By: Doug Breen
Humour columnist Doug Breen considers the way horses must feel about the strange things we do to them, from tacking up to trailering.
It occurred to me the other day that our horses must think that the trailer is some kind of magic box. I mean, we know what’s happening. We take on an unusually large car payment in order to have a vehicle big enough to pull the trailer, spend the value of a second car to buy a trailer, and then use that trailer to transport our equine herd from one place to another. But from the horse’s point of view, it’s a bright white stall, where immediately after the door shuts, there’s a cacophony of sounds and lights and confusion. It shakes and rattles, and the normally accepted sense of how gravity ought to behave is completely thrown out the window. Then, when all those shenanigans stop, the bright white stall opens up, and you’re in an entirely different place, where you might not know a soul, or conversely, be surrounded by many former stable mates that you haven’t seen in months. Very magical indeed – TARDIS-like, actually (TARDIS, of course, standing for Time and Relative Dimension in Space, as any Dr. Who fan can tell you).
Then I got thinking about other things that must seem curious from their perspective. Why is there water in the bucket sometimes, but at other times, no water? Why do some buckets never get empty, no matter how much you drink? Why are some fences just fences, while others are electric – and what the heck is going on with that electricity anyhow? Racehorses must be very confused – they run as fast as they can, with a bunch of other horses, and a half dozen furlongs later, they finish right back where they started. Are we chasing a fox, or are we herding all these dogs? Why would I jump over this brightly painted pile of sticks, when I could just as easily walk around it? Why won’t that cart stop following me? Lunging must strike them as a complete waste of time – like a Stairmaster.
But the thing that must seem strangest of all, is the day that the first human tacks them up and starts training them. I know that if some other species (oh, let’s say a platypus) showed up one sunny morning with the expectation that it could jump on my back for a ride whenever it felt like it, it would end poorly for the platypus. Similarly, if he tied a little platypus wagon or cart to me, with the expectation that I’d drag it around for him all day, he would once again leave disappointed, and with his massive platypus tail between his legs. And if farmer platypus thinks I’m pulling a plow…
Imagine it. There you are, mane flowing in the breeze, standing under your favorite tree, thinking about colicking for absolutely no reason – and across the paddock comes the food bringer. (Sorry horse people, I know that we all like to talk about the mystic bond between horse and rider, but from the horse’s perspective – you’re a source of food. I have the same mystic bond with The Purple Pig Pizzeria). But today, the food bringer hasn’t brought an apple, or a bale of hay, or anything to eat – she’s going to strap a bunch of stuff to your back, cinch it up with a girth (an extended girth in my case), and then sit on you. One minute you’re trying to muster the energy to shift your weight from one foot to the other, and the next minute, there’s an extra 150 pounds on your back and a bit in your mouth.
Having seen this routine, more than a few times, it’s pretty obvious that for reasons I can’t explain that most horses actually seem to enjoy this. I know that I wouldn’t, and since I have opposable thumbs, the aforementioned platypus rider would have a pretty short morning. Let’s say that you were a horse that for no particular reason didn’t like people sitting on your back. I don’t like people touching my ears, and not wanting someone on your back seems a whole lot more reasonable to me. But in the end, what choice do they have? If you object too strenuously, you’ll be back in the TARDIS trailer and down the road.
Fortunately, horses have been domesticated for so long they seem to like to do the same things that we like to do, and are comfortable with the things that we are comfortable with. So, although some things might seem strange to them, they look awfully happy to me, as opposed to my dog, who doesn’t think anything is strange, because she’s never had a coherent thought in her life.