“You know your horse better than anyone else,” my vet always says. If you don’t, then, it’s probably time to ask yourself, why not?
For the first three years that I owned Silk, I didn’t have the confidence or trust to be able to say that I really knew my horse. We got into a lot of trouble. Eventually, I realized that as Silk’s caretaker, I had to know all about her, not just what she did while I was in the saddle. We’ve been together over ten years now, and our relationship is light-years beyond where we started.
When I boarded my horses in someone else’s barn, it took me a while to realize that I had to really pay attention to the little things. They had too many other horses and too little time to worry about whether my horses were anything more than “okay”. I never knew if the guy who cleaned the stalls poked the muck fork at them to get them out of the way. Then, one day, I came in while he was doing it. They ate the grain that the owner of the stable provided, whatever it was and whenever it was fed to them. Many times, I came out and found their water buckets were empty. Once I stopped and thought about what these actions meant to my horses, it began to drive me crazy. I was obsessed by it, and it dawned on me that no one cares for my horses as much as I do.
Now, living with my two horses in my backyard, I am totally aware of everything that they do. I know what they eat or don’t eat. I can tell you how many times a day they poop, and where each one of them likes to go. As I go about my day, I try to be mindful of where the horses are and what they are doing. When my young horse, Siete, runs across the pasture, I take note if she is favoring her back right leg. I know that Silk likes to roll in a dust bowl she’s created in the front corner. Siete loves apples. Silk prefers carrots. As I clean the barn, I always try to take a few moments to just hang out and watch what the horses are doing. Sometimes, I scratch Silk’s belly while her daughter, Siete, stands next to us, and Silk rubs her head on Siete’s withers. It’s a little “herd grooming ritual” that we all enjoy. In those moments I feel as close as I can get to being a horse.
The horses notice what I do from the instant I walk out the door of my house. If I appear with feed buckets, they go to their stalls and stand in the open doorways politely waiting for me. When it’s time to come in from the pasture, they meet me at the gate. Silk often stops to watch me through the windows when I’m inside the house. Nothing I do escapes their attention. I owe it to them to have the same awareness.
So, when my vet, Dr. Whitney Will, from Fairfield Equine, asks me, “What do you think? You know your horse better than anyone else,” I am confident that my answer is based on truly understanding Silk’s daily habits and personality. I do know her longer and better than anyone else, and I care more.
The last time Dr. Will posed the query to me was because of the itch of all itches. In the Fall, Silk was experiencing an allergic reaction to something. It might have been the black flies, which were brutal, or some new hay that I just bought. My poor horse was so itchy that she could hardly stand still. She lifted her tail and stomped her back legs, kicking at her belly. Nothing I was doing seemed to give her any relief. The vet prescribed dexamethasone, an oral steroid, and some sulfur shampoo and cortisone cream. When I washed Silk’s udder and teats, she felt so relieved that her back legs almost gave out from under her.
I was leaning against her back hip, with my hands all the way up on the inside her haunches, rubbing the soap on her delicate skin. It suddenly occurred to me how far we had come from the first time I groomed Silk. I flashed back to how she kicked me really hard when I tried to brush the outside of her leg. At this moment, a decade later, with my hands touching her most tender parts, I knew there was no way Silk would try to hurt me. I laughed thinking that this was my ultimate measure of how good our relationship was.
Unfortunately, the skin began to peel and get inflamed by the shampoo and the cream. So, the next day, when I washed Silk again, it was a different story. She stomped her back foot and snorted as soon as I touched the inside of her leg. I got the message and just rinsed her off with warm water. I decided not to push it if Silk was sore down there. She tolerated it when I rubbed a little petroleum jelly on her udder and her belly to keep the flies away. Then, I let her be. After a few days of just rinsing her with warm water and taking it easy, the inflammation was gone.
The kindness and care a person gives a horse in mundane day-to-day activities pays off in the saddle. I offer my horses the finest hay and feed I can find. I give them a clean, soft bed in their stalls at night. I am consistent about feeding them when the sun comes up and the sun goes down, even in the worst rain or snow. If anyone tries to hurt them, I intervene and protect them. I am their advocate and best friend. Every day, I earn their trust. In return, when I ride them, they take care of me. So, when my vet tells me that I know my horses better than anyone else, I proudly nod my head and agree.