My sixty year old neighbor at the end of the cul-de-sac phoned late this afternoon. We live in an area with only six homes over about 30 country acres, so it’s not your typical suburban cul-de-sac. Two of her horses were loose and she’d been chasing them for hours from property to property. She was calling me to see if anybody was home—besides me, since she knows I’m crap at horses—who could hop on one of our horses to help her wrangle hers home. Last seen her horses were munching on grass in a field near my house and she was worried they might get out on the busier road.
I felt terrible when I had to tell that none of our horses were at the house. They were all having a last summer hurrah at what I thought of as Pony Heaven—a wooded 100 acre parcel a few miles away filled with meadows, hills, and a running stream. In a few weeks they’d be back to their boring corrals at our house, stuck there through the long, cold winter. But for now all the summer parades and horse shows were over, and they were living the horsey high life.
She was tired, angry, and thoroughly over her rotten horses. Of course, her husband was out of town. Another ten minutes of chasing them, and I think she would’ve gotten a gun. She knows I’m not a horse person, so any of my suggestions—grain buckets, more help corralling them—was given a sniff of derision and a snapped, “I’ve already tried.” Frustrated that I didn’t have the solution she wanted, she hung up.
My husband had heard enough of my side of the conversation to know horses were loose and was already putting on his shoes. “I’ll come,” I said.
“You don’t have to. I got this.”
“She says they’re really naughty.”
I grabbed my shoes, too. “How about I just go spot them for you?”
I went out the front, down the road, and over to the field she’d last seen them. There they were, bold as brass, nibbling on the far side on top of a hill. When they spotted me watching them, they squealed and ducked behind the hill.
Yeah, they know they’re being bad.
A few minutes later my husband walked up the road carrying a couple of halters and a bucket of grain he’d snagged from our horse trailer.
“You’ve seen them?”
“Just over the hill. Want me to come?” I asked.
“Nah. Just stay here in case they make a break for it and head to the road.”
Off he went.
When he got close, the horses started to run, so he stopped, looked away from them, and stood shaking the bucket, the halters held out of sight behind his back. The horses moved away from him and started eating again. Working an angle, he moved closer to them, still holding and shaking the bucket. When the first horse turned to look at him, he immediately turned his back to them and moved away, walking toward their house. The horses looked at each other and started walking quickly toward him. When they got close enough to nudge him, he turned and showed them the bucket, then kept walking away. They hurried to keep up with him and nudged him again. He stepped sideways and let them have a taste of the grain in his bucket. Then he walked away. They chased. He stopped and gave them more grain, this time slipping a lead through their headstalls. Caught, they meekly followed him back to their corral.
It took all of five minutes.
Later when I asked him about it, he said horses are a lot like people. They like to think they are getting away with something they shouldn’t. They like to think they are in charge. Chasing them only makes them think they are winning. You have to walk up with something they love and then deny it to them. You’re the boss and they have to recognize it. They have to decide they want what you’re offering more than freedom. You have to be the one that fulfills their desires. You make them come to you. You start with a bucket of grain, but you act like it’s all yours. They want it. You give them a taste and ignore the dangling ropes and halters for the moment because if you grab at them too soon, they’ll sense a trap and bolt. You make them love you. And once they do, you slip the halter or rope around them and they forget they’re much bigger and stronger. They’ll go exactly where you want them and will do what you ask of them.
My horse whisperer of a husband thinks horses are just like people. Boggles the mind when you think it through, doesn’t it? Politics. Religion. Peer pressure. Professional organizations. There’s something to this.
What’s your bucket of grain, who’s holding it, and what freedoms are you giving up to eat it?
Tonight near midnight I had a nagging urge to check the horses, one of those niggling feelings along the back of my neck that wouldn’t let go. I called the dogs from my daughter’s room, slipped on my flip flops, grabbed a flashlight, and headed out the door. There was no moon, but it was light enough to see the way to the corral. Brownie came to the rail to greet me with a nicker and a slight cough I’ll check in the morning. All seemed well, so after a few pats and a double-check on the water, I headed back to the house. That’s when I heard it–the long, low cry of the wolf pack. Not close, in the hills a few miles away, I think, but it’s been a couple of years since I’d last heard them call. Wildlife officials say there are no wolves in these parts, but they are mostly nine to fivers. You have to be a night owl to run with the wolf pack. Keeping the dogs in tonight.