Category: behaviour

Too Windy For Turnout?

Turnout was cancelled. I was keeping my horse on part-livery which included hay, bedding and a groom that would do all the turning out and bringing in. 20 plus years ago part-livery used to include everything apart from someone exercising the horse. You could expect all the mucking out to be completed, the horse groomed, even the tack would be cleaned. If an owner is doing more than actually tacking up and riding, then yards have no right to call it part-livery.

It was a tall young woman who was striding past my stable that yelled out the news the horses would spend the entire day and night stuck in a 12 by 12 feet wooden box. I had only been at this yard for 2 days, and had chosen the place specifically to get extra help with my horse. I was looking forward to having more quality time, rather than spending time doing all the chores.

This was a first for me as I have always done all the work myself. At the time I was juggling studying, work and motherhood. Plus I was in a position to be able to afford such a luxury.

When I had initially been shown around the place and informed of the services, there had been no mention that on any given day turnout could be cancelled. Moreover, I had never even heard of a yard cancelling turnout, literally never in all these years of owning horses.

When I asked why? The tall girl told me it was too windy. Again I found myself utterly bewildered! It was a bit windy that day, but this was no hurricane and it certainly wasn’t a storm. I wouldn’t even have described it as gusty! It was just windy, clawing hair from your eyes windy, could blow a chip wrapper around windy, but certainly not tree’s are falling windy.

Baring in mind I have been a groom myself and we worked in all weather. I wouldn’t have kept my job long if I had told my boss I only handle horses on mild warm days. But in truth, none of the staff even discussed the weather, apart from moaning about being covered in mud on the worst of days. No decent groom would be without water proof clothing anyway. Hacks, lesson and attending liveries horses always went ahead. I never remember my boss cancelling anything. Therefore I hope you can imagine my dismay.

I had another question and asked why did the wind make a difference? She replied with…

Because its dangerous

For those that accept such a lame excuse, it’s probably because you are new to owning horses, or you just haven’t gained much experience yet.

But that excuse is a bucket full of horse manure.

Next time it’s windy go out to the horse paddocks and observe the animals (if you can find a yard that hasn’t cancelled turnout). Are the horses running around like crazy, or are they grazing? Well I already know they will be head down eating grass.

In my experience horses may be a little more on their toes when it’s very windy. I believe it’s because their senses are compromised. They can still hear of course, but because it’s so noisy they are less likely to hear a predator creeping up on them, and unlikely to smell it. So the horse becomes totally reliant on sight alone.

He may become head high because he’s actively looking for danger, his ears cannot tell him he’s safe, and nor can his nose. Think of the position he is now, relying just on sight isn’t enough for a prey animal to survive. Many predators can creep up quite close, unseen and ready to pounce. Horses will become jumpy because if in-fact a predator does make it that close, the horse will immediately take flight. He’s gearing up to run…even when he’s on the end of a lead rope.

But that’s fine, we love horses, and that’s what horses do.

Yet we are not leading the horse through new territory, and certainly not through the African bush. Turnout normally involves the same track and the same route. The same tracks and routes that you probably hack around on. The horse has probably been this way hundreds of times. So even on windy days he may look for danger, but he is aware of his environment and is probably more comfortable than you realise, it’s just instinct making him jumpy and he is being extra alert.

This isn’t the same as dangerous

I have never known horse events to be cancelled, vet/farrier/dentist appointments cancelled, endurance rides, racing, hunting, point to point, cross country, team chasing etc (you get my point) cancelled just because it’s a bit windy.

If a groom tells you that turnout is cancelled because it’s a bit windy, then employ another groom, or move yards. I did the latter and never bothered with part-livery again.

The Fragile Horse

Slate grey mountainous cumulonimbus clouds had been rolling across the valley toward my location for the last half an hour. I hastened my attempt to remove every trace of manure from the paddock as the aerial equivalent of the Atlantic Ocean projected angry towering waves of water vapour high up into the stratosphere. Continue reading “The Fragile Horse”

The Equine Mind Map

The stable had been prepared for the new livery with a thick bed of fresh straw and a hay net hung in the corner. The horse came off the lorry and walked into the barn filled with anxiety, he was head-high with flaring nostrils and eyes as round as dinner plates. Even after a good 45 minutes the horse was still extremely anxious. The once neat bed of straw was tossed to the side of the stable walls as the horse frantically circled the stable, the circuit was only broken when he rushed to the stable door to whinny and rear. Sweat made his bay coat glisten as steam started to rise from him. Continue reading “The Equine Mind Map”

The Bolt: Part 2

When out hacking through the countryside or along roads my mare will display anxiety when approaching and passing horse paddocks. If these horses are just standing around grazing she will become head-high and attempt to focus on the herd. I can feel her attention has shifted from me and I’ve become a mere passenger. Continue reading “The Bolt: Part 2”

The Natural Born Killer

The gentle horse roams silently in the paddock while softly swishing her tail, two mouthfuls of grass are grazed and a hoof moves forward creating a steady rhythm that is soothing to watch. It’s a beautiful autumn day and a Red Admiral carelessly surfs the soft warm breeze. At least that’s how I like to remember this day, the reality is not quite as poetic. It’s an autumn day and there may have been a butterfly, a moth, maybe a few dung beetles kicking about.

My horse catches my eye because she is behaving peculiar. Her head carriage is relaxed, which somehow makes this even worse, and she is twisting her front right leg on the spot in semi-circular motions. Of course I go over to investigate and she doesn’t move, I also see nothing on the ground in the vicinity of this one hoof. The semi-circular motions continue and it’s quite a bizarre sight! I push against her to encourage her to move but she stands her ground so I reach down to pick the foot up. She resists me, but after a few pulls I have lifted the hoof and underneath… I see fur. At best I think it’s a patch of rabbit pelt, the remnants of a meal from a fox or kite. But as I lift the fur it’s heavier than expected, in fact I soon discover it’s an entire rabbit. My horse has pummelled this poor creature into the ground, and she has done it without a care in the world.

But our gentle equine friends don’t kill, do they?

I was enjoying a steady canter on this mare through an open field, my only other companion being my faithful labrador who would run alongside us effortlessly. We must have disturbed a hiding fox as suddenly one darted out in front of us, to which my dog took off in hot pursuit, unfortunately…so did my horse! She quickly outpaced the dog and I had to scream at him to get out of the way. Rather than being trampled he barrelled sideways down a ditch. It was too late for me to stop this rather bizarre ‘bolt’ as I had already been at canter, I had already wasted a few precious seconds trying to save the dog and I had never even for a second anticipated my horse would chase a fox. My mare’s head carriage was very low, rendering the bit useless. Her nose was 2 inches from the floor and 6 feet behind the terrified fox. Her ears were pinned flat to her head and she was without a doubt either going to sink her teeth into this fox or strike out. Eventually the fox used the same tactic as my dog and I lost sight of it as it also barrelled sideways down a ditch and disappeared into the undergrowth.

Other incidences of my mares murdering ways involve squishing rats in her stable and chasing dogs out of her paddock.

HORSE ATTACKS DOG IN UNLIKELY GAME OF CHASE

In all seriousness, it isn’t just my horse that kills, all horses can kill. In fact horses are somewhat formidable killing machines. But the horse is a ‘prey animal’ you may be thinking, maybe…for a lion. This term gives people the idea the horse is defenseless and will run away from anything. This couldn’t be further from the truth and horses will quite often stand their ground. A stallion will protect his herd, a mare will protect her foal, and these are the same instincts that are alive and well in that horse that stands in the stable eating hay.

I can understand my horse probably recognised the fox as a predator, perhaps she saw me and the dog as part of her herd, and she is without a doubt a dominant mare. Rats are creatures that scurry around her feet and perhaps she’s been nipped, perhaps not, maybe she is being territorial…perhaps she just doesn’t like rats! The killing of innocent rabbits in the field has me scratching my head however, is she protecting the limited resources or is she being territorial or both. It’s tempting to think she was just being aggressive for the sake of it, but animals rarely expend energy for absolutely no reason. Also when I saw her stomping the rabbit none of her body language exhibited aggression, she looked very calm in-fact. …answers on a postcard please.

I have never seen evidence that any of the animals she has killed have been consumed, not played with, or even chewed. I have only once witnessed a horse picking up a dead bird and began eating it. I will never know if this horse intended on swallowing the bird as the owner (understandably) removed the bird from the horse’s mouth. Although I have seen a video of a horse eating chicks and its uncomfortable to watch. The video shows dry dusty ground that is depleted of grass, so perhaps the horse has no choice but to eat them in order to survive. There could be evidence of miss-management in this case because rather than remove the horse to grass, or provide hay, or indeed save the hapless chicks from being consumed…videoing of the event was seen as far more important.