Everything in Its Place
Smart Standardbreds notice changes in their environment
Standardbreds are consistently showing their versatility, whether it’s riding or driving, for show or for pleasure. Hoof Beats is happy to share stories from readers about their favorite Standardbreds. This month, Charlotte Gelston writes about changes in a horse’s visual map can be cause for alarm.
I adopted “Rhythm,” registered as Mr Artline, 5-1/2 years ago and quickly discovered how intelligent and amazingly bold he was. The underlying characteristics that yield a bold personality are strong-mindedness, self-confidence and expressiveness, each in direct proportion to his boldness.
This is compounded by the fact that he was not gelded until he was almost 6 years old. He does not hesitate to effectively convey his exact opinion of each situation, especially if he is not in agreement with me. This is not based on stubbornness, fear or a bad attitude. In his mind, he always has a valid reason behind his actions.
My challenge is to understand what he is thinking, why he is thinking a certain way, and how to change his thinking to match mine. If I am not successful in changing his mind, it means he knows something I don’t know and I listen to him. I have high regard for his superior natural instincts. We have a true partnership where the trust, respect and affection are mutual.
I have never had Rhythm show any fear of vehicles passing or approaching us on the road. Fully loaded logging trucks, school buses, speeding cars, dump trucks hauling trailers with backhoes on board, etc., all are met with his unflinching self-confidence.
Knowing this, I never gave it a thought as I drove my cart around the corner on a dead-end dirt road and suddenly saw a truck; however, Rhythm abruptly stopped when he caught sight of the cable company’s truck parked on the side of the woods road. We had never encountered any traffic up at that end before. He snorted, stared, and then turned around.
“Rhythm, it is just a truck,” I said. “You’re not afraid of trucks!”
I turned him around and asked him to walk on. He studied it again and decided that the truck did not belong in the woods. Furthermore, the huge roll of black cable mounted on the back of it could be an ideal place for a mountain lion to hide.
Again he spun around, this time dislodging the Easyboot Glove on his near hind. He was not attempting to bolt. He was trying to warn me of potential danger. I hopped out of the cart, asked him to “Stand,” and knelt down to reset the Easyboot. He stood there calmly while I worked.
I got back in, turned him around again, and asked him to go forward. This time he became more expressive and reared up on his hind legs, at which point the two men working next to the truck ducked behind it, out of sight. The sudden disappearance of the men only served to convince Rhythm that this was indeed a potentially dangerous situation and we should not proceed. He reared again, throwing in a few bucks for emphasis.
I got out of the cart with the reins in my hands, thinking if I led him past the truck, he would realize it was not threatening. As I moved forward, he pulled his head back, effectively jerking me backward. He gave me an intense look, clearly stating that I was not to get any closer. I am convinced he thought he was protecting me. I returned to my seat in the cart, contemplating my next move.
Had Rhythm actually scented a predator, he would have insisted that we turn around and get away from the danger, as he had done once before. In this case, he was letting me know that this situation could be dangerous, and due caution needed to be exercised. He was not intent on leaving–just insistent that we not go any closer.
The solution finally came to me. I called out to the men and asked them to please come out from behind the truck and walk past it, showing Rhythm it was safe.
“What about your horse?” one of the men asked. “He doesn’t look very safe to me!”
“Don’t worry,” I replied. “I won’t drive him close to you. He just needs proof that nothing dangerous is lurking there, waiting to pounce on him. In his mind, the truck doesn’t belong in the woods in the first place.
“If you had passed us on the main road, he would have paid no attention to you, because he is used to trucks being on the road. Horses make visual maps everywhere they go. He has never seen a truck here in the woods. To a horse, whenever something is not in its proper place, when it doesn’t match his visual map, there is valid cause for concern. It could mean danger, and horses are prey animals, not predators. I appreciate your help.”
They tentatively came around the front of the truck and cautiously walked all the way past it. They watched in astonishment as Rhythm calmly followed after them, finally convinced that no harm would come to us.
“Why wouldn’t he follow you when you tried to lead him past the truck?” one of them asked.
“Because he wants to protect me from any possible danger,” I said. “He was trying to tell me he didn’t think it was safe, but once you two went past without any problems, he knew it was nothing to worry about.”
“Oh, so to him we were the guinea pigs, right?” he said. “He wouldn’t let you do it, but it was OK for us to risk the danger?”
“Correct,” I said, “but don’t take it personally!”
“You’ve got quite a horse there, ma’am!” he replied.
“Yes,” I answered. “I have never regretted adopting this horse when he was on his way to auction. Perhaps he is grateful, so he is loyal to me.”
Rhythm and I thanked them again and went on our way. When we returned a half-hour later, the truck was still there. But Rhythm had added it to his visual map, so there was no need for alarm. Everything was in its place once again.