Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘horse behavior

Switching Sides

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When we go away for a weekend and have somebody else take care of the horses, we close gates to isolate the four horses into two groups of two. It makes things a little simpler at feeding time if each of the four can’t move around and switch feed pans with all of the others. They don’t always do that with us but the fact they suddenly do it one day without warning is part of what makes it a little less safe for an inexperienced handler.

When I got home yesterday afternoon, I opened up all the gates again and granted them free rein. It is interesting to watch how the two pairs quickly take advantage of the new access to the “other side.” They didn’t rush to take advantage of the ability to connect with each other without a fence between them. The first order of business was to walk over to each other’s paddock and breath the air there. In case it was any different.









Light had stepped out of frame by the time I snapped the shot on the right showing Mia grazing in the larger paddock. On the left, Mix and Swings wanted to be by the willow tree they haven’t had access to for a few days.

When I showed up with feed pans later, they duly took up their regular positions: Light and Mia on the left, Swings and Mix on the right.

Horses, dog, and cat all seemed happy, healthy, and glad to see me. Our sitter, Grace, takes good care of them. We are so lucky to have her covering for us when we want to get away.

Yes, for when we want to “switch sides” between home and the lake!



Written by johnwhays

August 16, 2022 at 6:00 am

Heartwarming Moment

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One of my favorite scenes to watch is when the four horses choose to make their way together out of the paddocks and into one of their two fields. The herd sauntered out into the hay field yesterday morning after they had finished their rations of feed and the scene warmed my heart.

We don’t know why they spend most of their days standing in the dusty gravel under the barn overhang, stomping flies off their legs and periodically munching on old, dry hay. That’s where we usually see them, which makes the times we spot them out on the grass more thrilling.

From the manure drops showing up in the fields, we know they must be doing some wandering at night so at least they are taking advantage of the open gates we provide. I really like that we can give them full autonomy most of the time. Just because they don’t move when I think they should doesn’t mean they aren’t fully satisfied with their accommodations.

The opinion of the vet who reviewed pictures of Mia’s wound is that it is not a problem and looks to be making progress in healing. That’s welcome news. One of the handlers from This Old Horse stopped by with a salve to apply around the outside of the sore to keep flies away.

It is very reassuring to have the rescue organization supporting the well-being of the horses. Relieves some of the pressure of being responsible for large animals which allows us to focus more of our attention on simply loving them up and giving them a good home.

It warms our hearts that we’ve been granted the opportunity to do that.



Written by johnwhays

August 3, 2022 at 6:00 am

Being Horses

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This morning I am feeling overwhelming awe over my opportunity to live in such a beautiful place and care for these four rescued thoroughbred mares. In a conscious effort to compartmentalize all the ills and angst-inducing news roiling our planet, I am focusing on the peace and tranquility of my immediate surroundings and soaking up the soul-nourishing thrill of it all.

Being home alone with our animals brings on plenty of opportunities for contemplation. Half of me is thinking about which of our unending projects I can tend to on my own –chainsaw use is not allowed when I am alone– and half is wallowing in the bliss of all the pleasantries of solitude.

Partial solitude, that is. Delilah frequently reminds me that I am not totally alone. She also influences which projects I choose to tackle and when because some tasks don’t lend themselves well to having a leashed dog along. I am extremely grateful for her patient tolerance of my extended lingering this morning after tending to the horses.

The completion of the morning routine at the barn is regularly the trigger for returning to the house to feed Delilah breakfast. That she would accept any delay in being fed is absolute generosity on her part.

While the horses were calmly consuming their morning feed servings today, I quietly made my way down to open the gates to the freshly cut hay field. I was dumping a wheelbarrow of manure onto the most active compost pile when the horses took advantage of the renewed opportunity to roam the front field. They were just making their way over the hill and out of sight when I returned to the barn.

Curious about what was drawing them to immediately head to the farthest reaches of the field, I convinced Delilah to walk away from the house toward the high spot in the driveway to see what the horses were doing down by the road.

They were munching on the grass along the fence line as if in a gesture to demonstrate that they could. It was as far from the barn as their confines allow. With Delilah’s generous patience providing me ample opportunity, I just stood and watched our herd of four gorgeous horses being horses. Mix turned first and began to make her way back up the rise in the big field.

She stood at the top for a moment and looked absolutely regal, then moved into a happy trot down to the gate into the paddocks. The other three walked along behind. They appeared to be reveling in the regained access to the full reaches of their current home.

It is such a rewarding honor to be able to give them as much autonomy as possible throughout each day.

Their happiness is contagious.



Written by johnwhays

July 3, 2022 at 10:21 am

Summer Progress

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The last few days have felt very much like classic summer days. I guess it is right on schedule as we now find ourselves in the Independence Day holiday weekend. Cyndie headed up to the lake with her mom yesterday and I stayed home to tend to our animals. We weren’t successful in securing coverage allowing us both to be away over the 4th of July weekend this year.

One classic sign of summer for us is the sight of our field converted into hay bales.

This year, Brad, who grazes cattle on our neighbor’s land, had his guy cut our hay field when cutting fields adjacent to us. A win-win for everyone as we wanted our field cut and hoped someone could use the hay, it was conveniently located for them to cut and bale, and it gives Brad a little more hay supply than he would have otherwise had.

Meanwhile, our horses have the back pasture for grazing. Yesterday evening, Delilah and I wandered out into the pasture to pull some weeds and the herd showed up to munch nearby.

The sound of the methodical biting of mouthfuls of grass as the horses torque their heads to break the blades and chew is a wonderful summer soundtrack backed up with songbirds, and the calls of frogs and crickets. It provides a soothing, meditative mood that nurtures my soul.

In contrast, serving up pans of manufactured nutritional feed pellets in the dry, dusty surface under the barn overhang can be a little irritating when things don’t go smoothly. I wish I didn’t so frequently find fault with the conditions as being either too wet and muddy or too dry and dusty. The days between those two states are way too few.

Since we allow the horses some autonomy –usually temporarily separating them into two groups of two– they are able to wander over and check out what the other horse was served, triggering a back and forth movement that foils the soothing sounds of contented munching we so enjoy.

Of the four horses, Light is the most prone to stepping into her feed pan, often tipping it rapidly and spilling the contents. In attempt to avoid them trying to eat the spillage out of the sand, which is not good for their gut, we have tried serving Light’s pan on a rubber mat.

I think we’re gonna need to use a bigger mat.



Written by johnwhays

July 2, 2022 at 9:58 am

Good Behavior

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I maintain a routine (imagine that) in the morning when I walk Delilah and then feed and clean up after the horses. On my own for the last four weeks, while Cyndie has been convalescing after her knee replacement surgery, the horses are showing recognition for my consistent way of doing things.

As Delilah and I round the bend of the back pasture into view of the horses, I always offer a soft verbal greeting to the horses. No matter where they happen to be standing when I make that turn, by the time I pass through the barn to grab the wheelbarrow and open the door under the overhang, Swings will be standing in the first spot by the door to greet me.

It’s a crapshoot whether the two chestnuts will be on “their side” or anywhere else at that point, often a function of wherever Mix has harassed them to be, but not always. This morning, Mia was right where she should be, opposite Swings. Mix was close enough to where she is served her feed pan. Light stood on the wrong side, about halfway down toward the waterer.

My first order of business is to clean up any manure piles located under the overhang. In the early days of this exercise, the horses demonstrated some impatience with my actions delaying the service of their morning feed. Now they remain wonderfully calm and wait politely for me to work at a leisurely pace to get the job done.

When I disappear back into the barn, they know what will come next. I return with filled feed pans. Today the distribution went flawlessly, which is not always the case. Too often, Light will upset the order by ignoring her feed pan and instead choosing to steal Swings’ pan, which triggers what I call the morning ballet.

Swings will switch to eat Mix’s; Mix will choose either of the chestnuts’ pans, which they theatrically abandon. Mia will be the odd mare out and Light will go find a different pan.

When I am able, I put gates between them, isolating the chestnuts. That calms things significantly. It is only when one or both of the chestnuts stay on the wrong side that I am unable to take advantage of using the gates.

Today, as I placed the pan for Swings and then walked over to place Mix’s, I saw Light stroll downhill around the waterer and come up on the correct side to allow me to close the gates and give her and Mia their pans in the usual locations. All four stayed in place and munched away peacefully.

When Light chooses to play along with my intentions, everyone benefits.



Written by johnwhays

May 21, 2022 at 9:26 am

Uncharacteristic Behavior

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Yesterday was a soaking wet rainy day. A good day to nap, which Cyndie did a lot and I did a little. As time passed, I witnessed the progress of Cyndie getting control of the pain that had the better of her the day before. In a prudent attempt to start with the lowest dose of pain medications after the initial anesthesia fully wore off, she ended up getting behind the level of pain the procedure caused.

Subsequently increasing the dosages takes time to ultimately catch up to a desired level of relief. However, once that point is reached, it is possible to move back to the lower dose at precise intervals to maintain the desired pain control. That relief allowed Cyndie more and longer periods of beneficial rest.

Meanwhile, the cold rain presented the horses with their own challenge. I had left the two paddocks open to each other which historically led to Mia and Light being pushed out from under their preferred overhang by Mix. When we separate pairs by closing gates, the two chestnuts have their own side to seek cover without being harassed.

As Delilah and I came upon the horses yesterday afternoon, we found all four horses squeezed under the overhang on one side. With the promise of food about to be served, I knew the congeniality under the one side wouldn’t last. What I didn’t expect was that an odd pairing of mares would happen while I was inside filling the feed pans.

Swings had uncharacteristically moved to the north side and had paired with Light. That left Mix paired with Mia on the south side; the two least expected to get along. I decided to do away with convention and set out feed pans in random order in the spots they had chosen.

For a while, as I cleaned up manure around them and refilled nets with hay, they all munched calmly in those positions. As I was pondering the novelty, it occurred to me that I should take a picture. Before I was able, they rearranged themselves back to the usual positions.

With the chestnuts back together on the north side, I closed all the gates for the duration of the rainy weather.

Just to finish off the oddities of the experience, as I was completing my tasks and preparing to head back up to the house with Delilah, I noticed Light was making things difficult for Mia and she kept retreating back out into the rain. I don’t know what leads to these periods of orneriness every so often but from what I’ve witnessed over time, the horses tend to get over whatever it is that’s bugging them a lot quicker than humans do.

Maybe they were just irritable because they didn’t like being cold and wet. I can’t blame them for that.

I’m choosing to cling to the memory of the brief moment in time when all four of them appeared to be getting along just fine squeezed together under one side of the overhang.



Written by johnwhays

April 21, 2022 at 6:00 am

Synchronized Sleeping

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Our herd of four like to pair up in twos and yesterday at their mid-morning nap time they looked downright synchronized.

Mix and Swings have their snouts on the ground while they are sawing zzzzzs and Light and Mia are about as side by side as possible pretending that they are not nodding off during their shift on watch.

During the afternoon feeding, Cyndie took advantage of the food distraction to detangle a snarled dreadlock in Mix’s tail that was never going to come out naturally. Mix seemed to understand what was going on back there and gladly tolerated the activity.

I have no idea how wild horses must deal with this kind of thing.

In ever so small steps, the horses are showing hints of developing the beginnings of a possible bond with us. If I could hedge that statement any more, I would. I’m not sure that it is any more them adjusting to us or the other way around.

Yesterday morning, they were almost perfectly matching our intentional routine without a fuss until Mix made one slight gesture toward Light and Light accidentally smacked her neck against the corner of a fence post in her frantic attempt to instantly exit stage right.

Think of how you feel when you stub your toe in a major way and that will inform you of how Light looked in the ensuing seconds.

She stood on three feet while flexing her front right leg for long enough I began to wonder if there was a bigger problem than just stinging pain. Then she set it back on the ground and shook her head like she was trying to get out cobwebs. She repeated both actions one time, in shorter intervals and then seemed to be over the worst of it.

I looked at the fence post and found a surprising tuft of her hair lodged on the corner. My gosh, that must have hurt. Checking her neck, the spot of impact was obvious but hadn’t broken her skin. It looked a lot like the places on their butts where they get bitten by each other.

Makes me think about how much those nips must hurt. That explains why they react so frantically to get the heck away when aggressors pin back their ears. Keeping their butts just out of reach of a biting threat is a high priority born of experience.

Next thing you know, they are napping together peacefully.

Thunderstorms and sunshine.

War and peace.

Do we really need the first in order to appreciate the second?

I could do without the warring part of the equation, thank you very much.



Written by johnwhays

April 2, 2022 at 7:28 am

Ridiculous Reality

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Reality can be downright absurd. Still, we take what we get and forge ahead because reality doesn’t go away no matter how much we sometimes pretend things are otherwise. Regardless of how many distractions we find to escape into fantasy, reality is always there, waiting for us to return.

Our reality this morning at Wintervale is a rock-hard freeze of 13°F (-10°C), locking the mishmash of mud in the paddocks into an almost unnavigable pockmarked surface. Too bad that didn’t prevent the two chestnuts, Mia and Light, from almost running me over in a panicked retreat from the aggressive posturing of Mix. She has an annoyingly consistent need to disrupt the bucolic serenity by encroaching on the feeding space of Mia and Light.

At least we were able to enjoy a quick return to calm after forcing Mix back to where we could close some gates and allow better-protected feed pan grazing to resume.

The clear blue sky and bright sunshine are beautiful, but the ridiculous winter temperature at this point of our early spring is a bit of a slap in our faces.

On a stroll yesterday afternoon we took a moment to cut some branches with a handsaw in completion of a mid-way walking route through our woods. We added the first half of this shortcut path last fall and have enjoyed walking it so much we were inspired to complete the last portion. It will be nice to have the route adequately established before all the greenery explodes that would otherwise obscure it.

When we reached the clearing of our perimeter trail, I took a moment to re-stack a couple columns of balanced rocks that winter toppled.

How long do you think it will be until those views turn green again?

It’s gonna take a lot warmer temperatures than we are enduring lately, I know that much. A few warm days in a row and green growth will start showing up everywhere.

It hasn’t arrived yet, but we can see the month of April from where we are standing. It makes it all the more ridiculous that it feels like January today.



Written by johnwhays

March 27, 2022 at 10:19 am

Spring Cleaned

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It is with much pride I can report the paddocks are now cleaned of the winter’s-worth accumulation of manure. It only took two and a half wheelbarrow loads. Loads that I will point out were much heavier than usual due to the highly saturated wetness of the droppings.

On top of that, movement of the multiple heavy loads was made particularly more difficult by the soft, slippery, muddy paddock surface highly pockmarked by water-filled hoof divots.

Therefore, my pride over the ignoble accomplishment. It was no easy feat, but that contributes all the more reward to having this spring cleaning job done.

I started while the horses were eating and when Mia finished she came out to join me. For some reason, it is not uncommon for one or another of the horses to take an interest in the wheelbarrow when I am plying my collection skills. It was as if Mia was standing guard while I ventured off in every direction to pick up piles.

It wasn’t until I decided to pause and take a picture of her that I noticed the other three horses had gathered at the waterer in what looked like a meeting of their minds. None of the three showed any urge to drink. They just stood in place for the longest time, facing each other.

As I resumed my spring paddock cleaning, I could hear Mia making contact with the wheelbarrow with her legs. One might assume she was rubbing against the object to scratch an itch except that there was little in the way of rubbing. She would push up against it and then stand stationary until deciding to adjust her position a little and push against it again and just stand.

Eventually, since there was a lot of old, wet manure and I work rather slowly, Mia began to get sleepy.

The ambient outdoor sounds and my methodical plodding/squishing to and fro, frequently tapping the fork against the edge of the wheelbarrow to release the messes I picked up, became a white noise that seemed to lull the horses into drowsiness. The other three were still standing together at the waterer, looking equally sleepy.

My stopping to take another picture of Mia as her eyes drooped broke the spell. By not continuing to walk around and periodically tap the wheelbarrow, I changed the routine sound of their white noise. Mia noticed instantly.

It was as if she was looking at me to convey, “Why did you stop and become quiet?”

Maybe she didn’t want me taking a picture of her muddy appearance with her eyes half-closed.

Yesterday afternoon, when I was cleaning up the day’s new manure, I discovered the next challenge for the wet weeks ahead will be differentiating between new manure piles and mud pushed up by a heavy hoof.

Keeping paddocks pristine is definitely an imperfect science.



First Bite

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For the first time in my life, I have finally been bitten by a horse. It’s not an occasion people generally keep track of, unless they spend a fair amount of time around horses, I suppose. I have only been around horses for 5 or 6 years.

Our Thoroughbred mare, Mix bit me in the middle of my back yesterday morning. I yelped and cursed and all the horses startled. The other three didn’t know what had happened, but Mix knew. Cyndie responded by making sure Mix knew we were not accepting such behavior. She used her amped up energy and a boundary extension stick to move Mix to and fro around the paddock until the mare finally showed some sign of acquiescence by dropping her head.

In talking it over when we got back in the house, I came up with a possible theory for her behavior.

When the horses first arrived here, Mix, more than the other horses, showed aggressiveness around feeding times. It mostly manifests in her demonstrative body language, taking on stallion-like behaviors of pawing and snaking her neck. She might also chase away or attempt to bite the butts of other horses around her. When we bring out her pan of food, she doesn’t tend to act aggressively toward us.

Lately, when Cyndie or I move around her to scoop poop or hang hay nets while she is gobbling from her feed pan, Mix will sharply swish her tail or pin her ears back and swing her head in our direction to flaunt her command over her food. We have been verbally responding with our disapproval and carrying on with our task at hand to show her she does not direct our activity.

Yesterday, while she was eating and after I completed my scooping, I stood in her vicinity even though I wasn’t working anymore, thinking I might condition her to my unthreatening presence when she has food. When she gestured her displeasure, I calmly held my ground.

This lasted maybe a minute before I moved on to something else. The four horses were finishing the last of the pellets in their feed pans and basically chilling. Maybe moseying down to get a drink or nuzzle a hay net with half interest. I came out to tie up one of the last hay bags. Mix approached and nosed the bag, then lifted her head to inhale the scent of my breath. I tossed the bag over the fence and was tying it to the top board, losing sight of Mix as she moved behind me.

Bam! I felt a wicked pinch on my back and let out a shout. Was she maybe responding to my earlier posturing in her space while she had been eating? It wouldn’t surprise me.

Good thing I was wearing my “space suit” and escaped with nothing more than a tender bruise beneath all the layers.

By the afternoon, we were very pleased to see Mix remained pleasant as I was making two passes around her with the wheelbarrow while she was still eating. We are taking that as a good sign she received the message we were sending earlier that morning.



Written by johnwhays

February 10, 2022 at 7:00 am