who will do anything for a bucket of feed, Imp will not resort to being bribed. She does have principles. Such things as bribes are beneath her.
So around and around the yard she goes, finally making a beeline up the driveway, me in hot pursuit, pleading with her to stop. Thank God we are on a private dirt road and our biggest worries are the teens on ATV's. She made a left out the driveway, went about 40 feet, stopped across the road at my neighbors pasture and then turned and watched me coming. As I approached, she of course turned around, laughed in my face and trotted back down the driveway, into the barnyard.

Did I mention she laughed in my face?

I was able to get Imp into the back pasture, where she did what she normally does when she doesn't want to be caught..she did perfect 20 meter trot circles around me. Laughing all the while.
So I ignored her and went about my barn chores, knowing she was safe. Once I gave up the game, she did too. It was no longer fun for her and when I was ready to turn the boys out in the pasture, she came in willingly.
Obviously there is no fun if I am no longer in a sheer panic.

Humor is probably the emotion I have seen the most expressed in horses. Bates likes to remove his halter and lead from the hook outside his stall door and twirl it around. And if there is something that can be knocked over, he'll gladly go out of his way to do so.
My old jumper, Sir Tally, was an escape artist. Only, after he had let himself out of the stall, he would then proceed to let everyone else out. This usually occured between the hours of 2:00 and 5:00 AM, when the barn owner was rudely awaken to the sound of galloping hoof beats outside her bedroom window.

I feel sorry for people who say animals don't have emotions. Animals have a wide range of emotions, you just have to remove your head from the cell phone or ipod. They have so much to tell us, and all you have to do is just listen! Try it, you'll be amazed what your horse tells you!

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