Pam Stone | Are horses smart? You decide

07/26/2014 12:00 AM

07/17/2014 9:47 AM

It’s not uncommon for people, who have not been around them, to ask me, “Are horses smart?”

Well, let’s see: One of mine is capable of opening his stall door, another begins whinnying for dinner, promptly at 5 p.m. (I still don’t know how he knows exactly the right time), and Forrest, my newest acquisition, is becoming quite the quick study regarding his new career under saddle.

On the other hand, if you leave the door to the feed room open and they manage to get into where the grain is stored, they will, as all horses, eat themselves to death. Sort of like a 14-year-old boy – they’re seemingly incapable of feeling full, and this leads to colic and laminitis and all sorts of things with a grim prognosis.

So I’m not really sure how to answer that question. Being creatures of habit, they’ve been known, incredulously, to run back into a burning stable after being rescued and perish, because they feel safe in their stall. And yet, their courage and nobility have carried men on their backs to victory in battle, despite their own suffering and demise.

Forrest, with only the handful of races under his belt (or girth), carries in his body the souvenirs of having had even a short career on the track: lumps and bumps, the beginnings of arthritis and, just discovered by his chiropractor (never mind that I haven’t seen anyone in the medical profession since Pet Rocks were all the rage), muscle spasms in his loins and his sacrum being “out to the left.”

It makes sense to me, as I begin transitioning my horse from a career of galloping straight ahead and, like NASCAR, taking the occasional left, to a dressage career, to make sure he is physically comfortable in every aspect, and this is why I called out Dr. Baker.

Standing on a step stool in order to be above his back, Forrest exhibited wariness at this peculiar human behavior. However, Dr. B. is not only a veterinarian, but also an accomplished rider, knowing how to work quietly and soothingly, and after massaging away his spasms, Forrest was ready to form a new religion around her.

When the accupuncture needles came out, this was met with a big, hairy eye, but trust was restored and Forrest, resembling something like an enormous porcupine, begin to droop his neck and yawn – always an indicator of release.

His session over, I turned my boy out into the field to keep everything moving like a well-oiled machine and returned to bring him in for dinner a few hours later. I was leaning against the top half of his stall door, my back to him, watching another horse across the aisle when I felt something push against my back, retreat, then push again.

Turning to look over my shoulder, expecting to see Forrest’s head, nudging for a carrot, I was surprised to be greeted by his massive, chestnut, rump, rocking back and forth as if performing “the bump” from the disco era. I patted his hindquarter and as soon as I did, he pushed his bum assertively toward me. The penny dropped: he had so enjoyed his chiropractic visit that he was asking for more, so chuckling, I leaned over and rubbed the top of his butt for five minutes. It wasn’t enough. When I entered his stall, he followed me around, in reverse, for “just five more minutes, Mom.”

Is this horse smart? I’m not sure. But he sure ain’t no dummy.

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