Every so often, when a Horseblog falls on a holiday and our Horseblogger suffers an attack of the Don’Wannas, we reach into the vault and pull out an oldie but goodie. This one, from 2011, is just as apposite now as then. Enjoy!
This was going to be a nice substantive post about horse feet, with links and details and all that.
But it’s dead-dog August and it’s hot and its sticky and I’ve been working all day and I’m cranky and I don’ wanna.
I don’ even wanna keep looking through my voluminous photo files for the particularly perfect picture of the pissy horse that I know is there. I just don’ wanna. So have a deadpan cat instead.
It’s that time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. Isn’t just humans that aren’t in the mood. Horses suffer from it, too. And they’re stuck outside without air conditioning, in nasty-biting-fly season, which is also ohgod-itchy-mane and ye-gods-crumbly-feet season.
But life must go on, and for a horse, that means as much work as he or his owner can stand. Not a lot if it’s terribly hot and/or humid, but still, a little is good for human and beast.
Horses are as varied in their personalities as humans are, and run a wide gamut of energy levels, talent, perseverance, and plain old work ethic. There are lazy horses, and there are overachiever horses. There are horses that love to work and horses that would rather lounge around all day in the clover.
What there aren’t all that many of are horses that make excuses not to do their jobs. That’s a human aberration. If a horse don’ wanna, there’s always a reason, though it won’t always make sense to the human who has to deal with it.
And there may be a fair amount of dealing to be done. A half-ton prey animal with highly evolved flight reflexes combined with strong herd instincts is going to show his objections to the situation in sometimes dramatic fashion. He may spook or shy, rear, veer, spin, and/or bolt, and he may not give much warning before he hits the afterburners. The result for the human will range from slamming everything to a halt and getting the horse back with the program, to being carried off without much control over the situation, to going splat while the horse disappears into the distance.
But equine objections are not always or even all that often so dramatic. They can manifest as reluctance to do what the human asks, apparent stubbornness or laziness, fussing, head-tossing, biting or kicking at the human or her leg or whip if she is in the saddle, bucking, backing, speeding up and refusing to slow down, interpreting the human’s signals as the complete opposite of what they actually mean, and so on and on.
Whatever happens, the clear indication is that there has been a communications breakdown, and the human has to figure out what is wrong and then fix it. This does not mean beating the crap out of the horse, though at times a firm correction may be called for. Nor does it mean backing off completely and letting the horse go berserk. There is a middle ground of fast, carefully calibrated action, aimed at getting the horse’s attention, conveying the human’s intentions, and resolving matters in a way that is safe for both parties.
Say the horse is out on the trail and comes to a stream. The horse is convinced that the water is nine thousand miles deep and he will, if forced to step in it, sink down forever and never be seen again. As far as his vision is concerned, this is totally true, and his instincts tell him that when encountering any unknown obstacle, his best course of action is to turn around and make a rapid retreat. After all, it might eat him.
But you, the monkey on his back, have other ideas. You know with your full-frontal stereo vision that the water is at most six inches deep, and the bottom is solid enough not to swallow you both up once you get to the middle. You refuse to let him spin around and bolt. You insist that he go forward.
This is a classic contretemps. His perceived interests are at complete odds with what you perceive as the mutual interest. Depending on his personality and your riding style and skills, he will do one or more of the following: Stop and refuse to move. Stop and back up fast. Spin and try to bolt. Dart sideways. Buck (and possibly try to get you off–but not always; sometimes he’s just making a point). You will, in the meantime, use reins and legs to keep him from turning or spinning, try not to grab his mouth so hard he rears (and possibly slips and falls over backwards), and push him forward with your legs, sometimes assisted by a whip if you carry one (though if you hit too hard, he may buck or bolt forward so fast you go off, or else dig in and totally refuse to budge).
Persistence wins. As does the ability to judge when the horse is about to blow in one direction or another. It also helps to know what he’s likely to do in a given situation–I have one mare who will shut her brain off until a certain point, then make a flying leap over the obstacle. She’ll do her best to keep me in the middle, but I’d better not get taken off guard or I might go splat.
It can take enormous patience to deal with a horse who don’ wanna. It can also take a certain amount of respect for what he’s telling you. Every so often, an absolute refusal can save your life–if the riverbank is about to give way or there’s an alligator in the water or a mountain lion in the trees. Communication goes both ways, and it isn’t always the human who knows best.
Want to know more about horses and writing and how they intersect? Here’s where to begin. Questions answered, terms defined, and links, many links, to further investigations. With copious illustrations.
Just $4.99 in all the popular formats (including Kindle, Nook, and Sony e-reader) from the Book View Cafe e-bookstore.
Or if fictional horses are more to your taste, try A Wind in Cairo, the magical story of a prince, a Turk, and an Arabian stallion.