It’s spring. Hair is in the Air.
Ahhhh…the sweet shedding season. Grooming: the horse that was itchy and bristling with hair is now sparkly and slick, you who were sparkly and slick are now filthy and bristling with itchy hair.
Shedding season with Sunshine is complicated. Originally, Katherine kept him heavily blanketed AND clipped in the hopes he wouldn’t grow a winter coat. No such luck. She finally gave up when he retired. Right now he looks like an elegant Yeti.
Sunshine is an Anglo-Arab (Thoroughbred and Arabian mix, for the non-horsey). He’s got Arabian sensitivity to his surroundings, and both Arab and TB reaction times: 0 to 90 before you can say “Whaaa…?”
He is one fast, sensitive, spooky guy. He’s honest though. The only thing that consistently frightens him are flat objects on the ground, double boogie man points if object is white.
Our first spring together:
I arrive ready to be worshiped from the cross ties. Sunshine LOVES to be groomed. It puts us both in our happy place. I give Sunshine a peppermint. He closes his eyes and sucks on it as if it’s the most exquisite taste ever created. He’s made one peppermint last 18 minutes. I can’t make a peppermint last 18 minutes. He loves the rubber curry with it’s rounded massaging fingers. It’s how we start. Occasionally, the circular rubbing will knock him out completely, causing him to drop the peppermint and snore.
I start currying.
Remember, I’m thinking snore, zoned out, peppermint sucking, relax.
Sunshine completely loses it. His eyes roll, he’s trembling all over, he’s bracing his legs and threatening to rear. He’s rapidly escalating into panic, and I didn’t have one clue why. I’m standing there with my curry comb, helpfully talking to him like he’s Lassie:
What, Sunshine? What are you trying to tell me? I’ll get help! Uncle Joe fell down a well? Which one? The one in the north field?
He, of course, continued to melt down. Then a breeze rolled a curry shaped mat of the fallen white hair over itself on the ground and onto his hoof. He went ballistic: it was white, it was on the ground. Thank God for safety release clips.
Sunshine was afraid of his own hair.
I walked him out till he calmed down, figured it was a teaching moment, bent over, and picked up a wad hoping to show him it was his own hair, and started to hold it up to his nostrils for a sniff.
Three stitches on his poll, a hefty vet bill, and massive amounts of sedation later, I was able to groom him without a swat team.
Because of his impairment (see Special Needs Horses), Sunshine doesn’t understand the white stuff came off of him. He doesn’t understand shedding. Katherine was so used to dealing with it, she forgot to tell me before she went on vacation.
Other horses put it together. I’m itchy. When you scratch me my hair falls off and I don’t itch so much. Huh. Not as hot either. Hurry up, okay?
They practically hand you a shedding blade.
Sunshine’s thinking is: Itchy. You rub? Oooooo….there. Ooooo…there TOO. How do you know where I itch? I like you, you know that? You’re nice.
Wait…is that white? Do I see white? AHHHHHHHHHHHH…there’s all this….this…stuff in the air…scared…on me! On you! On GROUND! RUN!!
Now that he’s retired (read: no longer blanketed in a stall) Sunshine has become a sort of shedding meter. We glance down at Sunshine’s pasture: if we see a white horse calmly grazing, swishing his (white) tail, and then leaping out of his skin because some loose hair drifted off, you know they’re starting to shed out. If the wild eyed leaping turns into plunging and skittering, the horses are really starting to shed out, because he’s spooking at the extra hair cloud caused by his first spook.
You can see how this has the potential to escalate into full blown mental breakdown of endless hair poofing and reactive spooking. I try to keep him as immaculately groomed as possible, and have learned many devious ways of sneaking wads of hair out of the grooming area.
Another horse, you’d keep working to desensitize, but it would be cruel to do that to Sunshine, because he can’t connect the dots. Over the years, through sheer willingness to put trust over his instinct to flee, he’s been able to get to the place of handling a little airborne hair while quietly trembling in the cross ties.
It’s good enough.