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December 6 2014: De Spooking Clinic --- Day # 2 Animal Happiness

In her books, Vickie Hearne argues that animal happiness is to a large part dependent upon their having jobs that they’re physically and mentally capable of doing. In other words animals enjoy work. Conversely, animal rights people – at least the majority of them – argue the opposite, often insisting that we who own them, as best we can, should return them to their pre-domestic state. For example, they argue that horses should be put out to pasture.

I was indeed fortunate (again, today) to be able to audit the de spooking clinic. I did at times grouse because I so badly wanted to be riding Raudi. However, I got a sense as to what this will be like in taking in the big picture. I also, in

Heather and Rio go through the smoke

taking in the big picture, got to see things that I would not have been able to otherwise.

This, the second day, began with a lecture on horse vision. This alone was worth the price of admission. Most importantly, horses, in passing objects, at first see them distinctly, and then in passing, they get blurry. And at the same time, they get larger. So, you give the horse plenty of rein, and apply leg pressure in passing. Then after, again make contact with the reins and release the leg pressure.

I watched riders do this as they went over a bridge, past a police car with a siren and lights going, and through smoke. Oh, yeah, the police car had a barking dog in it. None of this was sprung upon the horses wholesale; rather, everything was introduced slowly and in a very incremental fashion. This was an instance in which things were chunked down.

The most amazing thing of all (and I had an unobstructed view) was how the horses all took to this. I would, last Thursday, have thought (had I seen the afternoon’s grande finale) that this whole deal was a dangerous proposition. Well, here and there, there was some skittering around, and also an occasional spook – but not once did any horse get mad and in horse talk say “I don’t get mad, I get even.” There was no bucking, no rearing, no biting, no nothing. What, in this respect, most impressed me was the horses’ attitudes. As was evidenced by their eyes – soft, and their ears, flicking back and forth, they clearly didn’t mind being where they were.

My friend Heather rode her horse Rio again today. I’ve always felt a little uneasy around him because my perception has always been that he’s a high energy horse. What I came to realize today is that he is not a dangerous horse – rather, he likes to be doing something. For instance, when Heather was saddling him up, I had him repeatedly push on the stall door. Had I jerked on his rope halter and repeatedly yelled at him to stand, he would have had no energy release, and perhaps put us both in danger in an attempt to uncork himself.

Ahh, but Rio also tires of doing things really fast. I didn’t have any treats on me, so I couldn’t reward him for pushing on the door, so I worked on getting him to lower his head by feeding him hay from the ground. Heather handles Rio’s personality type really well. This is something I would not be able to do. I like my moderately busy Icelandic horses. Anyhow, Rio was having a good time all day attempting to figure out what it was that he was supposed to do, and if it was safe for him to do it. He trotted over the bridge, he went through the smoke, he went through the PVC pipe obstacles mostly in a calm fashion. He did jump around some, and once Heather had to repeatedly circle him to get his attention, but he most definitely was not attempting to unseat her.

Now if Rio was a pasture horse and never worked with, he’d be bored, depressed, anxious, and lonely. And Rio isn’t alone. Most other horses are the same way, although not as overt as Rio is.

I think that people are dismissive of horse intelligence because for so long, horses were regarded to be beasts of burden. Their jobs were exclusively at our behest – they pulled plows, they carried soldiers into battle, they moved cattle. The rub is that we bred them to do these things. And the horses that did well at their varied activities were those who were bred again. So, what we ended up with is what we now have – equines that are adept at, and want to do, the jobs that they have been bred to do. Some race, some jump, some do three day eventing, some do dressage, the list is long.

The origin of today’s dressage competitions were military drills which were originally battlefield maneuvers. Battlefield maneuvers are now used to control crowds. So to train police horses is a historical and a genetic complement.

At what cost, animal happiness? My three ponies live in a relatively small paddock where they are fed copious amounts of hay at various intervals during the day. I interact with them all quite a bit. And most days I get them out. I seriously doubt they’d be as happy as they are if I wasn’t tending to their food/shelter/exercise needs.

What I personally learned today is that horses, while they’re wanting and willing to work, look to their riders for guidance. I think that after today, that I’ll do a better job of being their mounted leader.

Next: 326. 12/7/14: Clinic Day #3, Further Thoughts