Saturday, May 29, 2010

Speaking Equine

I'm sorry for the lack of a post recently. It's not that I haven't been writing (because BOY have I!?) but the subject of Thoroughbred Rescue has been center stage for me lately and I'm just not ready to post about it...soon though...

So today I'm just going to ask for good wishes for my Coconut. I'm sure it's nothing serious but one can never have enough positive energy flowing, right?

Late yesterday afternoon I got a call from Stephanie at the barn that I might need to come check out Coconut's eye. She thought it was swollen shut and there were tear stains running down her face. I headed out at once to check on my little princess.

When I got there she called to me in a bit of a distressed nicker. I raised my hand to her forehead (her sweet spot) to give her an assuring rub and she took the opportunity to rub my hand with her head vigorously. I understood that she was having some discomfort up there near her right eye. Yes, her eye was indeed swollen to the point that she didn't open it and there was a significant amount of tear tracks so I grabbed my bottle of eye wash and a halter and took her down to the main barn to see if I could get an extra set of hands to wash it out. Stephanie was still there and talking to Sue. Both of them agreed her eye looked bad but when I was able to use both hands to open it there was no sign of bleeding or injury, thankfully. Sue offered me some antibiotic eye cream and even applied it while I kept hold of her.

Coconut took it like a trooper! Never even flinched and when we were done immediately licked, chewed and nodded her head. Sue even remarked that she understood what we were doing.

For those who may not know, horses have a signal they give when they understand or agree...signs we look for in training and communicating with them... Licking their lips, chewing or lowering their heads. I recently read the Man Who Listens To Horses by Monty Roberts and he describes observing these behaviors in wild horse herds as the younger horses learned their place. Making the chewing motion, he observed, was a horse's way of saying "I am a herbivore, I am no harm to you, let's talk about my relationship with you." In training he learned that when the horse understood what he was asking they would lick their lips, chew or lower their heads to indicate they have agreed with you and understand what you have asked them to do. It's time to take the pressure off because they "Get It!". That was one of the things that Chrissy first taught me about horses in the training setting and something I try to pass on to some of the novice equestrians I work with from time to time. I think it's significant to the establishment of a relationship between horse and handler.

Coconut most certainly uses this method of communication with me and I sure appreciate that we have a way to confirm to each other that we're pleased with one another and accept input from each other. For us it started that very first day in the pasture when she really did ask me to take her with me. It continues to be useful as she clearly asked for help...the distressed nicker...the indication where she hurt...the rubbing of her head near her eye onto my hand...and probably MOST importantly, the standing still while we applied the cream to make her feel better...then the licking and nodding to indicate she understood.

I am such a baby was not feeling well so I prepared her stall and turned her in, turning in Sugar and Autumn too, who were both effected by her not being in her pasture. Ok, Sugar needed to go in because Coconut would have been lost without her....not because Sugar would have a tough time, but Autumn seemed a little abandoned standing out there in the rain by herself so putting her in her stall also made it easier for Jessie to go into her stall so really, it's a chain reaction that ends up with all the horses dry, happy & comforted by each other....another horse relationship need I understand ;-)

By the time I got everyone settled, Coconut's eye was already starting to open up a bit and she was clearly less agitated so I think it worked out well. I'll check on her in a little bit but let's all cross our fingers and hooves that she's ok!

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