Thursday, January 22, 2009

Let the Horse Be the Judge

Here's another horse thought I've been pondering: Are horses' reactions to individual persons based upon their own instinct or their handler's reactions to the person? For instance, I can be riding around when my favorite neighbor approaches me for a conversation, and my horse calmly stops and stands while we talk. However, when my least favorite neighbors come out of their house, my horses instantly go on alert and then either fight or flee.

One day I was out cleaning the paddock when my least favorite neighbor came out to "walk her dog" -- (Translation: Spy on me and eavesdrop). I think she thought I was going to clean the stalls, and so she began to head for the back of my barn where she could get to her favorite surveillance position. All three horses were on edge watching her. As soon as they saw her turn toward the barn, a gang fight broke out. All three horses began biting, kicking, and rearing at each other. I hollered, "QUIT!" and they scattered in different directions.

My neighbor must have thought I was yelling at her, or at least she realized that her presence was causing discord among the herd, so she quickly turned on her heel and headed up the street away from my barn in the opposite direction, which happens to be a dead end, so she couldn't "walk her dog" very far. She ended up standing her dog off in the distance while watching me.

My first thought was that the horses were reacting to my irritation that once again my neighbor was getting into my business and interfering with my horsey time. However, then I wondered if she had been feeding my horses without my permission since they only tend to fight over food. Yet I'd never seen her feed them, and she has plenty of horses being boarded on her own property to feed. Then I began contemplating that the horses simply don't like her because they understand her motives -- (something I have yet to decipher myself).

Then one morning I was getting the horses out of their stalls while this woman's husband and another man were moving among all their dozen or so vehicles piled up against my horses' fence, trying to start the engines. Of course, all the engines or batteries were dead because nobody has driven these vehicles in years. (As a side note, I find it interesting that they decided to move all those trucks the day after my husband said very loudly, "You mean you don't want to get all those ugly, crappy vehicles in the background of your pictures?" I told him they weren't home to hear him, since having them overhear him was his intention, but now I have to wonder if perhaps one of them was lurking around listening in.)

With these men so close to my horses' fence, Gabbrielle was on alert and spooking more than I've ever seen from her before. Bombay was cowering as far away from them as possible. Lostine had to move past them in order to get to her hay, and she refused. The poor horse would prefer not to eat over having to be near those men doing strange things to those trucks.

She'd get so far and then stand there all puffed up and snorting at these men who were stepping in and out of the driver's seats of vehicles, slamming doors, and making clicking noises under the hoods (all at 8:00 in the morning, of course). (The activity level outside of their house always spikes right around sunrise and sunset when they know I'll be out working with my horses. I guess they just can't resist watching me while they do disruptive things to distract my horses from the task at hand -- or task at hoof.) I walked up to Lostine and said, "Come on." Only then with me beside her would she walk past them to get to her hay.

When we went out trail riding, Lostine didn't have any problems passing people on the trail, so I'm beginning to think that horses view people as friends or foe based upon the character traits they detect in each person. Either that or these neighbors have been doing something to my horses to freak them out. I have never witnessed such a thing, but my office is on the opposite side of the house from the horses. It's not like I can watch them through the window all day. I do often find rocks in my horse paddock that weren't there before and wonder if someone has been throwing rocks at my horses. However, the horses could have just as easily dug those rocks up out of the ground with their hooves, so who knows?

These neighbors have lived in their house for 2 to 3 years now, so you'd think the horses would be used to them and their habits. They are always slamming doors. It sounds like a gunshot when they do it, so for the first year or so after they moved in, my horses were spooking and bolting all over the place. Now they just go on alert and watch the people. If they come near the horses, that's when the horses go nuts.

One of these neighbors' favorite tricks to spy on me is to come outside and pretend like they are looking for something in their vehicles. They go from door to door to trunk to door of all 12 or so of their vehicles, opening and slamming, opening and slamming. If I'm outside for an hour, they search those vehicles for an hour. Sometimes they even drive down the street, pull into my driveway, and get out to open and slam every frickin' door in their attempt to "find" whatever it is they lost. Of course, it's all just a ruse to get a closer look at what I'm doing while trying to pretend like they are busy minding their own business. Yeah, right. I can unload a week's worth of groceries in two minutes flat, folks. I'm not sure why it takes them hours to empty their trunk every time I'm outside trying to spend quality time with my horses.

Another case in point: I walked outside to clean the paddock and noticed that the horses seemed happy. They were "up" and prancing between me and the fence looking at something in my neighbor's yard. I walked over to investigate and found my farrier trimming my neighbor's boarder's horse's hooves (that's a mouthful). My farrier truly cares about horses and my horses know that, so they are always happy to see him. No one else was around but him working with the horses, so my horses had no qualms with getting right up to the fence near the very same trucks that the men were working on. So, it's not all the junky vehicles that strike fear or joy into the hearts of my horses, but the person who is nearby.

What do you think? Can horses judge the characters of humans based on split-second impressions or perhaps by picking up on their intentions? Should single women bring the men they are dating to a horse for a second opinion? If the horse approves, maybe they can bring the future mother-in-law to meet the horse as well. Better yet, if the house next door is up for sale, watch your horse's reaction to the potential buyers who visit the house. If the horse reacts poorly, tell those potential buyers that the house is teeming with mold thanks to all those leaks in the roof, and that the lady who lived there before had 50 cats and used the master bedroom as one huge litter box. Then you'll get a chance to see the human flight instinct kick in. I wish I had thought of that years ago.


Leah Fry said...

I'm not even going to pretend I know. I know that for the most part, Jaz never met a stranger. Poco, on the other hand, is very wary of strangers, especially strange men. He doesn't particularly like kids either, but Jaz does.

fernvalley01 said...

I think it is some of both.I have a super sensitive gelding who doesn't typically like big loud men ,but a friend weho is a big robust guy (and a complete marshmellow) canme over and if I was in the pen Badger was all over him,when I stepped out Badge was a little less comfortable but not spooky.I have had some that appeared to be the quietest unflappable hores out there take one look at a person and zip GONE!
It seemns to make a difference with how I feel about the person, and with strangers I am often cautious.I justy rambled on and said nothing, hmm I was trying to say they are like us ,some of it is body language and some of it is just gut instinct . I would trust what they say . And dang lady your nieghbors are FREAKS!

manker said...

i'm not a horse whisperer but I am a thinker :) An example that comes up for me is also with farriers. Our farrier (who also shoes at my barn occasionally) has a great relationship with any and every horse. ANother farrier because of his aggressive attitude... is always getting into train wrecks with horses that are otherwise fine. Methinks horses sense this stuff
happy trails all

"Ice Pony Girl" said...

Horse survive by picking up on eacj other's vibes, why not humans?!

Grey Horse Matters said...

I tend to think it's a little of both, their human's reaction to a person can reflect in the horses attitude towards that same person.
Quick story:
We once boarded at a barn where the owners son was a horrible horse abuser (imo and every one else's). One day at a show my daughter was sitting on this horse(he was ours) and just hanging out in the schooling ring by the fence. This rotten kid came over and was standing in front of this horse with his back turned to them, out of nowhere this horse seemed to unhinge his jaws and was going to bite this kids head off. His friend saved him by pushing him out of the way. Mind you my daughter didn't like this guy, but she was just sitting there not paying attention and the horse took it upon himself to teach this jerk a lesson.
So it's up in the air if he took on my daughter's feelings or just didn't like him on his own. I might add that all the horses were afraid of this idiot.

Reddunappy said...

do you think they sit at the kitchen table just planning who is going out to watch you, eeuuwww, those people are creepy, and need a life.

I have one standoffish mare who just quietly doesnt show her opinion, one who probably wont care to stick around if the new person doesnt have a cookie, and one who thinks people are her special playtoys and I have to be careful introducing her to people.
LOL she takes my city cousins coat zipper in her teeth and zips it up and down, over and over LOL but that is the only person I have seen her do that with. Ya I think they do get vibes from us too.

Katharine Swan said...

IPG is right -- horses are experts at reading each other, so it makes sense that they'd be good at reading people, too.

For those who don't already know, we rescued my horse when he was 11 months old. For about 8 months he wouldn't stand still for a farrier -- he would fight like mad every time, to the point that for months no one could do this 400-pound baby's feet. But when he met the farrier we use now, he stood for all four feet -- a little nervous, but patient all the same.

He also took an instant dislike to my sister-in-law. So yeah, I'm convinced horses are good at figuring people out!

Breathe said...

I once gave up a cat for a man.

I miss that cat.

I think all animals are great judges of character (unless they've been abused, then they can't be rational... so to speak).

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Interesting ideas and ponderings, NM. I'm not sure, but it make sense. Horses can communicate with us telepathically I've been told, and because of a fw of my own personal experiences with my own horse, I tend to believe it, too.

I have to admit that you had me laughing right out loud, though. I don't know if you meant to be funny, but I love your sarcastic cynical humor. Just imaging seeing the faces of the humans that were told about the cats using the bedroom as a litter box just cracks me up.


Rising Rainbow said...

I think that horses can sense whether a person can be trusted or not. I also think you horses are trying to tell you something about your neighbors. The hard part will be figuring out what it is.....but I might suspect those rocks. If the horses were digging them up, there would be evidence of that.

lytha said...

another "make popcorn!" post by NuzMuz - i LOLd about door-to-door-to-trunk-to-door..

that is so sad that lostine would rather not eat than get near them!

do you have a laptop? can you work on that side of the house for a while? i'm curious if they really are throwing rocks.

~lytha, hiding from the hail, staying in!

Molly said...

This is a very thoughtful post. I think there is something to your insight.
Do you need some of us to come up and spy on those freaks for you? I'll go get Mrs. Mom and come. She doesn't take any prisoners.

deserthorses5 said...

My gelding, Sunni, doesn't like MEN! Period. My little black lab, Ripley, is VERY sensitive to my feelings and she will come and put her head in my lap when I'm upset. I suppose she would make a very good therapy dog. She seems to be "tuned in" to my emotions. Here's her blog:

Jackie said...

I think horses are very aware of our moods, intentions, smells, attitudes, presence. They can read our body language and I'm sure that we say a whole lot more with it than we could ever imagine. It's kinda like horses who can smell the vet a mile away, no matter how nice he is they know the shots are coming.

Your neighbors obviously don't have much sense; to constantly come into your horses' territory and be slamming doors and making a ruckus makes them intimidating. And I'm sure that your horses pick up on your tension when the neighbors do these things, too. Your tense reaction to them signals to the horses that they are people to be wary of. If you like the farrier, you won't tense up if he's next door, so they probably won't either.

Horses are so much more aware and intuitive than most people give them credit for.

Andrea said...

I think horses are really good at reading body language, and if your "sneaky" neighbors are doing just that, sneaking around, then the horses think something is up. I think some horses just don't care, they will go to anybody. But I also think Arabians are more intelligent than the average horse. So, maybe you should use your horses to find ya some new neighbors.

And those neighbors sure would get really annoying!!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Just to respond to a few comments...

Reddunappy - Your mare who zips and unzips jackets sounds like a character. Bombay is always looking for something to play with, and Gabbrielle usually sticks her muzzle to people's lips for a kiss. City folk don't appreciate seeing that dirty nose coming right at them, but I always make sure she gets her kisses. You can always wipe off the dirt, but you can't always fix a jilted horse.

Anyway, YES I do think the neighbors sit at their window and wait for me. It's not a coincidence that if they are home they always come out of their house and loiter nearby me within 30-seconds of me exiting my house. The rest of the day when I am indoors, if I look out the window, they are not out there. So, it's not like they just happen to hang out outdoors all day. They only come out when I am out or when they have somewhere to go. If they have somewhere to go and I am inside, they go straight to their car and leave. However, if they have somewhere to go and I am outside, they do that door-slamming dance until I go inside of my house, and then they drive off. If they drive home from somewhere and I am outside, they will park up against my fence to watch me instead of parking in their driveway. They'll just sit in their car and stare until I go inside. Then they move their car back to their driveway and go into their house.

Breathe - I'm sorry you gave up a cat for a man. I gave up one man for another man once, but that was a good trade off.

Lisa - Yes, that last paragraph was meant to be humorous. It's not far from the truth, though, because that house did have a lady living in it who had about 30 cats and she used the laundry room as a litter box. There was cat crap piled all the way up to the window sill.

Lytha - Right now my office laptop is connected to the network through cable, so I'd have to set up something wireless, but I have it on my list to do. I'm sure if I were out there they would spot me and behave themselves. However, they would also stare at me the entire time I was working.

Molly - LOL. Mrs. Mom is awesome. I'm sure she'd bring her gun. I definitely want to stay on her good side.

ranchette said...

Like dogs, I think horses are good judges of character. Also think that they read much more from subtle changes in body language than we'd ever imagine.

For the record, my husband did have to come out to "get approved" by my horse. I tried to impress him with the seriousness of our relationship by intoning quietly on the drive to the stable that none of the other boys had even gotten to come out to the stable before as I considered it sacred 'me' ground. He also swears that I said after the introduction something along the lines of "remember, I've known this horse longer than I've known you so you'll go down the road before he will."
Yup, I'm a charmer. :)

Suzie (Echo) said...

You could well be right - my horse is utterly indifferent to my boyfriend - I wonder what that says...!!

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