I had a moment of confuzzlement recently. Reading equine body language does not come from watching several horse videos or from owning horses for many years. It comes from watching domestic and wild horses in person, online, studying images and experiencing a million moments on yards and often, observing how humans respond to horses, and vice versa. It takes all those things, and over a lifetime.
I raised my chin to look directly above me, the tall birch trees were swaying in synchronised unity. A million leaves being rattled by the wind had the sound not unlike a fast moving river moving over boulders. I admonished myself for having the stupidity to ride my horse through the large copse of trees on such a gusty day. But I had been ambling along oblivious to both the weather and where the track led. Furthermore the track had forked before the wood, so I had indeed the option of riding around it, missing it entirely. But no, I had been riding along like Dolly Daydream and it hadn’t occurred to me branches, even trees may fall on such a gusty day. Well, not until I saw how much the birch trees were swaying. Even the crows had the sense to leave long before the stupid human turned up. We should probably get out of this wood I muttered to my horse. My horse, who was also taking part in this Dolly Daydream episode, was gently chewing on her bit while gazing down the track. I don’t know what I was thinking, well, evidently nothing. It occurs to me now ‘thinking nothing’ is not such a bad thing sometimes. It really hadn’t dawned on me it might be dangerous to hack on such a windy day, and for good reason, nothing eventful happened.
Over the years I have more than once, blamed a groom for forgetting to bolt the stable door when finding my horse loose on the yard. Then one day I witnessed my mare jumping out of her stable! Well that’s putting it more mildly than what really happened when my horse escaped. Continue reading “Aggression Doesn’t Always Mean Dangerous”
The majority of foals, certainly in my experience here in the UK, are spending their first few months alone with the mother. Although I am aware of reputable horse breeders that turn out a number of foals and mums together to live amiably as a herd. Yet I have seen many individual horse owners segregate the mother and baby until weaning. Then between 4 and 6 months the foal is usually separated from the mother and put into a herd of horses.
Those were the words the livery used to inform me that her horse could not be part of a herd. This horse could not have a field mate. There would be no swishing tail to turn and face during the summer to deter the flies from bothering her eyes, or a restful sleep while the other horses stood guard looking out for danger. No mutual grooming would ever occur, and there would be no comfort from having a leader, or being the leader. This particular horse could not have a field mate because, in her words, her horse would kill other horses.
A vet once said to me By the time the horse shows pain, the damage is already severe. Those words sent me down the road of wanting to fully understand equine body language, instinct and psychology. I have now adapted those words to fit what I believe is true, which is By the time a human identifies pain in the horse, the damage is already severe.
Every single one of the horses caught my attention, in terms of equine behaviour there was a lot to observe. Most of the behaviour was instigated by a human walking through the gate that led to the paddocks. All 7 horses whinnied and most of them ran to their own fence-lines. Being early December the grass was almost depleted, snow and a few hard frosts will ensure the paddocks will soon be decimated. The horses were overly spooky, they only needed a very minor excuse to take flight while kicking up their heels. One of the horses was continually walking the fence line, creating a track that had turned to mud. Those very worn muddy tracks appear in every field, at every yard every winter. Instinct is telling the horse to move on to pastures new, but being restricted by fencing, the legs continue to walk a journey that leads to nowhere. The behaviour in all these animals is driven by a lack of food, they are either hungry or are aware resources are becoming scarce.
On yards all over England this time of year liveries will be complaining their horses are rude, impatient, even feisty. People find themselves frantically clutching lead-ropes while their horse drags them either to the field, or to the stable. Others are dreading having to deal with several kicking, spooky horses at a very muddy gateway while trying to retrieve their own horse out of the field. The majority of these owners will understand that their horse is feeling hungry. The majority of these owners will also very likely do something about the situation, by giving the horse more food.
This is a mistake. Continue reading “Winter Grumpiness? Food Is Not The Answer!”
There is only one good reason why my terrier would suddenly go from lounging on the carpet to suddenly leaping up and running under the sofa at break neck speed. Being fully aware of the reason, the human sat on said sofa jumped up and ran fearfully to the living room door. For the past 20 years this particular arachnophobe has made sure to train her dogs to perform a very important duty. Terriers it would seem are far more talented in this role as opposed to larger dogs that struggle to successfully squeeze under sofas, armchairs or beds. 3 seconds later my pint sized tri-coloured saviour emerged with it caged between two rows of teeth, and it was enormous. I don’t like to see any living thing on this earth hurt, or unnecessarily killed, but my phobia runs deep. I would actually prefer to throw a pint glass at a spider rather than catch it humanely. I’m very sorry for this. Continue reading “The Planned Spook”
The deal was done, money was exchanged, hands were shaken and Charlie was loaded onto the trailer. The family had done their homework on finding an appropriate pony for their child, in size, temperament, training and experience in both the pony and the child. On the face of it, it was an ideal match. The dealer was well known, certainly in England, probably in Britain maybe even overseas. Therefore a well known horse-dealer is unlikely to destroy their reputation by selling a dangerous pony to a child. So in this case, it is certain there had been no shady shenanigans in terms of selling a dangerous, unsound, insane or unhealthy animal by a greedy and unethical seller that had bought the horse just 2 days before from a knackers yard. Yet in just six months this pony had thrown the child so many times that it was considered too perilous for the child to continue riding, not without risking serious injury. If after 40 years of riding and one day I fell, breaking my neck, it could be considered a freak accident. Yet if I was bucked off on a weekly basis some might suggest it was inevitable. So it is understandable that the parents decided to send this pony back to the dealer.
So did the dealer sell a dangerous animal?
Darcey skipped across the yard with all the joys of a spring lamb and flicked up both heels as she jumped the narrow concrete drainage gutter. In her mind she was not a 9 year old child, nope, she was Ellen Whitaker competing on her grand 16.2 hh bay steed. The fence before her was over 4 feet high and as she got close she counted down the approach 3…2…1 and takeoff! The gutter was jumped clear, guaranteeing her a place at HOYS! Darcey threw up her hands in jubilation and waved to the cheering crowd. In this moment a high-pitched whinny quickly disintegrated her fantasy and the crowd abruptly faded away. Continue reading “Training Without Due Care and Attention”