A few years back, I met a client at a barn for a pre-purchase meeting with a potential new horse.
I got to the farm first and sat in my truck facing the fence line of a wide paddock. Behind it, five additional paddocks, equally wide, stacked up. There was a horse in each, eating a pile of hay.
As I watched the horses eat, I noticed that they talked a lot to each other. And not in a friendly way. Every one of the five horses would here and there dish out some hairy eyeballs. Would lift a hind leg. Or snake their neck to the left or right or both.
Looking at the situation more closely, I realized that the paddocks were wide one way but very narrow the other way. I’d say no wider than thirty feet.
And then I saw the culprit of the neighborly infringement. The hay.
The pile of hay for each horse was placed in the exact same spot in each paddock. The hay had been placed about 20 feet into the paddock. The same spot in each paddock. And that meant to eat their breakfast, the horses had to stand in a row next to each other. And their energy bubbles and their personal space were infringed upon. Despite the fence, energy doesn’t stay contained in a fence, of course. So basically, the horses all felt like how we feel when we eat breakfast sitting on a full airplane. Elbows almost touching.
I get why the hay was dropped right there. The person who fed it dropped it past the muddy area that always happens around the water throughs. And s/he dropped it as close as possible to the entrance to make it more convenient and safe time.
So, I wonder, how long will it take these horses who can’t eat in peace to build up enough tension that they eventually have an unexpected or undesired behavior? All because nobody ever observed the horses during their meals.
And, maybe those who observe the horses call out, “Daisy, stop the faces.” Or, “Duke, knock it odd.” To which daisy and Duke would say … “Gladly. If you could remove the other horse out of my bubble.”
Which is, of course, easily done. If each hay pile were dropped at a different distance away from the gate, it would stack the horses up differently, and all could eat in peace.
Here is another example of humans wanting things to be convenient. I wrote a column about it many, many years ago when i still had my sweet yellow lab Amber.
I often took Amber to a small local park where she got to exercise and sniff her little heart out.
There i noticed that in theory we tell ourselves that we are ‘taking the dog for a walk’, when the reality shows that we are often rather directive in how we want the dog to have fun.
Here is what I mean. The person holds the dog on a leash and walks at a certain pace through the park. The dog decides to sniff a shrub, the owner stops and, after a couple of short moments, encourages the dog to move on. The dog submits until the next interesting bush gets his attention. At this one, he sniffs and pees. The owner waits patiently until the dog relieves himself and says, “Come on, Lucky, let’s go”. The dog keeps sniffing until he feels the collar tightening up, and then he moves on. A tree comes up on the left, the dog stops to sniff again, and the person stops for a moment and then pulls the dog off the tree. Next, the dog wants to follow whatever he just sniffed, but the person wants him to walk on the path, not into the woods. … you get the picture?
No opportunity for the dog to truly read the neighborhood and explore who was here and who dropped what. For a dog, that is a very dissatisfying walk.
So I decided to observe what a dog on her own accord does.
Amber and I went to the park. I let her out of the truck and waited to see where she wanted to go. I did not use a leash for the experiment. However, later I tried it with a leash, which also works.