Listening to animals

/ posted in: Horses

I’m going to get all woo-woo and wacky here so tune out if that bothers you.

I just went out to ride Prize. I’ve been ignoring her lately. Not on purpose but I’ve been busy getting ready for my trail ride and I also went out of town so I haven’t been spending as much time with her as normal. Mostly I put her out in the pasture and bring her back in and I’m usually in a hurry when I do it.

She wouldn’t let me get on tonight. Whenever I would get on the mounting block she would turn and put her head against my chest. She’d stand there as long as I would scratch her ears. I would try to reposition her to get on and she would turn and put her head against me again.

I could have pushed the issue and made her let me on. But, I’ve been trying to learn to respect her boundries. I’m sure that sounds like me giving in to a misbehaving horse to 99% of all horse people out there. But it didn’t seem like that. She wasn’t being disrespectful or cranky. She just wanted petted.

It has taken me years to be able to walk away when she says no and not get into a fight with her. Actually it has taken years and many injuries. Because, as I’ve told all the trainers who have worked (or tried to work) with her, if you pick a fight with her she will win. I’m betting that when I go out tomorrow morning to ride her she will let me right on. It has been a long learning curve for us. My default reaction when I got her was to think that I had to “make her behave” and her default reaction when I did was to get aggressive. Now she can ask nicely (without bucking) and I’m learning to say ok. Granted she’s learning faster than I am. At times she gives me looks of utter exasperation and I realize that she’s trying to tell me something that I’m not hearing and she’s starting to wonder if she’s going to have to buck me off to get my attention.

That got me thinking about a friend of mine’s horse. He hates vets. But my friend figured out the key to him. He was ok with the vet if the vet didn’t try to manhandle him. If a vet walked up and just gave him a shot he kicked the vet. If the vet would walk up and ask permission to give him a shot he would be as good as gold. Of course, the vets wouldn’t believe this. So every time she has a new associate come out she has to go through the whole explanation of why they have to ask permission. They don’t and get kicked. She says, “Told you so.” Then they sheepishly ask permission and he stands. Repeat vets make sure to ask permission the first time.

I’ve started using a variation of this during my exams. I give a running narration through the exam. To the owner I’m sure it seems like I’m explaining what I’m doing. But in actuality I’m directing my comments to the pet. For example I might say, “Can you stand up and let me feel your abdomen?” directly to the dog. The owners think I’m directing that to them to have them get the dog to stand up. (Either that or they think that I’m totally insane but no one has ever come out and said it.) I don’t know if it is just the soothing voice I’m using or the actual intent I’m broadcasting but I’ve had some owners say that their dogs act better with me than with male vets.

I think that the greatest skill I could have as a vet would be to be an animal communicator. There have been so many times that I’ve wanted to be able to ask a patient, “What’s wrong?” I wonder if human doctors appreciate the ability to ask that question?

I never really believed in animal communicators until I was at the end of my rope with my rabbit a few years back. In desperation I called one. I sat there and talked to the lady on the phone and watched my rabbit. The rabbit got really mad and started striking his hind leg on the ground when she told him how he was expected to behave. He never did that normally. While he was doing that she laughed and said, “He has quite a temper, doesn’t he?” I was freaked. There was no way she could have heard him thumping. It wasn’t that loud. Then he was incredibly well-behaved for about 2 weeks. Scarily well behaved. As in I would sit and stare at him behaving himself because it was such strange behavior from a very destructive rabbit. I still don’t know exactly what to think about that and I saw it with my own eyes. I would have dismissed that story out of hand before I had that experience.

We’ll see what happens tomorrow.