For Love of the Horse

Listening to Horses


My Mustang, Annie, and I

My Mustang, Annie, and I

Some time ago I had the opportunity to trim at a “rescue” (I use this term very lightly in this particular case).  Duke was a pretty sick horse who had EPM.  When they attempted to treat him with allopathic medicine, he had a pretty severe laminitic episode that left him sore.  Pair that with the unbalance in his hindquarters (along with other serious neurological problems) and you have a horse that can hardly stand on all 4 feet, let alone 3.  I was told that this horse REALLY needed a trim, and he did, but that nobody had been able to do it so far.  He would pitch a fit and couldn’t be done.  I wonder why?

When I got there, I asked if I could just watch him for a bit to determine the best course of action for him.  He was a mess, but after a bit, I thought I had an idea.  With the help of a friend, we backed him next to a wall and a feeder so he could lean on them for balance, and we LITERALLY held this horse up and I began to trim his feet.

I was asked why I was able to trim him when nobody else could.  Without hesitation or thought, I simply replied, “Because I listened to the horse”.  That actually got me to thinking about the phrase “listening to the horse”.  It’s funny where that has gone in the horse industry.  We now have all of these “animal communicators” and such, but does it really mean that sort of literal “listening”?  I don’t believe so.

With Duke, each trimmer would walk up to him and attempt to pick up a foot, just like with any other horse.  The problem here is that Duke was NOT like any other healthy horse.  Duke had issues, serious ones that left him uncomfortable and unbalanced.  He was not physically able to stand.  So, he did what he knew to do; try to get away.  That was looked at as a training issue and Duke didn’t get trimmed, which made him more and more uncomfortable.  It turned into a vicious cycle.

I didn’t do anything special.  I simply assessed the situation and “listened” to what Duke needed.  He needed to be approached differently and made to feel safe.  He needed help with balance and I couldn’t just pick up a foot.  It was VERY difficult to trim him, there were times in which I and my friend were not in good positions and it could have been dangerous for the both of us.  At one point, Duke was quite literally standing on my leg.  In the end, Duke got trimmed and I walked away feeling like he knew he was listened to, as he didn’t so much as give us one ounce of trouble.

Listening to your horse doesn’t mean hiring an animal communicator.  It means that when there is a problem, you should take a step back and TRULY assess the situation.  A horse that acts up doesn’t necessarily have a behavioral problem.  It’s quite possible that there is another reason for the behavior and punishing them will only bring about fear and distrust.  Take a minute and listen.  We expect that from them, don’t we?  If we are to be “horse whisperers”, let’s also listen when our horse whispers back.