Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘horse behavior

Moody Mares

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Our retired Thoroughbred mares have not presented regular behavioral signs of estrous but there have been occasions when it has happened. This week, I noticed Mix was showing evidence she was feeling it. Yesterday, it became obvious that Light is synchronizing with Mix. The horses can become less predictable and behave aggressively so we need to pay extra attention around them when their hormones are raging.

I was observing from the barn when the two of them demonstrated some of the angst they were feeling.

They were calm one second and then squealing and kicking the next.

Mix kicking up her heels…

Light responding in kind.

Mia was nearby but wasn’t the least bit perturbed by the shenanigans Mix and Light were up to. After two more episodes of flailing hooves, the herd quietly and methodically made their way out into the hay field as if nothing had happened and settled into some grazing.

Me thinks I will remain on elevated levels of awareness for the next few days or more. As long as they continue to direct their aggression toward each other and not at me, I’ll be happy to continue tending to the daily housekeeping under the overhang.

I must admit, it’s kind of fun to see domesticated animals demonstrate a little of their wild side every once in a while.



Written by johnwhays

June 2, 2023 at 6:00 am

Having Enough

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The spring growth of grass has already become more than the horses can keep up with in their never-ending urge to graze. Those days when we need to confine them to the paddocks are hard to watch as they crane their necks reaching under the wood fence for any morsels of new growth. They could never get enough. Since the gates to the fields have been open for a couple of weeks, they now have more than enough.

The nutrition feed we serve, which they compete with each other to gobble up all winter, suddenly holds less value. The first time I arrived to pick up the pans and found them still holding food was a big surprise.

The other day, the two chestnuts were so exhausted after eating only half of the serving of feed in their pans, they walked down the slope and laid down for a rest.

That’s the first time I’ve ever seen them leave food for a nap.

It was just a short rest and then they were up to wander out into the field for green grass again.

I figured out a way to work around the problem of the ground being too wet to mow yesterday by cranking up the power trimmer and cleaning up around the edges. That always makes the place look like someone actually lives here instead of the barn and hay shed looking like abandoned buildings.

Cyndie’s mom came for an overnight visit for Mother’s Day weekend and we dined out last night at our local supper club restaurant, Shady Grove, before settling in at home to watch the new Michael J. Fox documentary, “Still.” He is one tough guy who is still funny despite the difficulties he has lived through.

This morning, our kids are coming over to continue the Mother’s Day festivities with a waffle brunch.

What a rich blessing of a loving family and more than enough food. I am holding all the moms I know in my thoughts this weekend, sending love to you and the families you raised.

Love. Here’s hoping everyone is having enough.




Written by johnwhays

May 13, 2023 at 9:31 am

Getting Excited

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Straight out of the “fake it ’till you make it” playbook, I am pretending to be excited about how nice the weather will be once the weather stops being so dang crappy. Cold, wet, & windy are not my favorite conditions to be doing anything outside in April. Cold that hovers so close to the freezing point that some materials turn solid while the rest just get slippery, muddy, or miserably anything-but-frozen, is a surefire recipe for grumpy.

Not that I am getting grumpy. No, not at all [humph!]. I’m really excited! Just because the horses are acting all grumpy over the conditions this week doesn’t mean I’ve been influenced to the point of wanting to yell at Mix for being such an a**hole unkind member of the herd.

Was that suspiciously specific?

I mean, who runs other horses off and then comes back, turns herself around, and poops where the food was served? Who would do such a thing?


After she kicks the fence separating her from Light.

We ended up splitting the herd in two in hopes of reducing intra-herd shenanigans that tend to leave one horse [read: Mia] out in the rain. I think the separation made Mix grumpier because it left only one horse as a target for her grumpiness. She and Light began to have their own little spat from either side of the fence between paddocks.

I’m getting excited for the day when they all mellow out because it is warm and dry again. Honestly, I’m finding it a struggle to remember that it reached 80°F for a few days last week. Seems like so long ago now.

The tiny wildflower blossoms are probably thinking the same thing.

Those blossoms are few and far between so I guess the majority of growing things didn’t fall for that unusual burst of warmth that came and went like a mystic dream. I’m nurturing my ongoing excitement for the real warmup of the season that will allow for vigorous raking of our grass areas around the house.

Opportunities to play with my new mower won’t be far beyond that.





Written by johnwhays

April 20, 2023 at 6:00 am

Not Money

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For several days in a row this week, we were able to give the horses more attention than they have gotten from us in a long time. I think Cyndie’s increasing mobility has paid off for our horses in boosting morale. They have never given us any indication that they like to be brushed. Actually, just the opposite, but after Swings finally reacted with such whole-body acceptance to Cyndie working her mane the other day, we have fresh hope that we can teach them all this same appreciation.

Yesterday, we did some bale-twine braiding while the herd munched a noontime snack. We figure it will help them accept our plan to wrap posts and hang braided strands if they’ve watched us making them. I am so happy to have discovered this simple reuse option for the polypropylene twine since I didn’t come up with a local recycler that collects used bale twine. Keeps it out of the waste stream for a while longer at the very least.

While I was noticing the horses looking so happy to be watching us, I was reminded again that this retired phase of their lives is the first time their existence wasn’t related to making money. The reason they were born was that people wanted to make money off of them. The reason they were trained to race was money driven. After their racing days ended, all four mares were repeatedly bred in hopes their foals would become money-makers.

We don’t know for certain but based on the horse’s behavior, we imagine the grooming they received previously could have been rather business-like as opposed to focusing on the emotional needs and desires of the animal.

I don’t mean to imply that the treatment they are receiving from us isn’t rainbows and lollipops all the time. I wrote yesterday about working on disciplining their bad behavior. We have also recently taken the annual step of closing off access to the pastures. Mia so sweetly showed up at a gate Cyndie had just closed and forlornly gazed out at the field as if to ask for a pass.

Sorry, no can do.

At this point, it’s for the good of the grass. We need the turf to firm up a bit and the grass to grow at least six inches so the field will become robust enough to support the pressure of four heavy and hungry beasts.

So, we are giving the horses a dose of our own “This is for your own good whether you like it or not.” The difference is that our decisions aren’t based on making money off them. I would like to believe they can sense the distinction.



Next Level

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For the second day in a row, Cyndie has been able to spend some quality time with the horses. Wednesday involved some impromptu efforts to detangle knotted manes which then paved the way for more thorough grooming of all four mares yesterday. Cyndie said that Swings was getting lulled to sleep by the soothing effect of being completely combed out.

We discussed a shared realization that the horses would do well to be given a dose of training to reestablish proper respect for our presence in their proximity. I have not done more than a bare minimum of discipline in the months since Cyndie broke her ankle and I took on the role of primary person tending to the herd. They each have a tendency to behave disrespectfully on occasion and Light, in particular, has reared up in front of us several times which is not safe.

They have had more than enough time to adapt to this place as their home and us as their handlers. Since they are beginning to show some signs of undesirable behavior, we want to move to the next level of interacting with them. By “we,” I mean, Cyndie. She is much more experienced than I am in doing groundwork exercises with horses. My expertise has more to do with filling wheelbarrows.

Cyndie’s mobility is improving every day but is not quite where she needs to be yet for being quick on her feet and dancing with 1200 pounds of horse. While I was working on cleaning up the winter accumulation in the large paddock yesterday, I saw Cyndie trying to correct Light’s behavior while hardly taking a step. Light wasn’t displaying much sign of feeling intimidated.

Yesterday, we also decided it was time to protect the pastures from the horses while the new grass was trying to sprout. They have really been interested in spending time in the back pasture lately and when I finally closed the gate that was their access to it, they did not seem happy with me.

Luckily, they are willing to nibble any grass that tries to grow inside the paddocks. They were all grazing in there in the afternoon before I closed the pasture gate.

When I came down to serve dinner, they were all busy on the far side of the pasture. They showed up promptly when I set out pans of feed, which then kept them occupied while I walked over and closed the gate.

It was the second day in a row of record-breaking heat and it was again accompanied by a dramatic gusting spring wind that triggered a fire risk warning. Apparently, that all ends today. The weekend is expected to involve much cooler temps and chances of slushy precipitation. I’ve apologized to the horses in advance that their thick winter fur has been brushed loose and carried off on the wind.

As tough as this hot weather has been to deal with so soon, a return to snowy precipitation is not the next level we were hoping to experience.



Written by johnwhays

April 14, 2023 at 6:00 am

Taking Advantage

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Unlike my usual mode of operation where I dig into a big project that commands the bulk of my day, I set about trying to touch as many little tasks as possible to take advantage of this quick dose of summer-like weather that has shown up. We hit 80°F yesterday!

One technique I employed was to simply jump on whatever popped into view and do a minimum amount of work to achieve satisfactory progress.

The easiest of these is continuing to pick up a winters-worth of fallen branches wherever I turn. I tidied up the barn a bit since it was delivery day for bags of feed. That triggered the moving of Cyndie’s treasured picnic table made from a repurposed door out to her chosen location beneath a giant old tree in the woods by the house –kicking away fallen branches as I went.

I was eager to clean out the flattened ornamental tall grass by the shop garage. Nothing fancy here. I kicked my perfectionistic desires aside and focused on the intention of making short work of it.









I made a point of getting the horse water fountain cleaned while the herd was out grazing new sprouting blades of grass in the back pasture. Of course, they eventually noticed I was up to something and came running in to check on me. I hustled to replace the stopper so the pans would start filling with water. Light didn’t wait and poked her nose in to drink before I was able to get the cover on that muffles the loud spraying from the water valve.

Then she circled back to get in proper order behind Swings, who politely waited until I had collected my things and headed up to the barn. All four of them looked rather cute lined up nose-to-tail to take turns at the waterer.

The best way to take advantage of a summery day in April is to go for a bike ride, so that was something I intended to fit in with as little extra effort as possible. Having an E-bike made this much easier for me. Gliding along with an electric assist made my first ride of the season on the local hills more of a pleasure cruise than a strenuous workout.

Keeping it short and sweet got me back home in time to feed the horses their evening rations.

Even though it feels like summer, there is still snow to be melted. The pile of snow that slid off the hay shed lands on the shady side of the structure. It might be the last snow to exist on our property this year.

My last task of the day was to do a little light housekeeping so Cyndie wouldn’t return to a complete disaster. It’s only been a week but I feel like I will need to adjust to having a housemate again. I’ve enjoyed being able to leave my things laying around without having them be in someone else’s way.



Written by johnwhays

April 12, 2023 at 6:00 am

Temporary Fix

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Sometimes a girl just wants a little alone time. I don’t blame her one bit. Poor Mia holds the dubious position of being last in the herd hierarchy and frequently gets told she is not allowed to stand where she happens to be at a given moment. Constant admonishment has got to get old. I find it annoying to watch.

It makes Mia the jumpiest of the four horses. Yesterday, I spotted her laying down for a mid-morning nap all by herself way out in the front field.

The situation stood out to me because, for a horse, that vulnerability of laying down to sleep usually relies on another member of the herd watching over them. I suppose Mia had just gotten fed up with the rest of the herd and needed a little extra space.

When I got close enough to see around the barn I was relieved to find the herd wasn’t entirely neglecting to keep an eye out for one of their own.

Light was standing guard, just from a distance this time.

I always feel a little bad about interrupting a napping horse and paused for a moment, on my way to put a splint on the broken post, taking pictures while contemplating whether or not to proceed. I hadn’t even finished that pause when I saw the initial movements of the way a horse gets up off the ground. Mia’s nap had ended.

Did she feel the energy of my arrival? It wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

It isn’t pretty, and I doubt it will withstand any additional assault from the weight of a horse, but I’m thoroughly satisfied with the temporary fix of the post that Swings ran into at the gate opening.

I had grabbed the first two saved sections of 2×4 I saw leaning on a wall of the shop before hiking down to the scene of the damage. This band-aid will suffice for now. Being that it is located well out of view from most vantage points, there is a high likelihood I will let this crude “temporary” repair remain in place until a new reason triggers a need to replace it entirely. I’m in no hurry to go through the effort of unscrewing all the boards and pulling up the bottom half of the broken post to install a whole new one.

Temporary is a relative measurement, isn’t it?



Written by johnwhays

April 8, 2023 at 9:08 am

My Reality

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Each day when I describe details of my experiences it is a function of a basic tenet of writing: write what you know. One thing I know about is the perceptions I have of the activities of my days. Yesterday, I turned my back on the NCAA Women’s national championship game when it became obvious to me that Iowa would not beat LSU and I went out to tend to the horses.

A glance at the reading from our outdoor thermometer surprised me with the number 51. Looking for a second source, I opened a weather app to see what it offered for a current temperature. The reading from Red Wing, MN –twenty miles to our south– was 57°F! I did not expect this level of warming yesterday. The new snow remaining on the ground from the blizzard Friday night was quickly being transformed into water. Our drainage ditches were flowing like rivers.

I have no idea how this fits into the entanglement of the quantum mechanics of our physical world, but I do know that this quick melt significantly increased the level of mud in the paddocks. At the same time, I cannot describe how I occasionally get a sense of someone in Nepal practicing an endless recitation of the mantra “om mani padme hum” as I breathe our air and take meandering steps half a planet away.

The horses were giving me the impression of being spectacularly patient about the slow melt we’ve been having this spring while they were also slipping into behaviors of being annoyingly impatient about getting served pans of feed after I showed up. The impatience is easily soothed by the arrival of their food and the quartet of munching sounds conveys a new meditative peacefulness that I gladly absorb.

It is April and there is a reason to think we might be gardening soon. Does this image look like our garden is eager to get going?:

I’m trying to absorb some of the horses’ patience about the uneven transition from the snow season to our growing season.




Written by johnwhays

April 3, 2023 at 6:00 am

Getting Bugged

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March weekends are spectator sport-acular and the past two days didn’t disappoint. It’s primarily college hockey and basketball competing for my attention as both sports are heading into their final four tournament games next weekend. Between the many men’s and women’s games, I snuck in portions of a Minnesota Wild NHL victory, MSL Loons match, and even a half-inning of MLB Twins grapefruit league game.

I LOVE seeing athletic endeavors. My basketball skills were learned in grade school and I played in the neighborhood, on intramural teams in high school, and in pickup games after hours with co-workers. I was a terrible shooter and generally too short to be effective but I knew how to dribble back in the days when officials would call palming violations.

It bugs me to watch poor dribbling discipline allowed to happen unchecked. Carrying the ball, letting it bounce over shoulder height, turning the hand over like it doesn’t matter. It matters to me. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter to referees anymore.

I hate to be a whiner about horses getting frisky over the increasing hours of higher-angle sunlight but it bugs me when they get unpredictably jumpy and put my well-being at risk. I had a lapse of good judgment for a moment and tried standing my ground against Light as she wanted to run out from beneath the overhang because Mix was flexing her dominance. Thankfully, Light paused just long enough for me to come to my senses and get out of her way to let her pass.

I think I startled her by staying put and leaning into her chest. She stopped for a surprised second, allowing me to realize the mistake I was making. I would have felt awful if that had enabled Mix to give Light a bite in the butt. In this case, Mix was just telegraphing her disrespect toward Light’s direction with pinned ears and a feigned step.

Another thing that bugs me is box elder bugs.

Really? That is the sign of spring that greeted me as the sun warmed the south side of the barn yesterday? No thank you.

I’m going to stay focused on the calls of the robins that have returned to the branches of our trees. They don’t bug me at all.



Mud Nap

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The benefits of mud have been manifest in facials and baths but I bet not many have considered the wonder of a mud nap. When mud is pretty much all you have on a sunny spring afternoon, why not? Mia chose to do just that while I was nearby, scrubbing away to clean out the green slime growing in the waterer. I was aware she had dropped down on the muddy slope behind me while I was struggling to reach every complex nook and cranny –corners were actually becoming more black than green– but I didn’t give her more than a quick glance.

Mia got my full attention when I heard her start to snore. That is evidence of a good equine nap. She was resting her snout in the mud, which lets her drop into a deep sleep without laying all the way over with her cheek on the ground. Maybe that would be a bit too much mud for her.

I pulled out my camera, hoping to capture the sound of her snores in a video but as soon as I started recording, Light stumbled because she was falling asleep without locking her legs, and that woke Mia. The focus of my attention shifted to Light, as she seemed to be fighting an epic battle to NOT lie down to sleep.

Maybe she had accepted the role of staying on her feet while Mia sought the few moments of deep sleep but didn’t realize how mesmerizing the quiet March sunshine was that hour. Her knees buckled multiple times. She took a step back. She stomped a front leg on the ground. She was not going to lie down.

The reason I have decided to not upload the video is that it is seven minutes long with periods of not much happening. It looks more like a picture than a video.

When Light finally brought herself under control, I turned my attention back to Mia, hoping she would drop back into that deep level of slumber that produced the snore. That didn’t happen but the nuances of her adjustment and readjustment of her nose resting on the muddy ground were interesting to watch on a micro level. Then she nickered.

That was definitely not a snore. I think she was dreaming. Probably because the mud made for such a wonderful surface on which to sleep.

It always interests me that the horses get drowsy while I am making a racket nearby. Plowing around the barn with the ATV often results in horses napping. As I clattered with the waterer and triggered the loud sounds of water jetting onto the metal pans, they were getting sleepy. Then I stopped for seven minutes and there was barely a bird chirp or a distant bark from a dog.

Suddenly I became self-conscious about making any sound for fear I would now disrupt their peace.

I gathered my bucket of cleaning tools and tiptoed through the muck back up to the barn so they could continue in nap mode uninterrupted.




Written by johnwhays

March 25, 2023 at 10:40 am