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How Horses Get Even

Non-horse people don't realize it, but we horse people know that you can't be too careful around horses and that they have their own way of getting even when they feel we've irritated them a little too much. And while the non-horse person would likely think that "getting even" means a horse bucking the rider off or running them down, horses are usually never so crude with their owners — they have "finesse". They don't want to do us in, they merely want to teach us a lesson and indicate their displeasure in a way that doesn't seem as if they did it on purpose.

So they have their innocent looking "tricks", like stepping on your foot while you're trying to tack them up when they don't really want to work this day. And they don't just "step" on it, they stepppppppppp….which usually means you're going to be underfoot for a good five or ten painful seconds. They don't break your foot; after all, this is just a "lesson" for you. And while you dance around after being freed, they look over at you with this innocent look on their face that says, "Having a problem?" By the time your foot is usable again, they're standing still and available as if nothing happened...yeah...right.

When a horse is really irritated at the rider who's pulling too much at the mouth, he'll search out (and find) that especially frightening "low-hanging branch". This is terrifying to the rider when at speed and often the horse chooses one that the rider can safely duck under, but the rider still knows the horse could have chosen a lower and more lethal branch if he had desired. And the horse "knows" the rider knows — that's the point!

Then there's my favorite, the "rap the rider's kneecap against the tree" trick. This usually happens at a canter while the rider is busy ducking low branches and dodging leaf bunches. And it happens so fast because we're always going within inches of trees when "making tracks" on a narrow trail. That makes it the perfect "get even" trick for your horse. He just slides over a couple inches or so while running and WHAMMMM! You hit the tree! Of course, you can't do anything about it because you've still got to stay balanced and on your horse at speed, plus continue dodging other branches and trees. Your horse knows you'll have forgotten why your knee still hurts when you slow down because you're wondering whether or not it was really your own fault to begin with (they're so crafty!)

How about the sneaky "roll in the water" gambit? You take your horse down to a stream or the edge of a pond or lake to take a drink on a hot day. He'll drink, and then he'll mosey on into water a little deeper, ostensibly, just to cool off. But in reality, he's setting you up. Then he starts pawing at the water with one of his front feet, maybe tries the other, and then, lightening fast, he drops and rolls. Of course, as fast as you see this unfold, you quickly push yourself away to stay dry, but by the time you're standing again, you're soaked to the bone and so is your tack. And your horse? He again gives that innocent look and then one of appreciation that says, "Thanks! I feel cooler now." What are you going to do? That sweet face — it could only have been an innocent misunderstanding.

Sometimes, the retribution is more overt, like when you ride your horse by a building and he quickly slides over as you go by the corner in an effort to hook your knee and "scrape you off". Of course, he knows you won't be happy, but these are fighting times and quite frankly, he wants you to know he's had enough.

Then, there's the subtle approach. The most subtle attack I've ever seen is the rider cleaning one of the rear hooves and all of a sudden, there's fresh horse doo on his/her arm — YUCK! It's awfully hard to prove in horse court that this was a deliberate attack. But in the back your mind, you know — and your horse knows you know — lesson successfully taught!

Ever been grazing your horse near a working water sprinkler and out of the blue, you feel a quick nudge on your back and you're suddenly getting sprayed? You jump back, turn quickly around to see who did that and no one is there. So you look at your horse and he's busy grazing and not even looking at you. But you know he misses nothing, sees everything, and is likely laughing heartily on the inside.

Yes, it's definitely true, you just can't be too careful when around horses...

Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com. He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.

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