Gunsmoke decided he didn’t like frogs. You know, the small, tree frog type with the high pitched voices.
No, he didn’t like them at all. The noise of a single frog, in fact, could become intolerable.
He paced and paced, but the sound refused to end. He stared at me when I came in, and when the frog noises did not stop, he started pacing again. I went outside to try to get the frog to move, but it just shut down and refused to let me guess where it might be.
Back inside, trying to console Gunsmoke about the strange screamy noise. Finally reduced to tying him to the bars to stop the pacing. A search of the stall, but the noise persisted and I still couldn’t find it… then back outside to try to find it, clapping my hands and making noises of my own.
Gunsmoke was untied, and then he was quiet until the darn frog started again. With that, he pushed past me as Lensman looked on from the hotel stall. He walked to the door, which he pushed open with his nose, and without a look behind, even as I called “Gunsmoke! Gunsmoke! Ho!” – he ignored me and stalked down the aisle as if to say “I”ve had it with that frog and I’m leaving.”
Then a quick left and he was in Lensman’s currently empty stall, starting to eat, for all the world like someone deciding that their existing room was unacceptable, and leaving for a better place until the landlord takes care of the pesky neighbor.
No escaping for Gunsmoke. He likes his home and life with people. He could have tried to go out the french doors into the tack room, but he didn’t. He could have tried to push open the arena door, but he didn’t. A human might have tried to do those things, but not him.
I remember another time when I worried he might escape. Sue and I had he and Lensman in the indoor at a boarding barn and suddenly, he took it into his head to trot away in the middle of “stand” practice. Out the big end door. Lensman’s head came up and whirled toward the departing Gunsmoke, and with a cheery flip of the mane, he was trotting off after his buddy.
A right, a left, a right and a left later, Gunsmoke is back in his paddock, over a hundred yards away, Lensman snacking on grass outside of Gunsmoke’s paddock.
Who says horses can’t do mazes?
Anyway, eventually I silenced the lone frog outside Gunsmoke’s window, who apparently left after I kept going out and making noises. Then Gunsmoke was back to normal for the rest of the night.
Why that sound was so distressing is hard to understand. But their range and sensitivity of hearing is very different from our own. And there are instinctive reactions they have to certain types of sounds – for instance, a screw being driven into a wall to hold a bucket moves the stall front which emits a repeated faint screech. Not a good sound, pacing reaction very similar to the frog. Could be interpreted as a distress call, perhaps. Killdeer noises are somewhat worrying at first. Big honking and flapping noises in the windy night from a section of the arena roof before we had it resealed and tightened – sometimes worrying, though trainable to be ignored during work, and not so distressing in the stalls. And untraceable noises, which we can’t hear, perhaps in the woods from deer or turkeys, a cause for alert, but not fear, with cupped ears directed like radar to extract every bit of the sound from the air.
And I never forget Avi, who was nearly driven mad by being kept in a darkened stall for months, shunned by a frightened trainer. The legacy was a terror of small soft sounds you would never even notice, hundreds of yards away. It’s a whole saga how we figured that out and restored his sanity and balance, but a wonderful story that has since moved on for someone else to continue with him, hopefully in full love and sensitivity to him.
Horses drink sounds. Their eyes can go far away when they are fully engaged with a sound. Their eyes may turn into round, glassy brown orbs, with nothing seeming to be behind them – the horse’s mind has moved to his ears and he is not looking out right at the moment. Smells can do that too, but in a different way, where you can see the eyes reflecting something very like a person being told a story – I always think of it as the story of smells and when I let a horse smell my gloves, I say to him… “Can you smell the story of the horses on my gloves?” And they can. Different from their engagement with sound, which seems so all absorbing, so much a call to be frozen in anticipation of action. Smells are information, sounds are alarms, alerts, reasons to do things.
Who can guess which is more wonderful for them? Not I.