Thursday, December 8, 2016

Equine Communication

I'm not sure if you've seen the article on a Blanketing Preferences Study that was circulating around Facebook a few weeks ago (even though I think the study is from a couple of years ago).  If you haven't, the study basically found that horses could be taught to communicate about their blanketing preferences through the use of three different signs.  One sign meant "blanket off," another sign meant "blanket on," and a third meant "no change."  The 23 horses in the study reliably learned to use the signs to communicate their blanket preferences and the researchers believe the results were legitimate in part because the horses' preferences seemed correlated with the weather (for example, the colder, wetter, windier it was, the more horses wanted to wear blankets).

One part of me is happy the study was done and that the results convinced the researchers that horses can communicate their preferences.  Another part of me is thinking, "Of course, horses can communicate with a different species - they are sentient beings!  Why do we need a study to tell us that?"  Any one who has worked around horses for any length of time and who isn't a complete idiot figures out that horses can communicate their needs and desires to humans.  We sometimes/often ignore what they tell us, but the communication attempt is still there.

In fact, I think it is more common than not in the animal world for different species to communicate with each other.  Not that Facebook is necessarily the most accurate news reporting tool, but pictures abound of different species interacting with each other in meaningful ways, so it seems reasonable to think that horses can and want to communicate with humans and they may even think it is just as cool as we do.

With respect to Nimo, I have definitely noticed him communicating very specific things to me over the years and to be honest, I'm not always sure how I know what he is telling me.  (And there may be times when I misunderstood.).  I remember him expressing really clear preferences about a particular sheepskin half pad - he hated it.  But looking back on the situation, I could have thought that he hated the saddle or the other pad I was using or the girth or just didn't want to be ridden.  Yet somehow I knew almost instantly that his pinned ears and nose flinging were specifically because of the half pad.  And there have been times when I've "asked" him if he wanted to stay in his stall for the night or go back out into his field with a run-in shed during bad weather.  Twice he "told" me he wanted to stay in by basically walking into his stall and using body language that indicated he wanted to stay in the stall.  Then there was the time he kicked my thigh when I was taking off a hoof boot (it was a Cavallo Simple) after the Fort Valley LD.  His kick was just hard enough to get my attention, but not hard enough to do any damage.  He has never kicked before or since, so I am convinced he was telling me that he did not like those hoof boots and I've never used them on his hind feet again.  Plus, there is the hackamore versus bit issue that I posted about a couple of days ago where he bit a piece of my sleeve when I tried to put a bit in his mouth.

Given all this, it probably shouldn't have surprised me when Nimo communicated something a bit unusual to me on a couple of different occasions, but it kind of did.  You may remember that I like to use the bladder meridian technique from the Masterson Method of equine massage (you can Google the technique and get tons of hits, but here's a link to a quick video that gives an overview).  I never seem to do it as often as I want to, but I try to use the technique at least every few weeks to check for sore areas and relieve tension.

It was probably about 3 months or so ago and I was turning Nimo out in his field after a ride.  Normally when I turn him out, he goes to get a drink of water or a bit of hay or graze or check in with his pasture buddies.  And normally, at least one of the other horses that is out in the field comes over to see what is going on.  This day, though, Nimo didn't move after I took his halter off.  I can't even begin to imagine exactly how he communicated what he wanted, but somehow I knew he wanted me to use the bladder meridian technique.  So I started at his right poll and worked through his entire right side without identifying anything significant.  Then I started on his left poll and worked my way to his back, where I identified a significant point of tension in his mid-back.  He immediately started yawning and licking and chewing and then he walked away.  I got the very clear impression that getting me to relieve that tension was all he wanted (and I was dismissed because my services were no longer needed) and then he was ready to go join the herd.  Interestingly, none of the other horses came over to us while I was working on Nimo even though there is at least one of them who is abundantly curious about everything and is typically joined at the hip with Nimo.

And in case you think this is an isolated case that I may have gotten wrong, the same thing happened this past Saturday.  I rode with a friend out at the Virginia Arboretum and when I got back to the barn, I took Nimo directly off the trailer and walked him to his paddock.  Again, he stayed with me even though it would be quite typical for him to get a drink of water after being gone for several hours.  Remembering the last time he did that, I started on the bodywork again.  I began at his right poll and worked through his right side.  Everything seemed fine.  Then I worked through his left side and again everything seemed fine and I wondered if I misunderstood.  Until I got to the buttock and thigh area.  He started yawning like crazy and tossing his head and generally indicating that there had been a lot of tension in that area.  This time, he waited until I completely finished his left side and hung around for some petting afterward.  And significantly, I think, none of the other horses came over until I was done with the bodywork.

I happen to think that level of communication is pretty amazing.  I mean, was it telepathic?  How did I know what he wanted the first time?  Or was it some kind of fluke that just happened to pan out?  And did the other horses somehow know to stay away or was it a coincidence?  It's fascinating to think about and while I like to believe that I'm grounded in science most of the time, sometimes I think there might just be a little more to the world.

1 comment:

  1. This post made me smile, because it is the story of my life. It happens at home with the cats, at the barn with the horses, and at work with my patients. There are many times when the communication is obvious, but there have been many, many times when the communication was as vague as Nimo's was the first time he asked you for bodywork. There is a look from the animal and a moment of waiting, no other indication, but if you're paying attention, you just...know. It's especially thrilling to get it right with individuals that you don't know on a personal basis.

    I consider myself to be grounded in science too, but I completely agree: there is certainly more to the world, and there are things in life that can't always be explained with logic/science. Not yet, at least. :)

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