Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Noticing the Little Things

Do you think that there is a job out there somewhere called "Horse Watcher" or "Horse Observer", or somesuch? But those names don't quite get the gist of the job I want - they're somehow too scientific, or detached. I love being with the horses, looking at them closely in an engaged way, and watching their behaviors and reactions with people and other horses. If there was a job like that, I would apply.

Noticing the little things can make your day, or make a big difference to the horse. When I came to the barn yesterday, Fritz and Fred's owner was there, grooming Fritz on the cross ties. She lives a long way away, and has two small children, so she doesn't get out as often as she would like. The last time she was out was on Sunday, when she and Fritz had a very hard time on their trail ride with Sugar and her owner. Fritz can sometimes be nervous on the trail, and is prone to little things like jigging, but he really doesn't have melt downs. On Sunday he had a true meltdown - tail swishing, threatening to buck, threatening to bolt and even carrying his owner at one point out into the prairie a ways off the trail. This happened midway through the ride - before that he was fine. She got off and walked him the rest of the way home - she said he had stopped thinking and she was afraid he would hurt himself or her - but he never really calmed down.

Yesterday she excitedly called me over. She said that she thought she had solved the mystery - when she was grooming she noticed a small sore on his girth area near the bottom that hadn't been there when she groomed on Sunday. Ouch! To me, this is one of those great examples of the benefits of careful grooming. Apparently he had developed the sore during the ride. So yesterday, she changed saddles and girths and also put a fleece cover on the girth. This girth actually didn't touch the sore area once she was mounted. And Fritz was fine on his ride!

Now about Charisma. A little over two weeks ago, Charisma managed somehow to incur a slight soft tissue injury to her right front fetlock area - she was never terribly off, just reluctant to move out - her gaits are normally very free. Our chiropractor, who is also a vet, figured out what was bothering her. Charisma is in regular work, but she's 20 now so these things can be expected from time to time. So for two weeks she could only work at the walk and had her leg iced every day. She's fine now and back to working at the trot and canter. Charisma has always been slightly toes-in in the front - not a lot but just enough to notice. She's barefoot, and she tends to wear the outside front edges of her front feet more than the rest. This is more noticeable as she gets close to needing a trim. In the mornings when I turn out, I've been noticing that she's a little more toes-in than normal with the right front as she stands in the door of her stall waiting to be haltered. The wear on the right front - the breakover - is in its usual place to the outside of center but is more pronounced than on the other front. I mentioned this to her owner, who could see it too. I expect it is compensation for the injury - we'll have to see how she uses it after her farrier appointment this morning.

And finally, I love to watch the interactions of the various horses when they're grooming. Maisie and Dawn are in the small paddock this morning waiting for the farrier. When I turned Dawn loose, she had to move Maisie around for a bit to prove her superior status, then they settled down to graze. And then Maisie did what I call the "grooming invitation". A higher status horse that wants to groom will just march right up and ask a lower status horse to groom. Since Maisie is lower status, she has to ask (carefully) and see if the higher status horse would like to - it's very polite. She took a few steps towards Dawn - not too close - and stood there looking towards her (not directly at her) with her ears not fully forward but on Dawn - sort of an attentive "earing", or questioning, but without "staring" in horse terms. Dawn took up the invitation immediately and they started grooming.

There's so much more to being with horses than just riding them or working them. If you hear of a job out there meeting my specs, let me know!

15 comments:

  1. I love noticing the little things too. Thanks for this post -- I loved hearing about all the horses at your barn, and their unique personalities! :o)

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  2. This sounds a lot like the morning rituals at our barn. Sometimes we can't get Mellon out the door because he needs to groom Sweetie or Donnie. Nate always needs his legs looked at for swellings or we need to monitor his breathing. Dusty had a small bump on her tendon area, Sammi has been play fighting with Grady and Blue so they all have minor cuts and scrapes to be taken care of. There is so much more to do each day than simply groom or ride. Personally, I like taking care of our herd and I think they like the extra attention too.

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  3. That would be a fabulous job. Lately, I've been thinking that I ought to just get a job as barn go-fer. I like feeding, don't mind cleaning, and just love being around horses. It wouldn't pay much, but it's low stress and fun.

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  4. Be a ranch sitter...lots of watching to be done! I'm doing that right now (not as a perma job, just for a friend).

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  5. The story about Fritz suddenly getting "naughty" on the trail (poor guy!) reminded me of an issue I've had with my horse that I need advice about. He's a 9yr old TB and BIG (17hh and wears Warmblood size everything!). I am thinking specifically of some incidents we had this spring; we were out on a trail-ride, and everything was going great... reins almost on the buckle, neck & back swinging, very relaxed. Partly through the ride, a hay bale far off in a field made him nervous (it seemed as though he thought it might be an animal or some threat) which was understandable, and after we got past that, he was obviously nervous and upset and was balky about continuing on the trail. I should have listened to my gut & gotten off to walk him for a while, but I didn't. Less than a minute later, a bird hopped out onto the trail & then flew away when we got closer. My horse immediately spun and bolted, bumping into the other horse on the ride and I ended up getting dumped. He galloped the entire mile home and we found him grazing in the field outside his paddock. A week later (in the indoor arena) he had another spook & bolt because of an ATV that drove up suddenly past the open door (it was a freak thing & startled me too). He has AWESOME ground manners that are frequently complimented on, obviously respects me and is the most wonderful horse. BUT I now pretty much dread the next time this happens! I rarely ride at this point in my life (started grad school in June), but I know I need to deal with this eventually. What would you do? I really respect your gentle and respectful manner of working with horses. Sorry for the novel!

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  6. I should also add that his trail companion is an extremely calm & trail-loving Paint gelding who is his best friend. I think my biggest concern is the bolting response he has under saddle. I know that by nature he is very sensitive to changes in his environment & suspicious of what they might mean. He throws me off guard because he is not the least bit hot by nature; he's actually very lazy & calm 90% of the time.

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  7. Jen - I don't know how much I can help, but before I try - you say he has good ground manners - if you had gotten off and led him when he was upset, would he (a) have been controlable, and (b) have calmed down when you were leading or would he still have been upset? Second question - does he know how to ground drive? When he spooks, do you spook too (I'm guessing yes if he's bolted on you after spooking)?

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  8. If I had gotten off & led him, I'm pretty sure he would have been controllable & calmed down after a minute. He often seems to entirely forget that it's me up there when we're riding, which has been (as you might imagine) a problem. On the ground he really seems to look to me for leadership (for example, if I'm leading him & he sees something scary, he looks to me for reaction & calms pretty easily), which is almost strange to me, because he is very dominant in his herd and is always the leader or very high up in the chain. He does not know how to ground drive, although I've always wanted to learn how. I think he would find it very beneficial. As far as me spooking with him, I would say that before this spring, I didn't, but after those incidents (the 2nd one I landed on my head/neck & had to go to the ER to get checked out) I do! I'm sure that the 1st time I thought I was being calm, but was unconsciously tense from his reaction to the bale. Thanks! :)

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  9. I think if there was such a job you would have a lot of people fighting over it, me included!! The reason I have so many pictures is because I spend so much time watching the horses. I really enjoy watching them and observing their herd dynamics. I also enjoy grooming and just being with the horses. Because I spend so much time observing them it also makes it much easier for me to pick up on subtle changes that could indicate a brewing problem.

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  10. Jen - I'm thinking of a post about why I'm doing what I'm doing with Dawn, and how I first took Maisie on the trail. Dawn is a spooker - she could play in the spooking all-stars game - and it's usually accompanied by a spin and a bolt, sometimes combined with bucking as she bolts (she's very athletic). I have some plans for how to approach this with her, and maybe that sort of thing would have some application to your horse as well. I'm not currently riding Dawn on the trail, but I'm not in a hurry either as we have some foundation stuff to deal with first.

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  11. Jen - I hear you - I had a horse that did that too and eventually had to sell him - fortunately back to his previous owner - because I was starting to get nervous on him. I'm not skilled enough to know what to do and hopefully he'll get better (he was 11, so it's not like he was "green")

    Kate - I think we need to just start creating this job. Surely there's a stimulus package available. Lord know it would be better spent on this than executive bonuses...

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  12. Good observations can make a huge difference with our horses. They try to tell us so much and we too often fail to listen.

    I always tend to suspect something physical when my horse misbehaves unexpectedly.

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  13. I will be looking forward to that post. I'm definitely not in a huge rush to get it all figured out and "fixed". Right now I'm enjoying an almost entirely groundwork relationship with him, and I am truly enjoying it! If I need a riding fix I've been riding our Paint gelding, but I so rarely have time right now. I know that when I start riding the TB again we'll be starting slow. I am seriously considering "re-starting" him, much like you are doing with Dawn. He was (in my opinion) started too early, and he was a very very slow to mature horse, both physically & mentally. He's 9 years old and I got him when he was 6; but he was barely greenbroke if that when I got him (barely broke for several reasons). When I got him, mentally he seemed more like a 3 or 4 year old. Very silly & insecure. So we're slowing coming along & improving our relationship as we go!

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  14. Yea...good post!! Love to watch and learn...they speak volumes!

    That job is there...just more of a volunteer position, being paidhandsomely by knowing you helped others and horses really, huh!

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  15. You have all the qualifications to be a professional horse watcher.

    Good point about careful grooming. Glad Fritz's owner found the problem and it wasn't just all in Fritz's head.

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