We talked about Special Needs horses, which of course made me think of their counterparts: horses with a combination of super high intelligence, independent, out of the box thinking, light speed processing and logical conclusion skills that have left me in the dust.
(Unfortunately, I’m speaking both metaphorically and literally.)
A Tail of Two Horses is about one of the smartest horses I’ve ever known: Vladimir. Or Vlad the Cad, as he was secretly referred to behind his back in the tack rooms.
Some horses are intelligent about learning, and pick up even complicated concepts quickly, and we call them smart. (And they are.)
Then there are horses who think far beyond what we ask of them, and in fact, learn everything with such ease, it feels as if only half their brains register your requests.
This is because only half their brain IS paying attention to you. The other half is probably calculating bucking angles, velocity, and geometric distances on how you would fall off at different gaits and bucking forces. Just for fun. Something to do on bored autopilot while sailing over the 4 footer or yawning their way through a canter half pass.
Super smart horses are just as demanding as Special Needs horses, and require a different kind of finesse, but the same ride every stride mentality just to stay safe. A partly checked out horse is not a safe horse.
More often than not, our barn is packed to the gills with boarders. No open stalls, paddocks, pasture or covered runs. Some of the horses do best in pasture year round, even the older ones. But when it’s rained for a week straight, even with shelter and blankets, you can bet some of them get a little bleary and sleep deprived.
One of the barns has some old tie stalls (yes I hate them too) that are used to good purpose in the winter. Older horses are brought in during the worst parts of storms, given whichever meal is up, and have a chance for a few hours of uninterrupted sleeping. Youngsters get used to being in a narrow space with another horse right next to them, as a precursor to learning to trailer. Surprisingly (to me) when given a choice, certain horses will choose the tie stalls over being outside in the winter every time. They have to be shooed out. Pumpkin and Vladimir are both among the shove-em-out-the-door category. The horses are not tied in the stalls. There is only a single rubber covered butt chain behind each horse, to serve as a back-out deterrent.
I noticed that Pumpkin was losing weight. It was a particularly bad winter, and certain horses were being brought in every day for a period of time to get meals and nap times: older horses, hard keepers, or just a few the manager wanted to keep a closer eye on. Pumpkin was being brought in every single day for blanket check, lunch, and an afternoon nap. So was Vlad, who, while not older, was a hard keeper. Usually, these relatively short indoor times helped stabilize any weight/sleep issues.
Vlad was getting quite plump and well rested. Pumpkin was nodding off mid stride, and losing weight, despite his easy keeper status. Strangely, the barn manager found him loose several times in the aisle of the tie stall area. Something wasn’t right. I decided to do a little detective work. Under cover of hay tossing lunch noises, I hid myself in a corner of the barn, hoping the resident skunk would still be snoozing.
It was eye opening.
Vlad munched a little bit of lunch: this was room service and he had all the time in the world. Pumpkin shoved his entire head into the feeder and acted as if it was his last meal on earth. He ate fast, stuffing himself. I nearly gave it up right then and there: I was worried Pumpkin would colic. I heard the barn managers truck start. Vlad stopped eating. The sound of her tires on the gravel ebbed away. Long pause. Pumpkin is furiously chomping. Vlad is…listening? He does absolutely nothing until we can no longer hear the truck. Doesn’t move a hair. Head raised. Ears intently pricked.
Satisfied he’s home free, Vlad nimbly turns himself around by using his shoulders and butt to push the thick side planks outward just enough to squeeze through a turn. He’s now facing his butt chain. Next, he nonchalantly and carefully steps over the chain, letting himself out of his stall.
But Pumpkin was the one who was always loose! What was this about?
Vlad walked over to Pumpkin’s stall, and nimbly unclipped a bull snap from an eye hook. The butt chain dropped. Vlad bit Pumpkin on the rump until Pumpkin backed out of the stall with as much alfalfa as he could carry. Vlad leisurely entered Pumpkins stall, and ate all of Pumpkin’s lunch while Pumpkin wandered sadly in the aisle.
Finished, Vlad backed out, goes back to his own stall, climbs back OVER his own butt rope, and finished his own lunch. Pumpkin raced back in to an empty feeder, and sighed dejectedly. Interesting. Vlad clearly knew how to unhook a bull snap, but chose to climb over his.
It was very hard to sit still and watch the whole thing – but I thought it in the best future interest of the horses to know the entire picture.
This is what the manager would see upon returning: Pumpkin wandering loose and her horse innocently and properly in his stall, chewing slowly.
I was completely astounded. Vlad knew Pumpkin would take the fall.
Naturally I fed Pumpkin again, and moved Vlad (who was shooting stakes at me with his eyes) back to his covered paddock so Pumpkin could eat and sleep.
You have never seen a happier horse. FINALLY Pumpkin was full, and sleepy, and could take a nap. He was conked out within seconds.
Vlad refused to look at me for a week. He was furious at being a) discovered, b) foiled and c) being ratted out to his owner. (Who never questioned the likelihood of this happening, because it’s exactly what Vlad would do given half a chance.)
Do you have any Mensa Horse stories to share? We want to hear them!