You know the old saying you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Well, it’s true. This week, frustratingly so. The barn installed new drinking posts for the horses, a type of automatic waterer none of the horses on the property had encountered before, and there was quite the learning curve for them to figure it out. The idea behind these posts is that the horse sticks their nose in and pushes down on a paddle, which then causes the bowl to fill. There is no water in the bowl until the paddle is pushed to prevent freezing. Great in theory and great once the horses figure out that this is their new source of water. Unfortunately, you have to teach them how it works.
And so begins how I spent my Saturday. Now, Luc is a pretty smart fellow. He has learned many things in a short period of time (some of which we wish he would forget!), and he’s not typically afraid of new things. We led him over to where the drinking post was installed and filled up the bowl so he would see it’s where the water comes from now. He was quick to investigate, but wasn’t interested in drinking. At least he wasn’t afraid of the noise the water makes as it rushes up the post and into the bowl. Some of the other horses on the property had to be coaxed just to get near the thing!
Realizing that perhaps he wasn’t thirsty, we took him inside and got him tacked up and ready to ride. It was a nice relaxing ride, which was a little surprising since we were in the indoor arena and the wind was howling pretty loudly. He gave the big door at the scary end the stink eye a few times when we passed it, but otherwise behaved beautifully. We even jumped a small x-rail a few times – which was mostly for my enjoyment. Luc really could care less when the fences are that small. The blue and white decoration on his toes after our ride is always a dead giveaway he wasn’t really putting an effort into it at all.
After he was cooled out, done eating and ready to go back outside we decided to try again to teach him how to work the waterer. He has been in fields with automatic systems before, but this is the first one he’s encountered where there isn’t any standing water to entice him. We filled up the waterer again to remind him that this is where the water comes from. He was prepared to stick his nose in, but in a way that he completely missed pushing down the paddle! He kept turning his head sideways to avoid hitting it. He also didn’t actually drink anything, and mostly just splashed the water around. Sigh. It was going to be a very long day of trying to get Luc to actually drink anything.
Finally after about an hour we gave up and left Luc to his own devices. He had long since lost interest in the drinking post and was instead sleeping in a sunny spot in the shelter. Thankfully the barn owner went out later that day to make sure all the horses got something to drink – even the ones who hadn’t figured out the new system yet.
The next morning I slept in while Jen (Luc’s owner) went back to the barn to begin again, but it would seem Luc had figured things out on his own. Huzzah! After their ride (which was just as great as mine the day before), she took Luc over to the drinking post, backed away and watched him work his magic. She hadn’t filled up the bowl with water, wanting to make sure Luc could do it himself. It took him a try or two, but he did press down the paddle and drink his fill. Finally!
I have to admit that it was a bit of a stressful time, what with wondering if your horse has actually figured out how to drink or not. I’m beyond relieved that we’re not going to have to make routine trips to the barn to fill up the bowl on the drinking post for him.
So while you can’t exactly lead a horse to water and make him drink, you can teach him the skills he’ll need to figure it out himself later. It kind of reminds me a bit of another old adage – give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Give a horse some water and you quench his thirst for a day. Teach a horse how to work the waterer and you quench his thirst for the entire time he lives in that field.
Now hopefully Luc will help teach the other horses in his herd the way of the new magic water source.