The best way to get to know your horse – trap them in your work space!






I feel that one of the reasons I learned so much about Mama Tess was because she was always there where I was – in the barn… so we interacted often.  And we interacted in a different way than the normal horse/human dynamic.  She was free and I was free yet we were using the same space.

So we learned about each other in from new vantage points – kind of like co-workers.  We interacted, but without an agenda together.  Our daily agendas were separate.

Sure, when I was treating her feet, we learned a lot about each other – but what I’m saying is that because she spent a lot of time – loose – in and around the barn, we learned how to work with each other when not directly dealing with each other.  Give and take.  Respect.  Personal space.  Getting along.

I mean, cell mates probably know each other incredibly well…  and I’m not comparing my relationship with MT as if we were prisoners with each other.  All I’m saying is if you spend time together, you learn all about each other.  You cannot help it.

There is a beauty in that.

Spending a large part of your time in the company of your animal without actually focusing on them… it is like getting to know the people at work.  Sure, you see them everyday, but it isn’t until you work in their space, that you get to really know them.

This is Slick greeting me in the early morning - after he has personally destroyed and/or investigated every corner of the barn.

This is Slick greeting me in the early morning – after he has personally destroyed and/or investigated every corner of the barn.  You can see the downed Theraplate barrier and rake.  He’s stood on the shavings bags, shut the stall door and dug up the area in front of the gate.  Typical.  If I let them out during the day, they behave fairly well.

INTIMACY LOST(?) OR TRANSFORMED?

What I’m experiencing is probably a lot like the partnership between horse and rider before the automobile – when the horse was vital to a family.  The farmer or rancher or rider would spend so much time with their horse that they became quite familiar.  They were one unit because they listened and watched each other.  They had to…

I’m not saying that it was all rosy back then; I’m just saying that we have changed how we live with our horses.  Now the horses live in the barn/stable and we go visit… but we rarely get to spend hours on end, riding or working with them.  And, we rarely get to spend lots of time doing a chore together.

But, we could…

They will walk themselves into the stall so I can lock them in while I feed the others - as long as I feed them first.

They will walk themselves into the stall so I can lock them in while I feed the others – as long as I feed them first.  After spending the entire night in the barn, they are still wet.  Their coats are very dense and long.

INTIMACY OF SPACE AND SAFETY

Now, I know it doesn’t sound safe for some horse/human pairs to hang out together freely in an open space or barn.  For example, Wrigley would be a real problem child if he was loose in the barn with me.  We’d have to work on boundaries and personal space.  He’d get it, eventually, but it would not be easy in the beginning and I’d have to be on my toes.

So, I guess I’d say, don’t do this if it is unsafe for you – or if your quarters are too small.

But if you can hang in an open space with your horse, do it.  Do it for a long time.  Bring something for you to do while you are there.  Work on whatever comes up between you, two, but that isn’t the intention.  The intention is just to share the space.  Maybe some grooming or eating together, but more to observe and work around each other while you are both doing your own thing.

Fresh shavings last about a nanosecond with sopping wet Shetlands.

Fresh shavings last about a nanosecond with sopping wet Shetlands. (Can you find the Cat in the Hat tail in the frame?)

NOW, BACK TO THE BARN… AND SHARING SPACE

This month, I’ve had the ponies in the barn most nights because the weather is so awful.  Yes, they are Shetlands and yes, they can handle foul weather.  But, I worry.

I just feel badly for Dodger because he is the eldest horse here (30s), and I can tell that he is slowing down and needs extra attention.  It gives me peace if he is in the barn.  But, if I put Dodger in the barn during a heavy rainstorm, I have to put Slick in the barn with him, or else Dodger will colic.  They’ve been together for 22 years… Dodger likes it that way.

Anyway, I’ve put the ponies in the barn and now they get to watch me as I do my chores and putter.  They’ve met the UPS guy  They’ve watched the new hay arrive and be stacked.  They’ve sniffed every inch of the barn and turned over every single item inside of it.  Every.  Single.  Item.

But, we have also come to a few understandings…

  1.  Slick will stand on the Theraplate, and don’t tell him to get off, because it makes him feel taller when he is up there.
  2.  Slick will turn over every bucket that is upright… so I may as well leave them turned over.
  3.  They love fresh water – so keep it coming.
  4.  Both boys are very, very tidy with their manure.  Thank you, boys.
  5.  If I let them out for a few hours every day, they will not ruin the entire barn overnight.
  6.  If I open the tack room door, Slick with go through it.
  7.  If I tell Slick to “get out” or “Back up right now, Mister!”, he will.  But, he will also go through an open door every single time.
  8.  They will go into the stall on their own – and agree to be locked up – if I give them each a bowl of food.  Otherwise, no dice.  Halters are needed.
  9.  Slick will work on every lock available.
  10.  Dodger demands two types of hay in his hay area… if he doesn’t get his two types of hay, he will stand in front of the hay room door.
  11.  Dodger likes to eat next to the Mustangs.
  12.  Slick does not.
  13.  They both love to be greeted and expect some sort of touch from me.  Once they’ve been greeted, they seem to feel validated.  They settle into eating after they’ve been greeted but not before.
If I let them out for a few hours, they are fairly gentlemanly about the whole thing.

If I let them out for a few hours, they are fairly gentlemanly about the whole thing. (I let them out during the day – rain or shine – but yesterday we had shine – and they were almost dry!)

SWEET, KIND, DEVILISH.

Most of all, I’ve been reminded that these boys are full of honor and pride.  Dodger really commands quiet respect as the Boss of the Shetlands.  He is kind and thankful for any special attention (being a former pony-ride Shetland, he has never forgotten his old life) whereas Slick just wants to be acknowledged for the horse he is – smart, opportunistic and frustrated.  I think Slick would give anything to be big.

They are, indeed, ponies full of character and personality.

And working with them in the barn as I go about my daily chores has been really delightful!

I know that if their belly is dry, the Shetland is OK... but I just feel better when I give them a chance to dry out every 24 hours.

I know that if their belly is dry, the Shetland is OK… but I just feel better when I give them a chance to dry out every 24 hours.  (They refuse to use any of their shelters since Annie came.  I don’t know why.)

IF YOU HAVE THE CHANCE, GIVE IT A TRY

If you have the chance to let your horse loose in your outdoor or barn work space, give it a try.  No lessons, no regimen… just do your thing and let them do theirs.  You’ll come to know each other in a new way.  You’ll create boundaries and as you move that becomes a dance – where you are rhythmic, aware and engaged, but not on purpose.

I love it – even if they do make a huge, wet, muddy mess in the barn!  ;)

The barn reset - like bowling pins - ready for the Shetlands to have at it all night... I don't do a perfect job since they will destroy it anyway, but the area is clean, the stall is open and the rakes are upright!

The barn reset – like bowling pins – ready for the Shetlands to have at it all night… I don’t do a perfect job since they will destroy it anyway, but the area is clean, the stall is open and the rakes are upright!


JANUARY BUCKET FUND : Aracely had a Spa Day!!

Everyone gathered together to comb out her mane, trim her feet and treat her face!  LOVE helps heal!  Read her story here and donate!

Aracely had a spa day! Click to read her story!

Aracely had a spa day! Click to read her story!


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2 comments have been posted...

  1. Kathy

    I board my horse so I don’t have as many opportunities for hanging out as you do, but I take them when I can. I sometimes visit him in his paddock with a book to read, and after he determines I’m out of carrots, we hang out. I also sometimes bring home buckets of manure for our compost pile, and he likes to come and stand right in front of me while I try to shovel–his general feeling seems to be, OK, I’m here, why are you not treating/grooming/playing with me? I really enjoy this time with him, and I think he likes it, too.

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