Monday, February 6, 2012

Horse Instincts

After an incident that happened yesterday, I started wondering about how horses may or may not have instinctive or telepathic thoughts/feelings.  The horses were turned out at their normal time and they all proceeded to the backfields for browner pastures.  Nothing is green yet, but they are ever hopeful of finding a blade here and there.  I had planned to work Donnie, Sami and Dusty on the longe, and maybe ride Blue if time permitted.  The weather has been cold, so until it warmed up, I busied myself in the house with neglected duties.

Nearing noon, I put on my coat and opened the side door.  Big surprise, no one had come up for lunch hay yet, except for Blue.  He was busily snacking on a hay net hanging from the hay tree in the middle of the paddock.  As I stood there watching him from the door very quietly, he turned and looked at me.  I casually thought to myself that, since no one had shown up yet, maybe I would go catch Blue and longe him instead of Donnie.  He took another bite or two of his hay, took another look at me, suddenly dropped his head as if trying to shrink, then slunk off at an extreme extended walk until he disappeared behind the shed and out of my line of vision.  In a few seconds he resurfaced and exited the catch pen with a gorgeous extended trot and didn’t stop until he was well into the third paddock.  Which led me to believe that he could read my mind and decided working wasn’t on his schedule for the day.  He effectively took himself off the menu, knowing I wouldn’t come all the way to the back and get him.

There have been other instances where horses have seemed to know what was going to happen and either accepted it or acted out.  I believe that horses have an innate instinct or ability, if you will, to recognize good horse people or what I consider evil horse handlers.  Case in point:  many years ago we boarded at a barn whose owner’s son was an alarmingly nasty twenty-something that abused his horses outright for all to see.  To say he was cruel would be an understatement.

We had taken on an OTTB who basically had a broken leg with a cast on it.  Once he was healed and ready to find a new home my daughter took him to a schooling show on the barn’s property.  He was normally the sweetest, most mild-mannered horse in the world and after some rehab time and reschooling ended up with a nice home in a respected riding school, so not a scary monster by any means.  Anyway, she was in the saddle waiting by the fence to go in, and this creep was standing next to “Critter” with his friend, expounding on all the wonders that were himself, when Critter unexpectedly unhinged his jaws and turned on him and was basically going to bite his head off.  If it weren’t for his friend pulling him away, I believe he would have been a “headless horseman.”  I never knew whether it was my daughter’s intense dislike for this person that triggered Critter’s response to him or if perhaps he simply had an evil aura surrounding his person that made the horse react out of self-preservation.  Maybe horses talk amongst themselves at night and the word spread.  Whatever the cause, I believe he would have done him bodily harm. 

Another incident that happened at this barn:  I was riding Lifeguard (the best horse ever) in the indoor down the long side.  When “ Evil Abuser” calmly walked in with his horse, Lifeguard, who was across the indoor from this kid, panicked just at the sight of him and spun around toward the rail and cinderblock wall of the indoor just to be going in the other direction from him.  Now Lifeguard was no pushover, but this kid’s evil persona must have infected him as it did the rest of the horses on the farm.  There were more unusual happenings but these are the two that affected us and that I can attest to.

So my thoughts were sort of circling the drain and I’ve come up with my own theory.  I do truly believe that horses have an instinct about their surroundings and the people that inhabit them.  If they didn’t they couldn’t have survived through the millennia.  I’m still not sure if they are telepathic or if they are simply reacting to what they perceive as a risk.  Namely me, standing quietly at the door looking at Blue.  How did he know he was going to be worked?  Was it because I came out and he was the only one around?  Smart deduction, I’d say.  Or could he actually read my mind?

Blue happens to be one of the cleverest and craftiest horses in the herd.  At night at bring in time, he won’t come up to the gate until he catches your eye.  He has to make actual eye contact and sort of gives you the “you got my back, right?” look.  This way he makes sure you both arrive at the gate at the same time and Nate or Mellon won’t corner him there and chase him.  Blue won’t be chased, so you both have to be on board and in sync.  If not he’ll wait his turn and come in third.  But he’d much rather come in first, so it helps him to know you’re on his team.

I find horses fascinating creatures of habit, some with surprisingly complex thought and planning processes, and of course also creatures of finely honed instinct.  Then again, is it pure instinct or is it perhaps more?  I fear we’ll never know.  They will travel on through their lives and ours amazing us with their behavior and keep us guessing.

Until next time
Quote for Today
Don't look at a horse as an animal; look as if the horse is a real person. Because a horse can tell the difference.

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