Horseplay: the dictionary on the shelf (Collins Concise) defines it as rough or rowdy play.
And enough has been written about herd dynamics and equine interaction for us to know that horses haven’t a notion of politeness and etiquette when it comes to spelling out their intentions towards each other. Their range of emoticons would be a brilliant addition to horse related blogs……
Can you imagine ears pinned << maybe, or ears pricked ^^!
Swish tail )~ or alarm )°°° (think about it!)
In domesticating and socialising animals we deny them the use of certain natural expressions towards us. Fair enough. In return for bed and board the landlord or lady can lay down acceptable rules of behaviour. One shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds, literally. But we humans can feel ambivalent when dealing with the fallout of natural horse behaviour among themselves.
Last week, with fine weather in prospect and good going in my schooling area I was planning getting back to regular work with the Spaniard. But, wouldn’t you know it; bringing him in one evening I saw blood streaked down his cheek and a gash under one eye, which was swollen up like a boxer’s after a gruelling heavyweight bout. Definitely the horse equivalent of a black eye, which needed treatment with oral anti-inflammatory paste and hydrocortisone ointment. And rest. And dark glasses (or his fly mask) for protection. I was initially horrified, as it looked worse than it was. And, like any conscientious horse-owner I asked myself whether, somehow, it was all my fault, the worrier’s default position.
Our three horses are all geldings, but there is a fifteen year age gap between the two old boys and the Spaniard. When he arrived it was like chucking a firework through the pensioners’ letterbox. He wanted to play; he was cheeky, naughty, provocative; he was there to challenge the fusty status quo. Elder statesman Aly pleaded shortness of breath and tended to sidle behind the nearest tree, but the Pie, arthritic hips notwithstanding decided he was up for the challenge.
However it can get down and dirty and it’s not necessarily about dominance, which fluctuates, or food (though it was in this photo – tonight’s canteen queue) because all three are fed in their own loose boxes - and stay in overnight when it’s coldest - and there are plenty of small mesh haynets to keep them occupied in the daytime.
The horseplay looks like colts testing out their fighting mettle. And, dare I say it, there does seem to be a semi-sexual element in this mareless tribe. Pom will chivvy the Pie, nipping behind his knees or just above the hock, or there’s a lot of pawing, semi-rearing and feinting bites around the head. Generally, nobody’s the worse for wear, but teeth are sharp and collateral damage is an occasional by-product. And the Pie squeals like a piglet, as a warning, not when nipped. (The people living across the valley, if they can hear this, must think we are either wicked and cruel, or that we’ve taken to pig farming!)
I’d be really interested to hear the experiences of anyone else with sparring colts or geldings.
So …… a truth for a truth?
A year ago today I ended up in hospital with a compound fracture of my left tibia. (And just for the record, today I mounted, from the ground, not off a mounting block, for the first time since – just to see if I could!) I had only just begun blogging, and whilst being grounded gave me time to post and a tale to tell, I also started to find my way around the wonderful world of horse blogs, and have possibly learned more in the past year than in the previous ten, horse-wise.
Why? Because bloggers tell it like it is. They aren’t afraid to bemoan their accidents or confess their weaknesses. They share the things they’ve learned and look wryly upon the times when their horses have had the upper hand. And they genuinely seem to feel for each other. There is a sense of community, when you see the same names commenting and taking part and you get to know whose tastes coincide with your own and where their expertise or self-confessed lack of it lies. There’s a lovely sense of modesty, even among the trainers and professionals who pass on invaluable tips, but also tell you enough about their own lives to let you feel they are mere mortals too. And even better, with a wicked sense of humour.
I’ve always been an avid devourer of books and magazines, but only in this virtual community do I really read home truths – and it’s the only place where I can talk truthfully about my life with horses and feel – relatively – sure that someone else out there feels the same way too – so a big thank you to all of you for your candour. It’s been a hell of a year!
I used to add a theme tune for my posts and I can think of none better or more relevant now than Shawn Colvin’s “One Small Year”.