The Willpower of Horsepower


    No matter how much we think we’ve trained our horses, a lot of the time they’re going to do what they want to do, one way or another. It’s like an ongoing battle to constantly outwit us. I’ll give you two personal examples. I’m sure you have plenty more.

    My first example deals with the process of bathing horses. Am I the only one who owns horses that try to shorten bath time by standing on the hose? Or is this a common behavior? I realize that in an ideal world the hose should be kept free and clear of the wash rack, or at least scooted to the side, away from legs and hooves. But in reality I don’t think it much matters. Regardless of how carefully I manage the hose, at some point when I’m giving Wally or Danny a shower after a hard workout, I’ll notice that the water pressure has fizzled to a drizzle. Sure enough, it’s because there’s at least one hoof keenly placed atop the hose, compressing it to worthlessness. For a long time I thought this hose kinking behavior was the result of luck: A hoof just happened to end up atop the hose. But I think more evil processes are at work here. I believe now that over time, Wally and Danny discovered that if they shuffled their feet around just enough—not in a full-blown, maniacal River Dance but in a discreet tippy-tappy-toes manner—they’d eventually land a crushing blow to the hose. Suddenly, shower time was over!

    Naturally, Wally and Danny have perfected this maneuver, so now I’m juggling shampoo bottle, sponge and lead rope at the same time I’m wrangling a hose. Honestly, I’m beginning to wonder just how badly I want a clean horse.

    My second example of equine determination is something that happened last weekend. This particular incident also adds a horse’s impeccable sense of timing to the mix.

    Danny, I’ve discovered, is one of those horses that prefers to pee at home. I can tell when he needs to go, especially if we’re out on a long trail ride. He’ll seize an opportunity to stop and stretch out slightly. But he won’t take the final step and just do it. I’ve tried all the common solutions I learned on the show circuit and at the race track to encourage a horse to urinate, including dismounting and loosening the saddle, whistling merrily, and even letting him smell where another horse has recently urinated. But none of them work. I think Danny has figured out where he lives and knows that he’s never really that far from home. If he holds out long enough, eventually he’ll be in the privacy of his own bathroom.

    Well, last weekend I rode Danny on a long trail ride with my sister Jill, who was aboard her gelding, Topper. Jill’s horse wasn’t bashful about peeing on the trail, but even though I could tell Danny wanted to relieve himself, too, he wouldn’t. The fact that we were on our way back to my house, and back to Danny’s stall, probably encouraged him to hold out. When we reached the trail in front of my house, I dismounted and told Jill, “I’m sure Danny can’t wait much longer.”

    He really couldn’t. My big black Paint horse took one step on to my property, so that his front feet were standing on the path that led to the barn, and stopped. With his eyes locked on to the view of the barn before him, he began to stretch his ample body into that familiar pose. That’s when I noticed his “equipment” was poised for action… and balanced directly over a pristine section of our front lawn, which is my husband’s pride and joy.

    “No!” I yelled, and began tugging on the reins. “Please, Danny, no!”

    But when a horse has to go, it has to go. Just like a jet dumping a load of fuel, Danny opened up a thunderous production of horse pee that gushed across a verdant swath of lawn. In the background, my sister was laughing. Eventually I laughed, too, but not until I had turned on the hose (there’s that hose again!) and let it run for several minutes in a faithful effort to dilute Danny’s offering.

    As you can see, I’m frequently reminded just how strong-willed horses can be, even the ones that are lovely to ride and otherwise well-mannered. Sometimes horses are just going to do what they want (or need) to do.

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    1. What a funny story. At a horse show I was at this weekend they had an area of shavings for horses to pee on for those that wouldn’t on the ground.

    2. I’m positive my gelding hides objects from my grooming bucket. After I’m done putting everything away, I always find one item left out that I didn’t see before!

    3. My mare is a hose stepper too. She moves around during baths just a few steps and thinks about where to put her feet to stop the water.


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