“We just can’t get our hands on him, we’ve tried herding the group into the small paddock and letting the others out, but he just won’t let us catch him…”
I love a challenge. Especially a challenge that lets me indulge my inner 12 year old, who can magically tame wild horses with only the power of my love. This guy, I knew, would be a challenge. He is an very tall 6 year old bay gelding, who unfortunately had a bit of what we call a “crash” after coming to Happy Horse Acres. Most of the horses go through a phase where they lose some muscle, they might have skin problems, and they look a little rough around the edges for a while as they adjust to the “wilderness” and waist high grass, but this guy went through it a bit worse than normal, losing more weight than we’d like to see and throwing us into a bit of worry. At the same time, he was not allowing anyone to catch him, so it was difficult to accurately assess how he was doing, give him de-wormer, etc.
On Sunday I spent a half-hearted ten minutes with a friend trying to see if we could lay hands on him. No go. I touched him once, but he wanted nothing to do with it. He never ran away, but always kept just out of reach, looking somewhat stressed about the process at the same time.
So I decided to go back on my own last night, when I had a fair amount of time to work with, and didn’t have to worry about keeping anyone else waiting. I figured if it took three hours, that would be fine (but it wouldn’t, I knew it, because I am confident in my powers, and the love oozing from my pores would win him over, just like all the horse books I used to read said!!!).
I am nothing, if not optimistic.
I was also lucky – my target, who I will be calling The Dude from here on out, was in the big run in shed with three other horses when I walked out. And the three other horses happened to be some of the friendliest horses you will ever meet. So as long as I was there, they were not going anywhere. And as long as they were there, The Dude wasn’t going to go off too far on his own. Score!
I’ve long since learned that the art of catching horses who don’t want to be caught is mostly based in… not trying too hard. Don’t push it. As soon as he saw me, he gave me the hairy eyeball, and went on immediate high alert. I didn’t go near him right away, instead stopping to say hi to Tuck and the two new horses. They all wanted rubbins and scratchins, so I obliged. I spent about five minutes visiting before even shifting my weight in The Dude’s direction, giving him a chance to assess the situation.
When I did turn my attention on him… he was off and walking. He knew what I wanted, and wanted no part of it, so he left the shed and started walking up the hill. No problem. I never got any closer to him, nor did I alter my speed from his. We walked up the hill about 15 feet apart, him slightly ahead, and I only altered my speed and direction when he did. The other three goonies followed.
Eventually he stopped, grabbing a bite of grass. I stopped too. Then I was immediately swarmed by the other three. We played a little game for about ten minutes – me taking a step towards him, and him walking away at speed, me following until he stopped, then going back to play with the other horses.
Then something changed about the dynamic. With Tuck in front of me, the newbies on my left and behind me, suddenly The Dude was only about 6 feet away from me, the closest he’d ever allowed. And seriously, it was one of those moments – everything gets sort of quiet, and I knew I was just about “there” with him. The light from the setting sun was behind him, making his eyes glow, and he had lowered his head, relaxing a little bit, just watching me (and judging me a bit, I’m sure). I kept scratching Tuck, but watched him right back.
I didn’t move, even to shift my weight towards him, just watched him. “I’m here to make you feel better, you know,” I said. Corny, but bear with me. I talk to horses as if they understand, all the time. And it works, too. I don’t think they really understand, but they get tone and intent, and saying things out loud makes them more “true” – your body language follows, and for sure horses understand that too. “You don’t feel so great, do you, love?”
He stood there looking at me, and I saw him shift his weight back and forth a few times. Then the really big moment, a half step forward, in my direction. He let out a deep breath, and I knew we were good. I reached out my hand and held it to his nose, and within the space of a heartbeat, he pushed his nose into my hand.
We stood there a few moments, out in the setting sun, the other horses no longer interrupting or asking for attention. I began rubbing his head, first with one hand and then with both – big, sweeping motions up over his forehead, and down over his eyes and jaws. He closed those pretty eyes, and dropped his head some more. I actually waited a few minutes before even raising the halter – just stroked his face while he relaxed, and told him what a wonderful, beautiful boy he was.
Once I had the halter on, he was initially quite hesitant to come with me – yet again I started chattering, “it’s OK my big love, I’m going to try and make you feel better. You don’t have to do anything except be your big handsome self.” And soon we were on our way, and out in one of the grooming areas.
He enjoyed a good curry, which removed the nasty looking remains of winter fuzz from his back and butt, he stood extremely quietly for fly spray, and for skin-goo application, and enjoyed a few bites of grain to reward him for trusting me a little bit.
The farm manager walked by and said, “wait, who’s that?”
“It’s the big skinny horse.”
“How did you do that so fast?”
“Duh! I’m a horse whisperer.”
The good news is that The Dude is actually not doing too bad – his height (around 17 hands), and a pronounced hunter bump, along with lack of topline (and let’s be fair, he did lose some weight), made him look a bit rougher than he actually is. He has good, squishable flesh over his shoulders and stifles, his weight has picked up just since I saw him over the weekend, and even though he did have some rainrot, the active infection is gone and everything is healing. He got some dewormer, some nolvasan on the few little cuts he had, and I checked his feet – all in all, he’s a really nice guy who I think is going to turn out just fine.