From Mare-eating Mattresses to Wooly Bears...

Sunday, January 16, 2011 what is that blue thing over there??
Last September, I wrote a post entitled, It really is there; even when it's not which had to do with [our] horse's strange behavior and my learning to be more persistent in finding the cause of it.  Thankfully, this time the source was not quite so hard to find; although I have to admit it was infinitely more entertaining. There must be some sort of obscure equine rule that dictates things must happen at mealtimes (it sure seems they always do). Particularly in the morning, when it has the added benefit of making me late for work. The girls came down for breakfast the other morning, the same as they do every day twice a day. This time though when they were about even with the stalls, they suddenly started snorting, head bobbing, turning in circles, then goose-stepping forward with tails up, heads still bobbing, and nostrils flaring taking only a few steps at a time. What on earth??? After scrutinizing the landscape repeatedly and coming up empty, I admit I was at a bit of a loss. 
Well, it would seem our canine neighbor was doing a bit of heavy housecleaning.  He had somehow managed to wrestle the large mattress from the inside of his doghouse to the outside and was doing his best to kill it dead (although he wasn't making any noise at all). Because he was moving back and forth from the far to near side of his house dragging the mattress, I managed to miss him several times until I went back to Lady and walked directly down her line of vision one last time. I didn't get a shot of the mattress on its own, which is too bad as it looked rather like a gigantic lumpy turtle before the triumphant dog flopped on it. I did, however, manage to catch this one after he wore himself out and sprawled across the top of it to rest (it was apparently a long and exhausting battle; the victory definitely hard won). Finally...mystery solved and I'm late for work; NOW can we eat? Sheesh :o)
Like most animals, our horses morph into four-legged fuzzballs during the winter months; even here in south Alabama their winter woolies are very well developed. One of the coolest things about winter (I just love a bad pun, don't you?), is the altered sleep schedule.  When winter hits, instead of sleeping during the late night/early morning hours, they will wait until the sun is high into the sky before doing any serious resting.  Horses have sleep patterns that are vastly different than ours; they catch most of their Z's while standing up on three legs (which makes total sense when you're a prey animal; besides, you never know when there might be another mare-eating mattress laying/lying? - in wait...Ha). 
When a horse wants to lay down, they assume one of two different recumbent positions: sternal (laying on their chest with the chin resting on the ground), or lateral recumbent, which is laying flat out on their side. Horses will usually only do this when they are either feeling relaxed or are very sick. A horse needs only about 30-45 minutes of rest in the recumbent position every 24 hours; the rest of their sleep is done standing up. In a herd that is resting, one or two horses will act as a "Sentinel" for the rest of the group, dozing lightly on three legs and listening for danger.
I think I'll call this next shot "The Great Snoozefest". What do you think? Obviously our horses are comfortable enough with me that they did not feel the need to rise on my approach, although Taya did lazily open one eye in acknowledgement before going right back to sleep (points for me - yay ;o) Lady was standing guard (earlier photo), while Sarabear, Rina, Bella, and Taya caught their 40 winks.

In the big pasture, Shadow (you can see him at the top of the above photo) and Max (to the left above) were snoozing as well. while Cinnamon dozed and kept an ear open by the hay pile (Champ was busy having his own personal porkfest; you can just see the top of his head behind the hay :o)
Hopefully, this will be our last year of "pushing" the pasture (I know DD is heartily sick of that little pushable spreader). Now that we have Tillie [the tractor], seeding the pasture should be a snap once we get a real spreader; or at least it'll be considerably less time consuming and tedious. It also means that once we get our hands on some dirt, we can rebuild the terraces and finally put a stop our erosion crises. Because things were so dry at the end of fall, we did not put out the winter rye as we normally do (hence the sad looking pasture of dirt and dead grass *sigh*). We are supposed to have some [hopefully light] rain on Monday or Tuesday, so maybe we will have some yummy rye grass for everyone before too long.
Which brings us to the mystery of the blue thing. As I was busily snapping photos of the girls, I caught a flash of something blue by Shadow's leg further up the hill. Do you see it? I'll beg your pardon on the camera angle; we got a little bit *cough* personal with the zoom there; please excuse (and um, sorry about that Shadow :o)
It would seem that DD opted to take a little break from spreading seed, and found herself a nice cosy spot to rest. Although she was not actually asleep, Shadow had completely conked out *grin*. I guess he was comfortable enough with his two-legged teddy bear to catch some serious Z's - mouth hanging open and everything (and is that funny or what?)
 I wonder if there is a "Mother Hen" category in the Guinness Book of World Records. At 1,100lbs, I'm thinking Shadow may just be the world's largest...what do you think? Apparently, after the nap comes the bath (somehow I thought it was supposed to be the other way around, but what do I know? :o)

We love you silly boy. As always, thanks for reading this far and I hope you all have a wonderful week; chock full of your own happy naps and warm fuzzy wuzzies :o)
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  1. Those are adorable photos! I love it when such grand animals can show how gentle they are. And yes, that does look like a lovely place to curl up and have a little snooze! :)

    Happy Sunday!
    xo Catherine

  2. Great pictures and observations!

    We had a "mare-eating" moment this morning - someone was jogging in the distance, wearing ski goggles (the wind chill was about zero) and all the mares ran to the fenceline, on alert and snorting - they were clearly mare-killing ski goggles!

    One summer, when the pasture the mares in had grown very tall, I went out there and was very startled and worried to see No Horses! But when I looked more closely, all 6 of them were lying flat and invisible in the tall grass. Unusual - as you mention they almost always have a sentinel.

  3. Too funny about the mattress. I didn't realize what an educational post this was going to be for those of us who don't know much about horses. I always thought that if they were laying down it meant they were sick. Learn something new every day. That napping picture is totally adorable. Just too sweet.

  4. Catherine: Thank you so much. Shadow just loves people, which is a testament to his generous heart (he was horribly abused in the past).
    Kate: Maybe they thought they were about to be abducted by aliens *snort* (ya just never know). That is extremely unusual for all of them to lie down at once; and I'm thinking their collective disappearance would have given me heart palpatations for sure. Thank you so much for your kind words!
    Ann: I really hate that I missed the mattress shot. He had pulled it by both corners (one at a time) on the same end. The results of his biting and tugging were corners that resembled legs and a high rounded middle - it was hysterical looking. Glad you enjoyed our impromtu lesson ;o)

  5. The picture with DD and Shadow snoozing together is priceless, I would have that one framed! Your herd feels very safe to be able to relax like that, wonderful pictures and observations.

    I like the dog dragging his bed out and then flopping on it. Probably thought it needed airing out. Being prey animals the horses can spot the least little change to their environment. I commend them on that but it does make it hard sometimes to figure out what's causing all the ruckus.

  6. Stina: Welcome and thank you so much for your kind words :o)
    GreyHorse: I love it too; I only wish I had Photoshop to erase the poop in the background. There is a huge photo contest at the National Peanut Festive (if you remember my post awhile back) and I would love to enter it, sans poop of course :o)
    I am so gratified that the horses feel secure and relaxed enough to do that here and you are exactly right about the prey animal thing; I can move a chair in the backyard and the girls will eyeball it for a minute before moving on *grin*.

  7. Love the mattress story! I just awarded you the Stylish Blogger Award. Stop by to pick it up.

  8. DressageRider: Thank you for your comment and the award! (now I feel all special and everything ;o)

  9. That was really funny! Loved the matress part...

  10. Hi Jen,

    I love your blogs. I have a question about your haypile, is it so the horses can have continuous eating and if so how do you stop them getting too fat? This probably sounds a weird question to ask, but I have my horses boarded at my local riding school where there is no grass, all hand feeding (the usual case in my area because of small blocks) and we are trying to figure out how to provide our horses with as natural an access to food as possible. Thanks

  11. D.Ward: Glad you liked it :o)
    FrancesB: Thank you so much for your kind words. Our horses are on 24/7 turnout, so they can run around as much as they like (and they play hard sometimes). The Girls are a little tubby right now, but I try to keep a little extra fat on them for winter insulation. If yours are stalled, I would suggest (and please bear in mind that I am absolutely "nobody", just a professional amateur *grin*) you give hay nets a try. This is my opinion, but as natural grazers horses have an instinctive urge to constantly graze which is an integral part of their nature. I really think this is why (other than stress) so many horses develop nasty habits like chewing, cribbing, etc. when kept in stalls for extended periods. The hay nets will keep their mouths busy and satisfy their instinctive urge to graze. Although they are kind of a pain to fill, I think it makes for a much happier horse. If they start getting too tubby, you can always reduce their feed accordingly (hay trumps feed anyway).
    Grass is the most important part of a horse's diet (and don't worry, ours is lousy too), but hay is the second most important roughage; feed is actually last in line. The Moo Crew eats more feed than the The Girls (I actually use a little dog food scoop for them *laugh*) but they have their own hay pile as well. I hope this helps you, and please accept my apologies for taking so long to respond.

  12. Hi Jen, thanks. Our horses aren't stalled but out in the paddocks for most of the time, although brought in for hay sometimes (eg if too windy & hay blowing away) and for saddling. They have about 5 acres to run around in, but most of it is literally dirt. They get fed hay twice a day and only get hard feed if need the extra energy, although a couple of the older ones get a bit every day. I think they like going for walks and trail rides because they can get some grass then (when there's some to get...)

    I love your stories and photos and especially those of your girl snoozing with Shadow. Ours will let us walk right up to them while laying down - in fact one of my boys let me try a halter on him when he was laying down and was still snoozing when I walked away - but I'm not sure I'd be quite game enough to lay down like that with them yet - don't think they'd deliberately hurt me but I'm very aware I'm little and squashable!

  13. Clancy: At the risk of sounding like an idiot, you are the same person as "Frances B.", right? (Some of us are easily confused dont'cha know ;o) The only other thing I would suggest besides the hay would be maybe a trace mineral block by the water and some sort of "lick" (it would give them something else to do, if that makes sense).
    Equi-Pro offers one: I don't really know anything about it other than it has less molasses than most (which is a good thing) and it sounds like it might be worth checking out.
    Molasses blocks can tempt the horses to act like a kid on Halloween from slurp to urp to tummyache so I'd go with one that doesn't have too much "candy" in it. Case in point: We now feed a Raybon block as part of our fly prevention by shaving it and mixing with meals. It has a lot of molasses in it, and when we put it by itself in the pasture as the manufacturer suggested The Girls ate the entire 40lb block in three days, (apparently it was yummy).

  14. A P.S. for Clancy: I almost forgot...thank you so VERY much for the lovely things you said in the second paragraph - they totally made my day!

  15. :) Sorry, yes, Francesb & Clancy are the same - seem to have accidentally got 2 account names - am new to this and a bit confused.

Your comments really brighten my day!

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