Saturday, November 13, 2010

Playing the Work

I've met many horse owners who talk about all the training their horse needs, the work on this, work on that...

(I love this runaway frosting slipping down Saxony's left front leg. I keep finding more Oreo goodness in my mare.)


So lately I've been thinking about whether the "problem-solvingness" part of having a horse consciously (or not) factors into our decision to own one. I think it might play more of a role than we realize, since working with the horse, training the horse, striving to better the horse consists of interacting with the horse, or "communicating." Communication is a primary tool that enables humans to feel connected to others. It's also a two-way street. After infancy, humans quickly learn to speak, but horses don't have that particular tool. I sometimes wonder if, given a chance to hang out and chat with my mares, I'd be able to handle what they said. From my perspective, I'm a good horse owner committed to providing my horses with the best care I can afford. I expect myself to be fair with them at all times. I ride kindly and quietly, despite my nerves. But what about their perspective? Do they know me? Do they think I know them? Do they even care, beyond the comfort they find in routine and familiarity? No matter what I do with them, no matter how much they bloom, they are still separate beings. And what if they were perfect? What would our relationship be then, with nothing left to teach? I suspect the horse can just "be," but that skill often eludes humans.

One of the things I have always made a point to do with my horses is play with them, just go and play together. I don't include riding in that, though I think a nice ride can be fun for both horse and rider. Scout and I devised a chase game early on. I'd stand in the center of the indoor arena, turn Scout loose and challenge her to get past me on the rail, positioning my body as if to cut her off. She delighted in the race every time, blowing by, tail flagged high, snorting. After a few minutes of this, I'd pretend to "lose" her, and go wandering around the arena calling her name. I honestly think she loved sneaking up behind me to bump her nose into my back. Playing seemed to bond us quickly, and I wonder if it was because we enjoyed playing together so much. I know I completely lost myself in playing with her.

Dar had a deep curiosity about tools, vehicles, objects of all kinds. I played with him by offering him things. I'd be using a strainer to sift out hay bits and leaves from the water troughs and I'd splash a little water on his face. He became silly with glee over this. Sometimes I'd lift the dripping strainer and cup his muzzle in it; other times I'd rub it up and down his face. I did a lot of laughing because his responses were so comical and eager. Just like with Scout, I'd forget myself and become completely engaged with Dar and our playing.

I also give nose baths to my horses, and this is the first way I've begun to play with Saxony. My nose bath consists of deep-cleaning the nostrils with non-toxic baby wipes. I add massage along the way, wringing out the edges of the nostrils between my fingers (something along the lines of Linda Tellington's TTouch.) I don't think Saxony ever had a nose bath before I began doing it with her, but now she almost whores herself in pursuit of it. She's ticklish, and what she seeks from the nose bath is the moment when I start to tickle her. She just craves that tickling. It's ridiculous how much time can pass while we do this.

I file this under being with the horse and hoping the horse will be with me. Not to take away from the beautiful achievements that result from harmony between horse and rider, but to remind myself that what exists between us before and after the "work" is what led me to horses in the first place.

8 comments:

Kate said...

Very nice - I've never understood people who can have their horse at a full-service barn where they never get to groom or tack, or take care of a stall or their tack, but just get on and ride. To me all the parts of interacting with and taking care of horses are fun and interesting.

Valentino said...

Val enjoys a good nose bath too lol!

I agree it's really important to be with your horse, to spend time together, without there being any demands made on the horse. Sometimes I just hang out with him and read a book for a while...

Rachel said...

Amen! My thoughts exactly. With my baby, and the past that she's had, most of our interactions thus far have been simple bonding experiences... grooming, playing, just speaking with her. She's a new horse (4 months with me now), and there has been some training, but I want to establish a bond before I ask too much of her. Thanks for the awesome post! :)

Grey Horse Matters said...

Horses love to play and can be so silly. Our herd of seven is quite the bunch of characters. But Donnie our most child-like horse loves the inside of his ears scratched and massaged. He can stand there for hours just loving it. I like to play with all of them and spend time grooming and talking to them. When they do start talking back I suppose I'm in big trouble!

Muddy K said...

Thanks to all of you for the nice comments. Val, yes, nose baths! I'm with you, Kate, on not getting why one would want a horse they don't interact with beyond the ride. GHM, your Donnie sounds special - I've never thought of noodling around the inside of their ears! And Rachel,I think the bond you create in these early months of learning your horse can be worth more than the finest saddle or greatest boarding stable.

Carol said...

I loved your descriptions of playing with your horses. I know what you mean about losing yourself in the games while time slips by. My appaloosa Dan is like your Dar :)

Kristen Eleni Shellenbarger said...

I love to clean noses :) I often think I get the most out of our communication on the ground just interacting with them.

allhorsestuff said...

Sweet post on the wonderful time -taking -treats(we take in and they receive) we share with our horse loves!

My mare really perfers me not to touch her, too much..then sometimes I will do something, and she leans into me or stretches her lip out...I grab up that chance to please her =with the touch she prefers!

I adore grooming, while my mare munches hay. it is a long standing tradition we started when I met her...it takes her mind off me touching and grooming and she puts up with me through it!

The laughing...this I find actually sooths the both of us-no matter what is going on!
Loved this post!