Friday, January 11, 2008

You Know Best

“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.


the kittens' mother said...

That's a nice story (apart from the bit when she was sore and you got kicked!). The good thing about horses is that they know every part of you, how you are feeling on the inside and the little things that you do.
It's a similar thing I did when I fostered cats and kittens. The first mother and litter I had, I had no idea what I was doing but I just sat and watched how the mother acted around the kittens and what contact they had with each other. From this, by the time I had to hand-raise an abandoned litter, I had learned the essential parts of how to be a good substitute mum for the kittens as if I was a mother cat to them and they thrived. It was the same kind of relationship in the way that I knew what food each of the kittens and cats preferred, how they liked there food prepared etc. Those bonds are very special and last forever.
Best Wishes, from Meg and cats xxx

Gypsy said...

Hooray for you! And your Vet. What a blessing to have your long-tailed, hard-hooved children living at home with you-makes all the difference in the world!

Strawberry Lane said...

Perfectly said, Victoria.

The difference between our horses being at a stable and at home makes all the difference in the world as to our relationship with them and our peace of mind.

Interesting about the allergy reaction experienced by Silk.

I've been helping my friend with her horse who has had much as what you have said about Silk. It has been a very long and expensive nightmare.

The test results show he is very allergic to various grasses and insects, including horse flies. He was put on antihistamines and predisione (which I did not like).
However, it did finally break the cycle.

The horse is at a stable, which makes control very difficult.

We (you and I) are very lucky to have our horses at home for their care and TLC.

Your vet is correct. We do know our horses better than anyone. My vet often says ... "what do you think?".

Grey Horse Matters said...

Thank goodness we do know our horses better than anyone. I can't tell you how many barns are incapable of properly taking care of horses. From being left in wet blankets at night to having no water to moldy hay, inferior food, you name it, we have experienced it all. That is the main reason we bought our own place.Unfortunately, I feel that as a boarder, you are just a paycheck to a lot of barn owners. If we didn't stay on top of our horses health care, I think our small herd would be much worse off than they are. Anything health-wise that has cropped up is taken care of immediately, they are checked every night when they come in for any abnormalities and dealt with (we can also check on them during the day). If this was left to a barn manager half of the injuries and illnesses
probably would have gone unnoticed right away. So I say everyone who has a horse must also be their advocate and protector. Having our herd at home is also great for our relationship with them, they are so much more relaxed and happy and even more spoiled than they were before, if that is possible.

Gypsy at Heart said...

Victoria, what a lovely post. It was wonderful to read about the insight you have gained for yourself and for your two friends. You know, I myself know someone who is similar to you in her love for her horses. I thought that I understood in part if not completely, what it is that has driven her day in day out to sacrifice for her mares in terms of time, money and self. So, it is quite strange that all of a sudden, through your words, I've finally managed to come the rest of the way. I really got it. I thank you for that.

Stampede Family Farm said...

I loved this story. It gives me hope with one of my horses. I have two. One acts like a big lap dog and loves attention the other is shy and doesn't care too much about being touched. I have had her here for 5 years and our relationship is better, but I would love for her to really trust me..... Maybe at the end of another 5 years, things will have improved more.