Sensitivity Training [Yours]

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

It is a constant source of amazement to me how much horses can be like people. Rina is what you would call "tender headed" (if she were a person); she is quick to complain if I pull too hard on a tangle in her mane by swinging her head around and nudging me lightly (in much the same way a child would say, "Hey, not so rough!"). Taya on the other hand, could care less if I hit a tangle; she's perfectly content to stand there and let me tug my way carefully through it. So what's my point? The point is, that just because one horse will tolerate something it isn't a license to assume that all horses will (this was somewhere around Lesson #197 for me; it was an early one :o) Of course I also remember being taught that horses had no nerve endings in their manes and therefore could not feel anything at all when it was brushed or thinned which is not necessarily so (obviously).

Still wondering why you should care? The idea is to know your horse; this issue can save you and your horse time and trouble when it's important. It can also go a long way in preventing unnecessary frustration and possibly unfair punishment. Allow me to illustrate (using last week's Note to Self); anyone who keeps horses naturally knows they get periodic nicks, scratches and dents. Sometimes they are easily seen and sometimes they are not. Picking out Rina's feet one morning (our horses are all barefoot), I was almost finished; last foot. I had barely begun to bend down when Rina suddenly shifted, putting her right front foot out of reach. Allowing for the possibility that she was not standing balanced enough to lift it (which happens sometimes), I moved forward to her shoulder and touched it again (our cue to pick it up). Rina turned slightly away, and brought her head around effectively blocking me. Hmmmm. I dropped the hoof pick in the bucket and returned to Rina palms up to show her I didn't have it. I squatted down to check her leg - and she stood quietly while I did so - but could find nothing wrong. Scratching my head, and thinking maybe she had a bruise on her foot, I cued her to pick it up (still without the hoofpick). Again she moved her foot out of reach and swung her head down, looking slightly miffed that I wasn't acting too bright here. Finally, with soothing words and palms out she agreed to stand still long enough for me squat down and inspect her foot; nose to hoof. I finally found a teeny tiny itty bitty ding on the surface of her foot; so small I could barely see it even with my nose almost touching her foot. You've got to be kidding me; is that it?? That dinky little dent? Surely not! Carefully, watching Rina's expression, I lightly pressed the ding. She responded by snatching her foot sharply backwards and giving me a very hurt look (and wasn't I immediately swamped with guilt?) Oh, Rina I'm SO sorry! It has been a week now, and she finally will let me brush off the surface of that hoof but that's all. Had I not known, however, that Rina was on the sensitive side I might have mistaken her ouch for difficult behavior and wouldn't that have been awful? It can set your training back (and then some).

Now, let's compare this to Taya's ding (I have no idea what the two of them got into, but they had almost identical dings on opposite front feet one morning after the other). Taya's dent was much more easily seen; in part because it was on a white hoof but also because it was much bigger than Rina's. Taya made it clear that her foot was rather sore, but she was willing to compromise; as long as I held her foot carefully by the fetlock, she had no objection to me picking it out. Of course this too seems to be eerily similar to people; some are up and about their business shortly after an injury or surgical procedure and others take more time to recuperate. Isn't that interesting?
For information on why barefoot is better, read this article:

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