That is the challenge.
It is never the horse’s fault. It may be the horses’ action, but it could either be prevented, or avoided, by increased smarts, planning or training on the human’s part.
The horse that bit me yesterday has never displayed an ounce of aggression before. She has been cautious, sometimes contained, but overall very well mannered. We’ve grown familiar with each other in her months here. So my guard was down and I was not watching her. As she has gotten more comfortable, she has begun trying to ‘move up the ranks’ in the horse herd. I have recently observed more animated behaviour and more scuffling that involves her. So I ‘should’ have been watching more closely.
Yesterday, early in the hot day, I began putting horses into stalls at the field with no shelter, to give them a cool siesta. This mare asked for a stall and moved easily into one, no halter involved. Another, younger mare came into the barn as well, wanting to be put in. The first mare, displaying her newfound confidence in her place, flattened her ears, and I turned to the younger one, to back her out of harm’s way. The stalled mare, ears flat, and not being able to reach her intended target, decided to chomp down on what limb she could reach, alas, mine. The back of my upper arm was encased in a full strong bite of healthy horse teeth. Of course, I screamed like a girl.
She knew right away that it had probably been a bad idea and jumped back, deeper into the stall. Violet, not the culprit, looked at me wide eyed and with such sympathy that I began to bawl. She came over to offer comfort. But I had to deal with the biting horse first.
I KNOW that experts say that a reaction needs to be immediate, and she was staring at me waiting to see what it would be. I did not want to fight with a horse in a stall, so I opened the door, and walked inside, not looking at her, giving her room to flee. And I finished by chasing her out of the barn. I threw a bucket at her for good measure (yes very immature and no it did not come close to hitting her). She stopped just outside and I chased her further away from the barn. I think I was yelling at her too. Her punishment would be to get chased from the herd, the barn, from us all. I chased her far into the field, which I have never done before. and then I went back in to the barn. I filled water buckets, put out hay, and finished chores. Yes, sniffling. I never said I was an expert at this.
Chores done, and I look outside. The mare was standing off, waiting to be allowed back. I got her fly mask and went to her. At first she trotted away, but she could see that my body language was different, was ‘down’ and that I was not going to chase her, so she stopped moving and I approached. I put the mask on quietly and then petted her, and then turned to go. She ‘latched on’ and followed me back to the barn and her friends, who were watching it all.
After the chores were done I went home to ice my arm and think this through. I could have prevented this by keeping an eye on both of the horses within physical range of me. Or, I could have not allowed the second mare into the barn at liberty to begin with. I could have been more vigilant. I do believe that the mare who bit was testing for dominance. She did not ‘accidentally’ bite me. I became the target when I kept her from the other mare, and that’s because she thought she could. Likely there were smaller tests that I failed, and so it escalated until I HAD to pay attention. If that is the case, then I needed to set things back in order between us anyway. Generally I catch the challenges when they are smaller, but here I missed them. And I have the wound to show that! I hope that I learn my lesson. The mare seemed to, but I could have taught it that lesson smaller and gentler if I had been more vigilant.
I wanted to share, since our lessons here, small and large, may benefit others. I am not naming the mare because I do not want her labelled a ‘biter’, but I would share with any adoptive home all the good and bad that is her. Hundreds of snuggles and whinnied greetings and trusting hoof trims will not be undone by a single bite. But I need to remember to take better care, for us all.
Jed is getting used to short evening romps, and I decided to try and ‘herd’ him back instead of lead him (since I had forgotten to halter him anyway!). Jed did not appreciate this! He moved out, but he threw a small buck in my direction to let me know that he found it rude. Then he trotted off, back to the barn, head high….
The key, it seems to a natural recovery from founder is getting off the sugar, getting the swelling down without restricting bloodflow, and lots of trims to relieve pressure on the coffin bone. This is easier on a horse that is used to being trimmed, but many founder cases are partly because of neglectful owners, and trimming is one of those things usually neglected. Which brings us to Jed and his problem being willing to ‘pick up his dang feet!”.
Geri was back today to work on Jed further, to keep his toes short and to now try and tackle Jed’s back feet, which we had not been able to get to at all. They were long but sound, but the heels were becoming an issue. We employed Jed’s new training (ie tapping and saying ‘foot’) and we were able to unlock any and all of his feet. Yay! BUT, holding them up for any length of time was still, uh, a challenge.
Beginning with his fronts, we worked on first the left, and were able to keep it up for short work, and then we were able to get his right up, for very short periods. But this was still huge! Geri had never seen the underside of Jed’s right front foot, and it was nasty; the frog and the bars both spilling all over the place, the lateral grooves buried under dirt, growth and fungus…Ugh ugh ugh. But she was in there, and was able to get some progress.
Now to the back feet; Jed is better about picking them up but still with the damaged hip, we didn’t know what was training, tolerance or pain, so we finally abandoned trimming while elevated. The heels, however, had to come down. Geri looks at Jed and says, “I’ve learned to use tools in more creative ways with you then any other horse…!” and she retrieves her saws from her car. We get the board to place Jed’s feet on. Now here is where some training was really evident. Jed is now willing and able to perceive and respond to slight changes in pressure at his head, and using a very light hand, I was able to accurately ‘steer’ Jed back and forward. I was able to land his back feet with great accuracy, and despite Jed’s not knowing WHY I wanted this, he complied again and again. We were fortunate that it was cool and quiet, no flies or other horses inside to distract. But still, his comfort level and his understanding of my requests made our progress much more swift. Using the hand saw at an angle, Geri worked on both of Jed’s back feet, on the inside and the out; Back and forth I would move Jed, asking for a step forward, then a tiny step back, at a slightly left angle. We placed his feet again and again, so that the part she was sawing would be just off the edge of the board. In between Jed got hay and tons of praise, and this seemed to make him happy. After an hour of this laborious process, she had removed each corner! Great news! The pieces are huge. Jed would be able to rock back now, and give himself some relief on his toes. Jed may not understand why we were so happy but he could hear it and share in it.
She did say that if he was better trained, that his progress would be faster. But if Jed had a different owner previously, we likely would not have needed to save him. ‘Training’ is still trumping ‘force’ for this big guy. My hunch that a stockade would have been worse still hasn’t been proven, but my belief in working with the horse certainly has. Jed is the living, recovering proof.
A look back, so long ago, and so short ago!
This past week Geri shared a short video with me that I had forgotten she had taken. It’s of me leading Jed, two weeks after his arrival, taken on March 18, so nearly three months ago. He still had his small panel paddock set up then, and we moved them back so Geri could film him. Clearly I am very proud that he is standing at all! Make sure you keep the sound on to hear what she says! We love Geri and are so grateful to have her care and support….
This was actually shot about 10 minutes after Jed’s run-in with Cisco in the field. After checking him out, I went and opened his paddock gate, put out some hay for him, and returned to the field with a lead, to bring him in. Jed started off at a walk/trot, instead of waiting for me, back in the direction of the barn, where the band had already wandered ahead. In fact, several horses, including Cisco, had entered Jed’s area to see what I had been up to. Jed was heading in that direction; was he thinking of a confrontation? Follow me as I followed Jed with the camera!