I love how complex it is when I really visit with horses. When I am with them, whether being as they are with each other or being my task-oriented human self, I have a chance to watch their behavior, leverage what I’ve seen in the past, hypothesize, look for confirmation, and learn more about how they think. Yet, inevitably, I bring my own values and I have emotions about them and their relationships.
I go up in the near full moonlight to the sacrifice paddock under luminous clouds. Lensman is lying down just past the edge of the moonshadows from the trees, looking sleepily over the landscape. I sit down near his head and he looks at me, breathing softly. In the background, Gunsmoke wanders restlessly, going into the shelter and looking out at us. Then he walks purposefully toward Lensman and eventually stands over him, deliberately reaching his mouth, open, down over the middle of Lensman’s mane and equally deliberately biting down with gradually increasing pressure until Lensman shrieks and leaps to his feet. The two of them stand over me, and then Lensman turns and walks away, swishing his tail.
It’s not the first time Gunsmoke has wanted to monopolize dealing with creatures from outside of the herd. He once let Lensman be the first to communicate with new horses in a neighboring paddock and then shouldered him aside after a few minutes, when it seemed he was sure it wasn’t going to go horribly wrong. When Lensman was first getting used to the deer at the Ranch, he often seemed to want to be one, as he stared at them, eyes wide, following their motion. But once, when Lensman was really close to the deer, Gunsmoke raced down the hill in the sacrifice paddock and sending Lensman running one way and the deer the other way. He trotted back up to me, looking very satisfied.
Sometimes horses don’t even want each other enjoying something as simple as rolling and they hurry over to break it off. Both Lensman and Gunsmoke have disturbed each other in the middle of a good roll for no apparent reason.
So what was Gunsmoke doing? “I want what you have”? “You need to move when I show up or else”? “Just a reminder – I’m in charge”?
No way to know. But I tend to think that it means something like “No socializing without me.”
I won’t reward Gunsmoke with attention or pets after that, and I gripe at him as I walk away to go get their halters so they can go out to pasture for the night. I stop to pet Lensman for a moment on my way out, because I feel a little as if I might have caused what happened through some unexpected ignorance.
But you know, Lensman took it all in stride after he left, and he didn’t even mind standing next to Gunsmoke – though he did put his nose up against Gunsmoke’s side and I worried he might try a cheap shot.
But he didn’t.
Once the two of them are haltered and out of the paddock, they each sigh with that extra sound, a little throaty rasp, that turns a sigh into a sound of resignation – “I’m leaving my friends” perhaps. Horses are so in the moment that it doesn’t matter that they are going to grass or that their friends pretty much always rejoin them within ten minutes. The timeframe for those events is so long as to just not be connected to what we are doing right now for them. It’s part of how alien they are.
But as we go down the hill, they seem sensitized to the lights of the house, the odd moon shadows, and who knows what else. They snork softly from time to time – not really distressed, but faintly uncomfortable with the strangeness. And I can understand that. They don’t go down often at night, so they are not so used to it, and going down is not the same as going up. They keep looking up to the right, as if wondering where their friends are.
About halfway down, I can feel them walking faster and see them licking their lips. It’s likely that they have finally connected our journey to going out on pasture.
In the pasture, Gunsmoke wants to eat, but Lensman wants to tease him – with a bite threat and them galloping off and snaking his head until Gunsmoke races after him and there’s bucking and galloping, until they stop and Gunsmoke starts to eat. But Lensman hasn’t had enough – he trots over, stops, fakes a run away. When nothing happens, he gives Gunsmoke a nip, and starts to gallop off, but Gunsmoke just glares at him and goes back to the grass, so Lensman gallops a bit more, then gives up and starts eating. He’s so cute when he wants to play, and Gunsmoke is equally cute as he plays the stolid, bored, mature version of himself.
Such is the stuff of horseplay.
I hike back up the hill to the remaining two, and they are ready to leave. But they seem to be able to relax, probably because they know that going too fast leads to a headache from all the halter jangling they get. As we walk, they each have their own personalities in their walk, but both are pretty relaxed until we get to where the white Ethernet cable crosses from the arena to the Ayrmesh hub antenna. At that point, Bella stops dead and looks down. And then I realize it looks like a fence rope on the ground and laugh. Of course she won’t go over it. Every horse knows that a low fence rope emits a force field that goes up into the sky. So I encourage her and she goes with me. I think that I may find it a good idea to change the color of that cable so I don’t inadvertently train her to walk over the fence with those long Thoroughbred legs.
At the pasture, I always walk into the space, turn around, close the softgate top strand, and then walk them out into the pasture. This prevents horses from thinking that they should anticipate taking off when they cross into the pasture. When I release them, they take a few steps and trot eagerly over to the separating fence, but Bella heads for the gate strand in the fence, investigating it, as if hoping it will go away.
They sure like to be together.
Every horse is a complicated little drama.
Every moment with horses provides a mystery or a clue or an answer.
If you listen.