An Eye for an Eye and a Truth for a Truth

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”.

About cavaliereattitude

Englishwoman, transplanted to SW France in '86, blogging - with a large dose of humour and self-deprecation - about life with my husband and our horses, the never-ending renovation of an ancient and crumbly stone farmhouse and the attempt to carve a beautiful garden and productive pasture out of a woodland wilderness.........
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17 Responses to An Eye for an Eye and a Truth for a Truth

  1. This symbol )~ is totally recognizable as your spanish horse’s butt!!!
    And I agree about the horse blog community. So much to share. I notice I don’t see many trainers cross the line and share. I wish more would. We are all on the same trail ride after all.
    Hope that you are healed good as new and get some good saddle time this year.


    • Thanks Anna! Mm yep, I admit it, he’s a podge ….all the more reason for him, and me, to get back in shape.
      Keep writing as you do; it’s my guess the, maybe rare, trainers that write that well are the ones you would want to listen to in the arena as well!


  2. ptigris213 says:

    I liked the fear emoticon……I’ve seen that before!
    AS for the horseplay, this is very common amongst geldings. Look at the body language. Pom has his ears back, his nostrils pinched and his lips pursed. He’s a bit nonplussed, and his legs and body posture show that he’s ready to flee, not fight. I bet the fly mask has something to do with this. He seems more on the defensive. He’s saying, I’m no candy ass, don’t you mess with me…but he’s not got the hunyocks to back it up.
    Pie, though, is showing pure ‘offense’. Ears back, eyes directed right at Pom, almost boring holes in him, head up, his gait very positive and very ‘alpha’. Note his nostrils and his head position: Pie is being VERY dominant. I bet right after this, Pom spun to his left and showed his heels to Pie, and of course, the ”’battle” was joined…but not a real battle.
    Geldings are always horsing around like this. Only when they’re band stallions does it turn serious.
    This is a very, very good photo of the dynamics between geldings. If I may, I’d like to use it sometime on my own blog. I love delving into body language, be it animal, or human.
    My, but Pom has been on GOOD pasture. Once you’re fit, you’re going to have your hands full trimming him down!
    But…I’d rather see a horse with some weight on him after a long winter than the opposite.


    • The emoticons just came off the top of my head – apologies to anyone if they’re already out there – but then they are pretty obvious!! The pic is unfortunately not of the usual sparring (of course they’re never acting normally when the camera is handy!) but taken just before coming in for the evening meal. Due to the barn configuration Pom has to come in first, Pie last but he always stands in pole position on the fence and as usual Pom is looking for the opening opportunity to get past him. Pie can move Pom off a haynet, Pom moves Aly and Aly moves Pie; and the merry-goes-round! You are most welcome to use the pic – I’ll try and get some of the actual sparring to send you if you like!


  3. Once again a heart-warming post, one most appropriate to my current situation. I have mentioned my Lusitano to you, and how long it took to get to know him. Well, I am back to the drawing board – Tuesday saw the arrival of a 14 year old pure-spanish breeding stallion that has been kept alone in a field for five years. And he wants to play, desperately.
    So here we go again…


    • With great feeling(!) I wish you the best of luck with your new Spaniard Margaretha, I hope he comes round sooner than your Lusitano! I’d love to see a pic and hear how you will keep him and how he fits into your existing family of horses; will you, or have you already written about this? I’ve seen stallions kept with herds who seem quite tractable but it seems keeping them separate is more usual and must surely lead to all sorts of difficulties. When I bought Pom, his owner also had a stallion and the two horses led these rather sad separate and parallel lives; separate boxes, with an empty one between, separate paddocks … he found it very difficult to be ‘normal’ when he came here. I’ve never had to deal with a stallion, but containing yet interacting with their natural character must take real skill and sensitivity. Bon courage! Stella


  4. I absolutely love your horse emoticons!
    Re geldings and horseplay, yes they play and yes it’s rough and yes they get hurt sometimes.
    Is it better to keep them from injury by blocking their natural instincts and needs and keeping them in separate paddocks? I don’t think so, but plenty of people would disagree, and I have to admit to keeping my daughter’s competition horse on his own to prevent injury during competition season.
    I also love the honesty in the equine bloggosphere, when you start to read more blogs you realise that you’re definitely not the only person who gets a dose of the collywobbles from time to time!


    • I definitely find your blog particularly inspirational, because you’ve set your sights astronomically high and nothing ever fazes you – it also makes for great reading and photos! I think I too would be inclined to protect a horse during his competition season – he has a job to do and I’m sure he gets to express all his natural instinct in his “off season”. This must be a really hard decision in professional competition yards; I’d be interested to hear how much “free rein” they give their athletes.


  5. cowgirliz says:

    Love those horse emoticons! I will implement, if I can remember them.

    Geldings and colts seem to just like to play/fight. The mares and fillies at most will do impromptu match races. Right now the yearling colts I have just play so rough and tumble. The yearling filly out with them just leaves when their wrestling comes too close. Funny enough, when its time to race, she will stay with them for a while then just smoke ’em as she beats them back to the hay.

    At this point in their lives, I find the exercise and socialization they gain outweighs the potential for injury. Although one of the babies has a new scrape nearly every day. Oh well. They are learning how to be horses.


    • Cowgirliz, I would just love to be able to see your young colts and filly, well, horsing around! I wonder if they ever grow out of the urge to play, I hope not, but it would be interesting to throw a mare into the mix with mine and see the result! Today we had real high jinks with loads of racing around – at least it should help burn off some of those winter calories. (Pom has asked me to point out to everyone that I caught him at an unflattering angle and that he is already on a diet!)
      I thought the emoticons would be fun but definitely need adding to and expanding …… ^^


      • cowgirliz says:

        All of mine (and me included) are a bit on the fluffy side. I like to call it my winter coat. It must be time to shed it. Tell Pom that it’s hard to always be photogenic.
        I get mixed results with putting mares and geldings together. Some places I boarded at in the past said to never do it. Others just tried to find a suitable personality mix. I lean towards the second option. It just gets tricky with stronger personalities.


  6. twohorses says:

    I can tell you that two mares can do a lot of horsing around too and they can definitely play rough! My two have had their fair share of scrapes, cuts and bruises, and Cassie can chase Minnie without mercy, but still, if I take Cassie out Minnie completely loses the plot.

    I totally agree with you about the blogging community. I have learned a lot from reading other people’s stories about their successes and failures, and it’s wonderful to get supporting comments when you’re in a dip!


    • Back in the day when we just had Aly and the Pie, Pie would always have bite marks on the bum from being bossed around by Aly, but if I took Aly out alone there was no fence strong enough to hold the Pie, who is now the one that shouts his head off when I take Pom out, but at least he stays put! (Perhaps the only advantage to having a third!!)
      I was having a moan about Pom’s eye, but my heart went out to you when I read about Minnie coming in lame, having read the about the other worries Minnie and Cassie have given you. It’s just as well we love them (and indulge them) as we would our children….!


  7. I have just discovered your blog and must say how beautiful your horse, your home and your writing are. I am also under the “Spanish Spell” although my Spaniard is what I call a “bargain bin” i.e. non-gaiting grey Paso Fino gelding who has owned me for almost twenty years. As I wish to become a bigger part of this wonderful horse-blogging community, I’ve also at last been inspired to start my own! I look forward to your further adventures.

    ~ Lara


    • Thank you Lara, what an encouraging comment! I’ve just visited 89Heartstrings and I’m now a “follower”, so I look forward to hearing more about you and Coro – how apt his name considering what you have been through together and the connection with your mother – and he is a great looker. It sounds like your ups and downs echo ours, also my boy isn’t a “top of the range” – I could only afford him as he had been in an accident and was no longer “perfect” – handsome enough for me though, and then some!! Cava


      • strayalice says:

        Thank you for the follow and lovely compliment of Coro. He uses his cuteness very much to his advantage. I loved your post about “The Other Horse” because I also have one of those – my mother’s Arabian mare, Notchee. After several frustrating and somewhat frightening rides on her last summer, I decided we just did not connect and was content to just let her be a companion to Coro, which was the point of bringing her along with him, anyway. I am not one of those riders who wants to ride anything and everything (although I once was) -I am happy to have a strong relationship with just one – an equine monogamist 🙂


      • Being an equine monogamist (nice term!) too by nature, I find it hard sharing the love and attention between my retired horse and the younger one I bought to ride, but strangely having the two makes me more conscientious about spreading the love!
        I’m enjoying your early life story – how lucky to be born into such a warm, horsy family – looking forward to the next installment!


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