I have a vivid memory from when I was a small child (yes, even smaller than I am now!) of walking on my family’s property and coming across the herd of four horses they owned. I remember this story not only because it was such an important incident in my small life, but also because I retold the story many times after — which we know makes a “memory” stronger. We were walking through one of the paddocks (translation from Australian: a fenced area bigger than the entire property my horse lives on. Seriously, the farm was 6,000 acres and this paddock took an hour to meander across at my child’s pace) with my aunt, owner of the horses, probably my sister, and some other adults. We were near the horses but not exactly underneath them, and something spooked them and they took off. I remember this so clearly not only because a pony spooking is alarming to a sub-4-foot child, but also because my aunt grabbed me across the body and pulled me in close to her, I assume now to avoid the potential crushing of not-her-child under the unpredictable feet of her horses.
we were wandering somewhere out toward those hills
At the time it was so sudden and I marveled at my aunt’s ability to essentially pluck me out of danger’s path before the danger itself was apparent. Now that I’m more familiar with horses, I know that there were probably a number of other factors that helped her predict the event — a windy day, horses already on edge, probably at least one dog sniffing around and likely to flush a bird from the grass.
For one of my odd-jobs I help a local woman with her three yearlings. She also has two 2-year-olds that live in the same, big, 6-acre pasture. The five of them usually come galloping in to me when I show up at the gate or call them, and it’s funny to think how recently I would have shielded myself behind the gate for such antics. My confidence around horses has grown tremendously, even since becoming a regular rider and comfortable handling multi-horse situations. Working for my trainer and mucking the paddocks (translation: American paddocks, aka the little ones) for the just-raced-yesterday ottbs, turning horses in and out at my barn, playing with young horses — I’ve had lots of opportunities to watch horse behavior. I know that the youngsters will stop or split or wheel before they get to me with any speed, and that they are always happy to see me.
It’s pretty nice to walk in among the kiddos and scratch here and there and get a bit of loving from them. Both of the two year olds will always make groomy-lips when I start scratching their withers or midline, and will take the opportunity to exercise their groomy lips on anyone who walks by. It’s actually insanely adorable, and I’m so sad that my phone camera is too zoomed in to get any good video of this action. Especially because one of the 2 year olds is a giant 17hh beast already, and he’ll just grab on to the yearling gelding’s neck and start grooming away.
I’m still figuring out nuances to their body language, of course. The smaller 2-year old started positioning his hindquarters to me about a week after the 1- and 2-year olds were first put in pasture together. I got annoyed at him at first, because I had no desire to be kicked, and it’s rude to point your kicking apparatus at friends for no reason. Then I realized that the bigger yearling mare is actually top baby in the pasture, and she loves to follow me around — so the 2-year old was positioning himself for a quick getaway from her. When the bossy baby came after the little 2-year old with her mouth open (I should point out that he’s not actually little, he’s just littler than the giant) I was more than happy to step in on his behalf and push her away from both of us. They can settle their little dominance disputes however they want when I’m not there, but nobody makes snarky faces at me in pasture.
Who’s top pony? I’m top pony.
I wonder if the deep understanding and nuance that we can start to read in equine relationships contributes to the impression that some people have about a magical, wordless, on-a-higher-plane relationship and connection that one could hypothetically have with a
unicorn horse. I was probably as astonished when I saw someone wave their arms to fend off galloping horses as I was when my aunt saved my life. And if you think about it, it’s pretty incredible that we can see an 1,000 pound beast approaching at a high rate of speed and throw our hands up in the air to divert their course from right on top of us. What the inexperienced novitiate doesn’t know, really, is that running on top of humans is squishy and likely not the ideal footing for a horse, and that they especially don’t want to run on something that looks like it might be bigger and even less predictable than it currently appears.
Learning is funny like that. To the uneducated, it seems like magic. To the initiated, it is almost mundane.
But I still think of myself as a motherfuckin’ beast master any time I lead more than two horses in from the pasture in one trip.