As a show mom I have spent years watching horses and riders, and I have noticed a thing or two along the way. The way a horse moves, the flow of their bodies, and the movement of their legs. I have studied them, and in doing so I have become quite good at noticing when things are off. When they have a hitch in their giddy-up, if you will. Since I did not at the time think I would ride, we did not have a horse, I watched the horses more than the riders. I held lead ropes, stroked muzzles, and encouraged tired lesson horses.
Ever since I was a little girl I have tried to connect with animals. The first one was my grandparents' dog, Lotte, and Airedale Terrier that smelled to high heaven. Oh, how I loved that dog. I would spend hours in solitude with her, hidden under the staircase just hanging out with my furry pal. She was beautiful, and we had the best conversations about how mean my grandmother was. We both agreed that grandpa was a saint for putting up with that evil witch.
I totally believe that animals communicate, and I try very hard to hear them. Just because we can't hear it, does that mean it is not happening? Non verbal communication is said to be 90% of human interaction, and so it does not seem a stretch to me that I could learn non-verbal animal language. Horse talk, dog talk, or whatever. So I try to listen, and some people probably think I am weird, but what else is new?
We went to the local show this weekend, I decided not to send Pippi, but wanted to go see Donny do contesting with Betty (the Tb). He did great, and Betty loves it. So great to see her happy, well as happy as Betty is capable of, which is not a lot.
There was a woman, mid thirties, riding a QH mare, who was having all kinds of issues. Each time it was her run, that mare would fight her tooth and nail. Hopping, spinning, bucking, rearing, you name it, the mare did everything but flip over. The rider was one tough chick, and each time she would eventually gain control and they would do their run. I kept watching the mare wondering what the deal was. Donna and I would move to a safe distance, and marvel at the rider who just kept on keeping on. But the mare, what was wrong with her? Clearly not angry, as her expression was adament but not aggressive. Not obviously lame, but I felt that something was off in the hind end. She had a little hitch in her left side, and that hock seemed to lock, and she very slightly favoured that leg. I asked Donna if she saw it, and she said she kind of did, but not really. I decided not to say anything to the rider, I mean, what do I know?
While they changed the arena from 3D barrels to pole bending, we stepped outside and spoke with Donny. Betty was much calmer than usual, and seemed relaxed. I think she loves the lack of show prep, as she hates being touched and groomed. The Hopping mare and Rider also stepped outside to get some air, and started up a conversation. Rider was clearly agitated over the agitation, and said Mare was always like that. "Gotta fight her, every time I ride her." Hhhhmmmmmm?
Okay, mouth opened, and words poured out. "I think she might be off, and she seems to be favoring her left leg." Now say what you will, she asked by bringing it up, that's my story and I am sticking to it. Rider did not seem to agree with my assessment, stated that mare will "fake injury," but told us that Mare was hurt as a yearling. She had kicked through a lose board on her stall, and her left leg was stuck between the boards. Rider showed me the scar on the inside of the left hock. Rider said "well, she is not favoring it now." "True, but you are not riding now, you are not even mounted." (that last part was in my head, luckily)
We left Rider, and walked back inside. And I hope she has her Mare checked out, and perhaps some chiropractic care done, which is what I advised. Maybe she will, maybe she won't, but either way I learned a lesson. I have a good gut, and a good sense for reading a horse, and I am going to trust it. Most riders know more about the mechanics of riding than I do, as I am just getting started, but I do have other horse skills.
If I doubted it for a minute, Jazz, the mini, proved it to me at home the next day. I was trying to lunge Whoopy, to no avail, Jazz was constantly looking at me. I then tried to lunge Stormy, no luck, and Jazz was still very interested. At one point coming over, and nudging me. I then tried Sunset, less luck than with the other two if possible. (I got them going, but this will require more work over time with each one). Now Jazz is starting to stand in my way, and I finally stop and look at her. "Okay, Jazz, you think you can do this huh?" Halter on, lead rope attached, lunge whip in hand, expecting full stop. Jazz started walking in a smooth circle around me, slight movement of whip, and a "trot" and she changed gaits, and then changed to canter when asked. Holy Mare! Jazz, who had never done this before, was a lunging champ. We changed direction, and she did it again. She loved it, and we had a blast. If I had just listened I would have heard her loud and clear much earlier. Jazz loves to work, and told/showed me so. The others will have to learn, and I will have to find the key that unlocks their understanding, but with the help of my gut I am sure we will get there.