Monday, November 21, 2011

Are You Your Horse's Worst Enemy?

The Horse | Rider and Handler Effect on Horse Behavior


A
pparently not, though you can’t prove that by me.  This continuation of the series of articles in The Horse on recent behavioral research suggests that, while you certainly can ruin his otherwise excellent day and the mood that went with it, the amount of distress you accidentally cause your horse just by being you and doing what you do isn't nearly as bad as I, personally, imagined it to be.  Whew!

The article summarizes a study published in May in Physiology and Behavior (there's a link to the study's findings).  The study checked heart rates on horses as they were lead, ridden, and otherwise handled, and (not surprisingly) found that most of us make our horses tense in the medium range of heart rate increases.  Sometimes, watching Zip's eyes roll back in his head when I ask him to get off my foot or move a centimeter to the inside of the gate so I can close it (how do they do that thing where they know precisely where to stand to look like they're cooperating and still prevent gate closure?), I would have expected his heart rate to be through the roof.  I guess he fakes it well.

Back to the study, again not surprising is the finding that horses being ridden by professionals are far less stressed than horses being ridden by, say, me.  And leading is least stress-inducing of all.  Judging from the video my daughter just sent me of the horse she's considering buying working on the longe during the pre-purchase exam, I'm going to have to say that longeing and leading are not at all in the same category.  They didn't include round-penning in the study, but I would hazard a guess that it's among the more stressful activities since pressure and release of pressure is the name of that game and some of us should never be allowed in a round pen with a horse without adult supervision.

Topas, new kid in the herd, waiting for his
new BFF, Jess to give him a stress-free life.
 Of course, we all know that we can be incredibly dumb when it comes to reading our horses' moods and body language.  We can and do ruin perfectly good horses regularly, and they deserve better than many of us have to give.  And we know that there are moments when the only thing standing between us and utter equestrian disaster is the unexpected kindness of the equine heart.  We need to thank them for not killing us.


On to Gratitude

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and in keeping with the spirit of the holiday and the promise I made to be more vocal about my gratitude, I want to thank the following:

Thank you, second-hand Billy Cook barrel saddle, for all the many, many years of safe and happy riding you have given this unrepentant English rider and multiple friends.  Though your conchos have fallen of and you're looking a bit weary, you will always be my friend.

Thank you, Irene and Breanna, my faithful barn hands, for letting me breathe easy when I'm not home to fuss over my equines myself.  You're da bomb!

Thanks, all you turkeys, pigs, geese, ducks, and tofurkeys who are about to give your last squawk (or in the case of tofurkeys, little squishy noises) for our dining pleasure.  It's sad that you can't join us, but we'll certainly remember you fondly for the week after Thanksgiving.  Special thanks goes out to whoever invented sweet potatoes with the little marshmallows on top.
Drunk guy at Far Hills Steeplechase showing
gratitude for cold chili.  Thanks for not vomiting on me.
Or the chili.


Thanks, Jack, for bearing with me when I insisted on having you make a special pre-vacation trip to the farm to put Pokey's winter shoes on right after the only blizzard we've ever had in October even though you knew it was a dumb idea.  As horseshoers go, you're the best.

Thanks to all of the workers who will be manning the supermarkets tomorrow to help us forgetful idiots make our dinners complete.  I hope you'll get to be with your families and friends for at least part of the day.  Truly, we could live without that forgotten can of cranberry sauce if we really tried, and I'd be much happier if you were home watching the parade and the dog show and Uncle Bernie drooling on himself during his postprandial nappy time.   


Thank you, Zip, Leo, Dakota, Duke, Fancy, Pokey, Prince, Rat, Missy, Grady, and Dolly for your endless patience as I tried out random training methods and equipment on you year after year.  I don't know why you put up with me.  It sure can't be that scoop of grain and pile of hay and handful of cookies, right?  It's got to be pure love....right?  Indulge me here, please. 


And most of all, thank you, faithful readers, for actually spending your precious time reading my ramblings.  I heart you all!

Happy Thanksgiving!



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