Ringing the Changes

camillaanniemarching_200Horses are some of the world’s fiercest physical conservatives. A place for everything and everything in its place–and Epona forbid anything move. Because, you know, if it moves, it might eat you.

Same goes for routine and the rhythms of life. It’s wise to be a little easygoing about mealtimes, as long as there’s a consistent general range and there’s always water available, so that you don’t end up with horses who colic and possibly die if they’re not fed at exactly the same times every day.

Still, change is inevitable and sometimes inescapable. This load of hay is from a different field than the last one, with different nutritional balance and even different taste and texture. That brand of feed goes off the market, and the herd has to change its diet. A horse may leave and go to another barn with a different routine, or one may come in and need to acclimate to the way we do things here. Even the water can be an issue: horses may not drink water that tastes different than what they’re used to.

The secret to keeping horses healthy and undamaged through life’s changes is to make them as gradually as possible. Introduce the new grain or routine or grass pasture little by little, a few handfuls or minutes at a time. Let them settle in with as little stress as may be.

This may seem to run counter to the vision of horses as fierce, wild, and free spirits, running in huge herds on the open steppe. In fact wild herds have routines as precise as any well-run barn. They stay within a certain range, follow certain paths to and from grazing, water, protection from the elements. They have their hierarchy within the herd and their systems of defense against predators and the elements. It’s all remarkably ordered and consistent.

Domestication may ask horses to suppress quite a few of their natural instincts to live in confinement and accept human rules, but the nature of the beast is still fundamentally the same. Change is dangerous. Change is disruptive. Change can kill.

Still, in the wild and in captivity, horses not only can but do adapt. They just need time to process the data or the change in feed or surroundings or climate, and opportunity to develop a new and consistent routine.

They’re good teachers. They teach us to be observant and to be mindful of the signals they’re sending. Patience is a great virtue around horses, but we also have to be ready to move fast if something changes suddenly. It’s a balance–and a lesson, especially if the humans aren’t excessively fond of change themselves.




Ringing the Changes — 1 Comment

  1. A friend owned a Nevada caught Mustang: absolutely awesome trail horse and field hunter, like riding an all-Terrain vehicle. She sold him to the young woman who leased him from her for a while. At one point, four or five years after he left with his young woman to accompany her to college, Sherman came back to my friend’s barn. He needed boarding while his owner built her facilities. In the meantime, a pass through gate had been built between the arena and the driveway. Sherman shied at the gate the first time he passed it. It took him about a week to really accustom himself to it.