Horse Role Reversal

There has been plenty written about teaching a horse to lie down. Just a circus trick? A demonstration of yielding and trust? Perhaps a practical purpose such as a rider who has difficulty mounting.?

The scenario I’ve often pictured when I hear the latest teach-your-horse-to-lie-down-method is this: if your horse knows that lying down is a good thing, and knows that dropping himself to the prone position is a great way to get rid of pressure, you might be in store for some fun rides. You’ll certainly entertain your friends on the trail. What are you doing down there?

[singlepic id=17 w=300 h=225 float=right]Well I can’t really judge anyone after what happened to me the other day.  This was during our recent southern Alberta monsoon.  My youngest gelding Chip recently turned two, and has some sort of respiratory irritation.  It’s not a big thing but I thought I’d make a closer inspection. He’d snorted out a couple of big gobs previously, so I wandered out in the pasture to have a look, up his nose of course.

Standing in front of him, I lifted his head up to look in. He’s taller than I am now. He leaned into me. And that was all it took.  The downpour had turned our pasture into a sloppy skating rink of mud. I slipped and fell backwards, and with a splash I landed right on my back in the mud. It happened so fast I didn’t have a chance to catch my fall.

[singlepic id=18 w=300 h=199 float=left]The next thing that happened took me by surprise.  Chip had been standing in front of me.  As soon as I was on my back, he lay down lengthwise on top of me. His rear legs were on either side of my legs, and his knees were on the ground on either side of my shoulders. He did it with enough care that I wasn’t at all hurt, and he was elevating himself off the ground so that he was hardly touching me.

I had no problem having a look up his nose from that vantage point. None at all. I didn’t really have the option NOT to look up his nose, actually.

Although my Chip-blanket was a warm comfort in the wet weather, my backside was in freezing cold mud. And I was praying that those hooves landed in the right spot when he got up.  I didn’t let the situation drag on.  Get up, I said. And he did.  He never touched me once. Come to think of it, I’ve seen him try the same thing with the other horses when they are sleeping. He hasn’t succeeded yet because he hasn’t quite learned the stealth mode of approach, and his pasture mates are fully aware of what a brat he is.

[singlepic id=12 w=300 h=225 float=right]Chip and I have spent many an hour together, playing games intended to teach him yielding, engage his mind, and nurture his curiosity. He is shaping up to be a great horse. But he is so full of play, that sometimes I think he’s going to burst. He took off with an orange pylon last week. He ran over to my old gelding Ty, and started to whack him with it. Ty typically just ignores him.  I think Chip likes Ty because he has the most patience with him. Spud, my 7 year old paint, would have kicked his butt.

Several days ago I had five feed dishes lined up along the fence.  I thought I’d let the rain rinse them out overnight.  I left them on the non-horse side. I returned in the morning to find all of them missing. I reasoned correctly that I’d left them too close to the fence, and the horses had grabbed them. I hopped the fence to go pick them up, and wandered the entire pasture to no avail; I couldn’t find them anywhere! Confused, I returned to where I started, and in the process walked by the water trough.  And guess what? There were five feed dishes resting at the bottom.  I spun around at a tickle on my neck. Chip was standing right behind me.

Aha! I thought, you’re the culprit! Who else, really?

[singlepic id=14 w=225 h=300 float=left]Chip likes his toys. He has a tarp he drags around and a horse ball. He has a deflated exercise ball that he loves swinging around, but it no longer holds air due to a game of catch I was playing with him over a barbed wire fence. And he does enjoy himself at the expense of others, intentional or not.
HUGE Security Blanket!

I used to have one of those plastic poop scoop things for the trailer. (Note the past tense.) You know, like a pitchfork, but with about 20 plastic tines spaced close together.  I no longer have one. I have a nice handle though.  Not sure what to do with it.  Anyone need a handle ?Regardless, I left it too close to the fence. Leaning up against the fence, I believe.  A perfect invitation for a mischievous equine. My trailer cleaning chores had been interrupted and I neglected to put it away. I returned some time later, and went to put the scoop back in the trailer tack room. It was nowhere to be found. Staring across the pasture I spotted what I thought was a long handle.  I began to walk towards it and noticed something odd on the ground. I picked it up and realized it was one of the tines. Snapped right off.  And with each yard of my passage through the grass, I found another. I reached the poor handle and picked it up.  It had one lonely tine left. Like a plant with all its leaved picked off, save one.

I felt sorry for it.  It could no longer scoop poo.

Chip at his best.

[singlepic id=13 w=300 h=225 float=right]Last fall I built another horse shelter. I worked alone, for the most part, putting it together. I had the wall sections up and I was inside the shelter lifting lumber up onto the roof. I was pleasantly surprised to hear someone hammering. Apparently someone had shown up to help me; my first thought was that I would have to make a beer run!  I couldn’t see who it was, so I said, Hello!  No response. I thought that was a little odd, so I walked around to the back side of the shelter from where the hammering originated.  I needn’t have worried about beer.  Here stood Chip, hammer in mouth, whacking away at the wall.

If only I could teach him to hold a nail!

[singlepic id=16 w=300 h=199 float=left]I was hauling the hay sled back across the pasture after feeding. You would think that the horses would have their minds on food. But not Chip. I heard him run up behind me, but I didn’t bother to turn around. I should have. He jumped and landed in the hay sled just as I was giving it a tug.  My arm almost came out of its socket, as 1000lbs landing in the sled stopped it instantly.  I turned around, and here’s Chip, standing in the hay sled. If he could talk he would have said, Pull me! Pull me!  I actually did try, however I couldn’t budge it.  Maybe I should hook it up behind the quad or the truck and give him a ride. How’s that for role reversal?

I consider Chip’s curiosity and playfulness an asset. It’s important to me that my horses be allowed the opportunity to discover their environment. When curiosity outweighs fear, a trail ride is a real pleasure.  And barring any medical catastrophe for either of us, there is a chance that I will be riding Chip on a mountain trail 30 years from now.  I might find that his ability to lie down (preferably with me on top) beneficial, as I will undoubtedly need mounting assistance given my track record of ending up on my backside in mud.

(originally published May 2012)

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About amazingh

Scott has a wide variety of experience in the horse industry including mountain riding, outfitting, training horses and riders, starting and re-starting horses, producing horsemanship webinars and podcasts, running the Canadian Cowboy Challenge and of course, operating Amazing Horse Country. He affectionately refers to his herd of horses as his "kids". Scott has uniquely integrated his horsemanship with a knowledge of equine bio-mechanics and psychology to gain a thorough understanding of these great animals.

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