Monday, October 11, 2010

Interpreting the Horse, or, I Feel Like Such a Beginner

This past weekend was interesting. Saturday I found Buckshot laying in the sun (the daytime temperatures were in the mid-80’s- very hot), and at first was worried about him. Colic? Uveitis? Although laying down is not a symptom of uveitis. But he wasn’t opening his right eye much. He was calm, not pawing at his side. But still, I worry when I see him laying down.

(The reason for my instant worry is that last December, on a sunny day with snow on the ground, I found him laying down. I thought it was normal. I thought he was fine. Beginner horseowner here. I mentioned it to the BO. Then we went on to clean stalls. Then we had to round up two horses that after free-grazing, decided to walk to the next county LOL. Then back to Buckshot and he was still laying down. The BO was alarmed at this, but I, beginner horse owner, didn’t know better. It was a mild case of colic, and we gave him bute and watched him carefully for all of his pooping and peeing, which wasn’t happening, although he wasn’t terribly agitated. We put a barn blanket on him as he was wet from laying in the snow. Still, my worries grew. The next day he pooped a huge poop ball – biggest I’d ever seen come out that end – and got better after that. But I can’t get rid of a bit of worry if I see him laying down since then…..)

So Saturday, I listened to his sides- heard very faint gurgling noises – and went to get the penlight to check his eye pupils. As I moved away from the pasture, I saw him stand up. Returned to the pasture with penlight, led him into the stall (can’t see pupils when outside) and his pupils looked fine. Listened to his sides – still slight gurgling. The BO came to see him, observed he was looking alert and interested, heard same sounds in gut. So I determined he was fine. Good.

Went back to barn to get tack ready, back to pasture, he was laying down again! I squatted by him, talking to him. He was alert, but kind of sleepy. When is it sleepy and when is it lethargic, I thought to myself. They look the same to me. But since I had checked him, I thought that he was fine. I got him to stand up, and we did some of our groundwork games. He was very interested in the mints after each exercise. So by then, I knew he was really fine. Oh, gosh, sometimes I feel like such a stupid beginner at horses! But I was also glad I had the penlight, and know the symptoms of uveitis, and a bit of the symptoms of colic, and maybe, I am just a tiny bit less of a complete beginner….

I took him to the barn to groom and tack up. In the stall, he was calm and normal, but he didn’t eat any hay. Hmm. He did take a few long drinks of water from the stall bucket. Hmm. Both of those behaviors were unusual for him. I continued to observe him as I brushed and cleaned, and he wasn’t agitated or nervous. Perhaps somedays he doesn’t want to eat hay, I thought. Perhaps that is fairly normal, in the big picture. I wondered, what is the normal range of behaviors for a horse. When does a new behavior mean, something is really different vs it doesn’t happen often but it is not alarming, it is within the range of normal for him. I don’t know the answer (feel like complete beginner again).

We rode in the arena a bit later, and had a pretty good ride. Buckshot was definitely low energy, but it was a hot, sunny day, and he has quite a bit of winter coat so I couldn’t blame him. We did our patterns and exercises and he would have a good bit of energy for one pattern, but not the next one. We stopped a few times and did some “looking around” (as Kate, from A Year with Horses, wrote about lately J). We tried a new routine which included walk, trot, backing and about eight strides of canter and he did well at that. So while it wasn’t a great ride, it was good. Again, and sorry for so much philosophy here, even riding occurs in a range, from great, to, well, not great. And this was a solid, okay ride. A “B” I think. Or was it a “C?” I feel guilty that I can’t give it an “A.”

On Sunday, Buckshot seemed fine in every way, and even ate hay while we groomed. We did groundwork in the pasture, and rode in the round pen, as the arena was used for something else.

And then we walked down the road (in hand). Several times he stopped and didn’t want to go forward, but no snorting, no agitation. I tapped his shoulder with the crop a few times. Once I stopped by his head and said, yes, we’ll just think about this for a while. We’ve come further than the last time, so maybe we will just go with this success. And then he started walking again! He went another twenty feet or so, and stopped again. This was his limit for the day. But it was about fifty feet further than last weekend! Part of me feels deflated – will I ever get this horse all the way down this road? – and part of me knows that fifty feet more is a success! So I’ll take the success – Buckshot’s success, really – and be glad for it. I need to be more grateful for the small steps of progress! And see it as Buckshot’s bravery is growing, just a few steps at a time. Hooray to you, Buckshot!!


Grey Horse Matters said...

Hurray to you both. He's going further and further each time with you down that road. He's trusting you more and more. I think you're having great success with your small steps approach to everything.

As for being a beginner, you're learning. We all learn something everyday from our horses by just observing and being with them.

Mare said...

You think you're a beginner?! I'M REALLY A BEGINNER! My horse has only been my horse for a month and two days...!!! Thankfully, she puts up with me and neither of us has killed the other one yet. I honestly think my horse wishes she could get rid of me! Unfortunately for her, though, she's stuck with me, so it's a good thing she teaches me something new everyday. People are always talking about training their horses. Sometimes I think the horse does more of the training than we do...

Love the blog, by the way!

juliette said...

Don't worry about worrying! I have had horses all my life and I still worry if I see one resting. It never ends!
Sounds like you are going at Buckshot's pace down the road. That pace guarantees that when you go the whole way, it will be for keeps. He is telling you about his comfort zone and you are helping him extend it - slowly - the only way!

Jan said...

Thank you for your comments and observations!

Arlene (Grey Horse Matters): Thank you for reminding me of staying with the "small step" strategy. As you mention, that will likely work best for Buckshot!

Mare: Welcome to my blog! And welcome to horse ownership! Your visits are always welcome here!

Juliette: Thank you for pointing out that extending Buckshot's comfort zone in small bits will make it a permanent expansion. I hadn't thought of it that way. And thank you for saying that even after so many years of horse ownership, you sometimes worry a bit when a horse is lying down. Thar reassures me, so thank you!