Friday, May 20, 2011

If We Could Talk to the Animals...

Sugar Giving Her Boy Smoochies
Many of us spend a lot of time trying to understand our horses.  We read countless books and magazine articles devoted to understanding what they are telling us and how to interact with them more effectively.  For many of us, our method of understanding them is to simply anthropomorphise their behavior. In essence, we say, "This is how I would feel in that situation, thus, I'm sure this is how my horse is feeling."  Possibly not the most accurate way of understanding our equine partner, as there's a world of difference between prey animal behaviors and predator behaviors, but I guess it's better than nothing.

I admit I constantly attribute human thoughts to Sugar, often speaking them out loud in what I consider "her" voice.  Just in case you were wondering, she sounds very much like Kathleen Turner circa Romancing the Stone, not the Friends era.

Last night my son wanted me to give him a longe lesson on her. It was thundering and absolutely pouring down rain, and inside the indoor arena it sounded like waves and machine gun fire pelting a metal trash can.  Maybe not the best time to put the boy up on the horse, but she's a rock, so I did not really worry. 

True to form, she was a trooper, trotting around placidly while he two pointed, practiced transitions, and worked on his leg position.  If he bobbled a bit she adjusted her balance to stay under him; her ears swiveled constantly as she gauged where he was and if he was likely to come off. 

Things got funny when we asked her to canter.  She obviously had some pent up energy she was dying to release, but possibly felt she couldn't because "her" boy was on her back.  She picked up the canter and turned her head to look at me as if to say, "You got this?" She then turned her head to look back towards him as if she was telling him to hang on, and then she put her head down and waggled it, humping her back like she wanted to buck.  She'd take a stride or two like that, never actually bucking, and then she'd pick her head up and look back at my son.  I swear she was making sure he was still on board and also gauging his reaction.  She did this several times, always looking to me first as if to give me the head's up, the back at him to warn him that there was about to be a little turbulence, and then back again after she was done to make sure all was well and he was having fun. 

I know animal experts say we can't read their minds and we shouldn't anthropomorphise our animals.  I could be very wrong about this and it's possible she was just warning us that if he did not get a better leg in the next couple of strides he was gonna find out what  it's like to be a Space Shuttle hurtling in to orbit, as Sugar can throw a heck of a buck when she's so inclined. 

So, maybe I was only seconds away from a potentially dangerous situation, but  I don't think so.  I may not be an equine mind reader, but I do think I've paid enough attention to this particular equine to know when things are good or not good.  She may not have spoken English, and I certainly did not speak horse, but I think everyone involved was on the same wavelength.


  1. I would not doubt in the slightest that she was checking on her young passenger; I think horses absolutely understand the difference between a kid riding and a grownup. I also think that they will tolerate a lot more mistakes/bad riding from a child than an adult. Having said that, however, I'll add that it depends on the horse's individual situation as to whether or not they are willing to care. E.g. that old barn sour lesson horse likely will NOT care who the rider is, only that they are off. Been there, done that at my very first riding lesson when I was six (can you say catapulted kid? *laugh* ;o)

  2. She was probably gauging your mood each time, then a little "misbehavior", since she was so full of it, then yes, checking on little man again.

    Would she have thrown a happy energetic bucking fit if she'd been on the lunge unridden? Would she have been crowhopping (or worse ;-)that evening if you had been the one on her, and had ridden her without any lunging?

    Having known dozens (hundreds?) of schoolies, they have a sense of humor, they can understand rider abilities, and they can reason on a fairly simple level. We had a super neat TWH mare at Girl Scout camp that would rate her ride to the passenger. So neat to use a mare for handicap riders, 6 year olds, and adult beginners and trust that she would be steady, sure and sweet. Intermediate rider, she'd be a little more lively, faster gaits, but still 100% controllable and kind. Put one of the counselors or campers that really knew how to ride, and she would totally adjust up and go to the point that person seemed comfortable with. And always obedient and kind.

    They say a horse has the reasoning ability of a three year old child. There are some very smart three year olds out there!