Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nothing is Black and White

Before I begin, I want you to remember nothing is black and white in the horse herd.  Every horse is different in conformation, how he moves, and most importantly, he is an individual whose thoughts are just as different and important as each and every human being.  Every horse feels a different way and will approach every obstacle differently.
Horses' first instinct is to run, when they feel danger.  Notice the word “feel”.  It’s not just what they see, smell, or hear but also what they feel.   Sometimes, horses don’t have to see the danger, and this is where it is very important as the trainer (friend) to have enough trust to where your horse looks to you.  And as the trainer to trust your horse.  Sometimes, we just have to take their word for it and take a different path. 
In the herd, when a horse smells, hears, or feels uneasy, he will become alert and that alerts everyone else.  They look to the leader, “do we run or do we stay?”   Everything may move in a snap.  Usually, they will run a ¼ of a mile, turn around, and then ask the question “what was that? Should we keep running or is it all clear and safe again?”   Once it feels safe, the horses will begin to eat.  All is peaceful again.
Body language is a complicated type of language.  A twitch of an ear, a muscle, even a tail is saying something.   Horses' rolling has many meanings, too.   Remember, “nothing is black and white.”  This is where it gets interesting.  Rolling can mean feeling relaxed.  Rolling in dirt helps to condition their coat and/or to keep bugs off of them.  Rolling helps with itchies.  But there is one feeling that has been over looked and not even considered.  Could rolling also be an anxiety relief?
I deal a lot with abused and neglected horses.  I watch the herd a lot and learn from their interaction with one another and found nothing in the horse world is simple.   Horses will roll to help release stress.  Buzz Light Year is one of those.  He will roll, get up roll again, find another spot and roll again.  He’s searching for that stress relief.  He’ll get up and roll again, over and over…10 times in a row is the highest I’ve counted.  It’s like he’s trying to get rid of crawling ants.  Buzz is very unique.  He isn’t your average horse.  I believe he is autistic.  I’ll talk more about him in another post.  He is fascinating and a huge challenge.
Body language is very complex.  A twitch of a muscle can have many meanings, too.  He could be trying to get rid of a fly or telling a horse to rub him here.  What is really interesting and wonderful is, one day I was riding, I felt a muscle push upward, it was like a finger telling me “you need to put your weight here.”   Horses are amazing if given a chance to be heard.
A foot cocked, what could this mean? Looking at the whole horse, I see eyes closing and the whole body going limp taking a quick cat nap, but there is something else going on, especially when I see the hoof flipped upside down with the wall of the hoof touching the ground.  Look how flexible that leg is.  A horse doing this is keeping his leg stretched and suppled which is very important to do, so the rump and leg doesn't cramp up.  It would be awful to have a bad leg and not able to move fast enough.  This is something Nelson has taught me.  He can be so stiff, but he hasn't needed massaging.  He knows how to keep the knots out.  This stretching I ask of my other horses and it has done everyone of them a lot of good.  Once taught, I don't have to ask them to do it. 
Ears laying flat back, may say that the horse is angry, giving a warning, but it can also indicate fear, or being unsure, and I’m sure there are more meanings than that.  Nothing is black and white.  Some horses show this behavior and they mean it, but the root of this behavior might be because he’s afraid and is insecure.  Jazz is one of those horses.  He’s very insecure and afraid.  He becomes aggressive.  He is also quick in kicking and it’s all fear based.  Many people will say, he’s disrespectful, but that’s not his problem.  He was also abused and was pushed past the line.  Nobody was listening that he was afraid of going forward.  He was pushed and pushed until he exploded.  Man has taught him, that the only way to be heard is to be loud...aggressive.  He is changing and has a baby face, but his insecurities show up not only with me but within the herd too.  Thank goodness the herd knows and understands how to deal with him. 
Even though Nelson's head is down,  look how
worried he is. He isn't feeling completely safe.  The wrinkles
above his eye is saying "One bad move and I'll be out of here."
Head down doesn’t always indicate relaxed.   Horses can be afraid even with his head down. Is the body stiff?  How is he holding his legs?  Squared hind quarters are always ready to take action.  What about his eyes, are they soft or hard, slightly hard, or bugging out?   Watch those ears, they tell you where he’s listening and possibly which direction he’s thinking of going.  A soft relaxed horse with his head down, is always a nice way to spend time with the horses.  Everything is peaceful and that’s the way I like it.
I barely touched on this subject.  It’s a very interesting subject.  The more time I spend sitting and watching,  the more I learn something new.
Take the time, grab a chair and sit.   Revisit and tell us about your experience, your new insight into this wonderful world of horses.

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