When I brought the horses in from the paddocks this afternoon Ron, the farrier, was shoeing Blue. It turned out that my timing was perfect. The aisle was clear for me to lead in each of the horses. Ron was forming the shoes over his anvil in the back of his truck and Blue was in his stall. We chatted while he trimmed the pads for Blue. I went from stall to stall removing outdoor blankets and replacing them with stable blankets. Every horse, but one, was happily munching on his hay. Zeloso had his head out the stall gate, watching every move Ron made. I laughed and said, “Look at who is in charge of this barn!”
A moment later I emerged from a stall lugging an outdoor blanket and I saw that Ron was standing in front of Zeloso. I wondered if something was wrong, then laughed again. The two were nose to nose, exchanging breaths. Ron explained, “We have a horse like this and I knew he wanted to smell me. If I didn’t let him do it, he wouldn’t settle.”
How right he was!
Ron continued, “When I work on young horses at the race track I always take the time to let them sniff me. Especially the fillies. If I don’t, the youngster will be agitated and difficult to work with. I often notice a horse showing an interest in someone and the person miss-interprets this curiosity and pushes the horse away. Over time the horse learns to be wary of people. If you get a chance to watch them out in their paddocks, you’ll see them doing this, nose to nose. This sniffing is how the horses greet each other. I’ve learned to let the horses smell me before I work on them. Everything goes a lot smoother.”
I said, “Ron, horse people like you know things and have known them for a long time and you just figure that everyone knows what you know. But the rest of us don’t. For example, Allen Pogue pointed out a few things to me. He said, ‘Horses will always yield their heads.’ And ‘If there’s the slightest/smallest opening out of the place where you’re working a horse, the horse will be focused on that opening. The horse is hard-wired to know where to flee.’”
Ron added, “Most of what I’ve learned has been through observing horses.”