Monday, December 24, 2012

Why do you want to spend your time around half ton animals that can kill you?

That is a question that was asked today:  "Why do you want to spend your time around half ton animals that could potentially kill you?"  It was asked to me and the trainer for S.A.F.E. after we had switched two of the new incoming rescue horses to new stalls, and after the person asking the question had watched us for a very long time try to give oral medication to Logan.

I had been back in the main barn visiting with Sinatra and decided it was time to go home and do some holiday cooking so I went back to the arena to tell my friend I was leaving.  As I got to the gate she said, "Oh thank god you're here.  We need you," and the trainer asked, "Can you help me?"  I was a little worried because I wasn't sure what she needed me to do and after the oral medication fiasco I wasn't feeling so secure (it didn't go as well today as it did last night).  But she just needed me to hold Logan while she put Skye (another incoming rescue horse) into Logan's stall and Logan into Skye's stall.  Apparently, Skye was busy trying to break down the wall into Logan's stall and it had better security of the wall not coming down if they switched sides.

Logan is fairly safe for being very unhandled and very scared.  He is not alpha and he's a small Arab and he if he spooks and comes your direction a good jab or tap will keep him off of you.  Skye on the other hand is part Percheron and will barrel right over you if it is convenient for him.  So, I was not at all interested in attempting to handle him.  My friend only volunteers at SAFE because her daughter is horse crazy but doesn't have any real experience leading or handling horses so I was glad she chose the wise decision not to try and handle Logan.

As it was he was fine.  We went to the middle of the arena (the stalls open up in the arena) but couldn't go any further because he started to panic.  Then when Skye came out of her stall of course Logan got freaked out and started running in circles around me.  I got my composure back quickly after he bolted like that and managed to get safely in front of him (not directly - that would be dangerous) so I could push him back and keep him from continuing to circle me, but he bounced up and down in place and threw his head and screamed nonetheless.  The trainer was having trouble getting Skye to agree to go into Logan's stall so she pulled her aside and said I could try and put Logan in.  That actually went fairly well and he even managed to stay next to me and not bolt away from me.  At some time in his life he had been trained because there were glimpses where he remembered stuff, but then it was over-ridden by fear and god knows when the last time he was handled was.  He was rescued from a criminal neglect case where all the horses had been locked alone and unhandled in stalls for so many years that some of them appeared feral.  They definitely have a lot of feral traits now.

Like for instance Skye is very dominant and Logan is very fearful and submissive, so Skye feels she needs to not only lord over him but protect him too.  When the trainer was in the stall by herself trying to get the last of the medication down Logan's throat (after we tag-teamed tried to do it) Logan panicked and tried to run over her and she corrected him (jabbed him in the chest to get him off of her and said firmly, "No!" and then backed up him into the corner) well - just that by itself was enough to send Skye running back into her stall from the paddock, ears pinned, teeth barred and she tried to run through the dividing wall to attack the trainer to protect Logan.  After that my job was to keep Skye distracted and away from that wall until the trainer had gotten all the medicine into Logan's mouth.  But stuff like that showed to me that these horses had developed a herd mentality that over-rode their connection to humans.

Anyway, that brought up my friends question, which she didn't ask in a judgmental way.  She seemed to truly want to know what our problem is.   And neither of us really had a good answer.  I said, "Because they're horses!" and the trainer said, "Because when you gain their trust and work as a team there is nothing like it."  And I said, "Because they are so honest and when they love you they really do love you and when they trust you, you know you've earned it.  And you always know where you stand, they aren't manipulative and they don't lie."

But I don't know if that is really all of it.  I don't know why I love horses so much.  Or big dogs.  Or big animals in general.  I think there is something of a weird sense of power in knowing that you have a good friend in this half ton creature.  And there is something magical in the connection that you can get with a horse when you've worked with them a long time and you can read each other's thoughts.  And if you think about it, every time a strong bond is formed because a human and a horse it's it's own kind of miracle that prey and predator can develop that trust, loyalty and love together.

Or we're just crazy.  There is that too.  I don't think that the draw of being with and handling horses (especially really messed up ones like poor Logan) can be explained in words.  It could be pathology or something wrong with our brains.  But I don't want to get over it.  I'm perfectly happy with my illogical horse obsession.  And I hold true to my belief that anyone who can't understand is really missing out on something wonderful in life.

I think Buck Brannaman sums it up well in his quote about finding that perfect union between yourself and a horse, "If you got a taste of that, you couldn’t get enough. You’d rather do that than eat. You may spend your whole life chasin’ that… but it’s a good thing to chase.”

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