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March 10, 2017: The Horse Life: Animal Happiness

I’ve been thinking a lot these past few weeks about what constitutes animal happiness. I am now going to hop on my soap box because what I am going to say really needs to be said. Most Alaskan horse people would say that their animals are happy. I beg to differ in a handful of instances.

One rider told me that she’s now taking her horse to the heated arena three times a week, for lessons. The subtext of her message is that she doesn’t understand why he’s not doing better. I did not say, but I think that hers is a very smart horse, and he’s saying what’s in this for me? She says her trainer is reprogramming him. Seems to me like a few days a week out on the trail would suffice.

Ryder and Tyra near the bench

Another rider is really busy with work and family responsibilities, so she only gets out to visit her horse at the most twice a week. Her efforts at working with her horse are being thwarted by her horses’ companion, an aggressive horse. Is this horse happy? No. Seems to me that he needs to be relocated.

And yet another individual is getting a therapeutic riding program going locally. Are the horses doing this work happy? No. Horses like being in balance and this is an instance where they have to compensate for the lack of balance. Some think, in such instances, that the horses really love this kind of work. Are these horses happy? I don’t think so. Adaptability involves resignation and horses are good at this.

And yet another friend constantly posts pictures of her horse and their outings on Facebook. They get out at the most, once a week. In the past the horse has been wearing a gag bit, a bit with three side rings – she calls this the power steering mechanism. And the saddle the horse is wearing does not fit. She compensates by adding increasingly more padding.

I could go on and on. Best to now talk about what is involved in making a horse happy. Most people are pretty good at providing the basics: food, water, and shelter. And most provide companionship. Where most people err here in Alaska is in getting their horses out in the winter and in interacting with them.

Happy horses. You want to know about happy horses? Let me tell you about four that I know, especially if today is any indication. I was outside from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. with the ponies. I decided that since the weather was good, above 0 and windless, that I should take advantage of the situation. Lately, because it’s been windy and cold, I’ve only been getting out with the ponies on an average two hours a day.

I first did driveway agility with Hrimmi, and then took her and Tinni down to the Murphy Road trailhead. Both ponies were eager to get out, and then once they were out, lively and engaged. I next took Tinni out by himself, so that I could assess the trail situation. It was a little punchy, but not unduly so. Tinni seemed to be glad to be out.

I next did driveway agility, liberty work with Tyra, then took her for a walk up the bench. The trail was pretty firm, the sun shining brightly. She trotted beside me going up, stopping about a quarter of the way from the top, in order to take in the view with Ryder. Finally, she gave the old heave ho and joined me and two fat tire bicyclists who were at the top enjoying beers. Going down, she moved out really fast and stopped only to get in a good roll. Then she got up and raced home. I found her by the hayshed.

Lastly, I did agility with Raudi then took her out for an evening jaunt on Murphy Road. We had a moose encounter. On the way to the corner one must have been hiding in the woods because she kept stopping and pricking her ears forward. My seat was good, so I was able to get her past it. Then at the corner I got off because she was chuffing and dancing around. I turned around, and there was the moose, walking in our direction. Raudi, chuffing and dancing around, was now beside herself. I began backing her down the road – when finally, we went back up road, the moose was gone. Raudi had moose on the brain by then and the entire way home kept scanning the area for more.

A great day was had by all. I am now really tired but quite pleased with how the horses all did. I am really enjoying having four ponies who are of varying ages and varying levels of ability. There’s Tyra who is learning to be trail wise, Hrimmi who is learning to carry weight and respond to her rider’s cues, and Raudi, who is learning the importance of paying attention in times of duress. And there is steady eddy Tinni who remains the reliable trail horse.

Some might say that I’m overdoing it in terms of horse-related time and interaction. I would have to disagree. My horses are happy because I am putting in the time and am interacting with them. And it’s for this reason that our time together is uneventful.

There is another reason why it all goes so well for us – and this involves my focus on horse-human body awareness. But I’ll save my thoughts on this matter for another dispatch.

Next: 70. 3/11/17: The Home Life: Until Death do us Part

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