When I got back from the barn this morning after chores the temperature was up to 11F with bright sun, but with a sharp wind making for a windchill of -2F (that's -19C for you C people). The horses were out enjoying the round bales. One of the things I enjoy about picking Pie's paddock, even in this cold, is that I get to watch the horses and think a bit in a sort of meditative way. It's really lovely, although I admit my hands were getting a bit cold by the time I was done.
I'm thinking about some things, which may emerge as posts. One thing I've been thinking about is how horses, if allowing to have a say, establish rhythms in their lives. We have our own rhythms, too, although they're sometimes obscured by technology or the requirements of jobs and school. I love the rhythms that horses have - they connect me to the seasons and also to the innate peace and calmness that is the life of a happy horse. I feel a great connection to the natural world when I am in the company of horses - that's one of the gifts they give me every day.
As I watch the horses - I often have the chance to observe them being themselves at different times of the day (that's one of the main blessings of my current life) - they have their rhythms. Some of these rhythms are natural ones, and others reflect their fitting into the human order of things. They get fed in the morning and the evening - hay and pellets. They go to turnout and come in from turnout. They eat, and then they take breaks to rest and digest - sometimes standing together in the sun and sometimes lying down. Dawn is famous for her naps - she takes several a day, lying down if conditions permit. She often takes one a couple of hours after turnout, another at noontime and a third before bring-in time. When the horses are in dry lot, she'll sleep in the hay around the round bale, out of the wind. She's also a sound sleeper in her stall, often lying down.
Running around usually occurs first thing in the morning at turnout time - I think of it sometimes as the horses "reclaiming" their space and inhabiting the space with the motion of their bodies, filling it with their presence. Serious grooming time often happens at turnout time, too, even before eating - this socialization is so important to horses and one reason why group turnout is so good for their emotional and mental health. But there's a rhythm to grooming - both the rhythm of the teeth and head/neck motions, and the way the two horses move together to cover the space of each other's bodies - it's a dance with subtle signals. There's also an order - certain pairs groom first, and then one of the horses may go on to groom a third horse, but it almost always happens in the same sequence. Lily and Maisie often spent up to 20 minutes each morning at turnout grooming each other, before even taking one bite of grass.
Play time (for the geldings - the mares rarely play in this way) often happens mid-morning, after a good period of eating hay. There are usual play partners - Pie has become of our most playful geldings, and will often engage in vigorous "bitey-face" play with Scout and sometimes Fritz, and even Fred once in a while when he's having a good day. This involves a lot of mock-stallion behaviors - biting faces, necks and front legs, rearing and chest-pushing. This behavior also is often repeated at bring-in time if the horses are waiting at the gate.
The horses have a rhythm for their drinking, too. In the dry lot, sometimes horses will go as pairs to the tank to drink from time to time. Scout and Pie frequently go together and drink from the trough at the same time. In the pastures - they're 5 or 6 acres and the tanks are at the very front - it's usual to see a noontime ritual in the mares' pasture of the lead mare leading the herd, single file, for a drink at the trough. When they're done - drinking in order - they go back out to the farther reaches of the pasture in the same way.
And all of this happens within the larger rhythm of the seasons, and the changes in the light, leading to changes in the horses' metabolisms and their eating and sleeping patterns. I love the changes in their coats, including in texture and color, with the seasons. The beginnings of shedding summer coats in mid-summer, followed by the growth of the heavy winter coats, then shedding again usually starting towards the end of January into early February, then the growth of the sleek summer coats, then the cycle all over again. And each horse has its own personal schedule for this - there's a specific order - one horse will always start shedding before another one.
And there's the rhythm of the sky and the weather, which I love and I expect the horses do too, as long as they're well-fed and can keep warm with shelter and blankets if needed. Right now it's dark in the morning when I go to the barn to do chores, with the winter constellations swinging overhead and sometimes a planet or two blazing in the sky. Then the dawn begins, perfect and yet different each day. One of my favorite things is walking back to the barn from feeding Pie his breakfast and seeing the golden light from the windows and door shining into the dark.
So many of these behaviors - grooming, eating, resting as part of the herd, drinking, sleeping, running, playing - are natural behaviors that horses engage in with their own rhythms and timing. Horses that have the chance to do these behaviors, with their own rhythms, with other horses, are, I think, much happier emotionally and mentally, and, by being allowed to be horses, can carry some of the security of these rhythms into their work with humans.
I think there's even a carryover of this way of thinking into riding. Sometimes people will say "my horse's trot isn't rhythmical" or "my horse can't do a lead change properly". Take a look at the horse moving in the pasture, and more often than not you'll discover that the horse has lovely, purposeful rhythm at all gaits and can do flying lead changes in both directions without any problem (a horse that lacks rhythm when moving at liberty or that cannot do lead changes without a rider may have physical issues that need addressing). If we can learn to communicate to our horses what we want them to do, and then stay out of their way by riding in a balanced position with the softest of connections, it can be amazing to see what they can do for us.
I think picking poo in the freezing cold clarifies my mind! My next post on these series of thoughts, or mediations if you will, will probably be on teaching horses "virtues" rather than to do or not do certain actions. Enjoy your January day, and may it include horses!