My entrance into helping at the training barn caused a disturbance in the force.
The former helper was male. The training barn is heavily weighted to mares at the moment. Apparently, they looked forward to their cabana boy.
They were not exactly unhappy with me. Ears swiveled at each other: “It’s not cabana boy! Is this good or bad?”
The geldings response was instant and welcoming: Awesome. Dude, look! It’s a chick! One youngster was oddly gleeful: “Mommy!! Where have you been?!?” Um. Right here, I guess?
The mares decided to hold a sorority meeting after the barn was closed up for the night.
Girls in a herd are much trickier to navigate than boys. Ask any high school boy who’s been brave enough to attempt cutting a girl out of the herd. It usually doesn’t go well.
I think about this. It’s never good when one is left out of a sorority meeting.
I was new: I expected to get the horse version of super-glue-to-the-chair, notes passed behind my back, and a blackboard scrawled with derogatory “Teacher is…” phrases when I walked into the barn.
I wasn’t going in blind. The trainer gave me a rough overview of personalities, quirks, and habits. I was looking forward to one quiet alpha mare in particular. Barn staff had nominated her as “Least Likely to be Difficult”. Very sweet mare. Her quirk: she dislikes having her blanket touched. Problematic, since I’ll be taking it off and putting it on at least twice a day.
The next morning, I walked into a barn of unusually docile mares. Sweet faces innocently hang over stall doors. Stupidly, this did not activate either my Mom Mayday Siren or Substitute Teacher Hazard Warning Lights.
Awww… They like me! How cool is that?
I unblanket, groom, bandage and lunge the higher-strung Alphas before the arena is packed.
They were perfectly behaved.
Relaxed, and in the rhythm, I went on to the less-amped alpha and beta mares, leaving Miss Least Likely for last.
Fortunately, beyond The Mare Stare of Death, and slight ear pinning, she’s never acted her feelings out. I remove her blanket under the Death Stare. Try to coax her ears forward. Nada.
Oh well. We go about grooming and working.
Apparently the Sorority of Mares had a secret nomination and a hazing plan.
Guess which mare drew the short straw?
Returning her to her stall, I quietly pull the blanket over Miss Least Likely’s head, adjust it, and reach under her belly for the strap to fasten her blanket, pleased her ears are momentarily forward.
(I’m making progress! She likes me!)
A flash of movement and a searing pain on my butt instantly told me that while I thought I was cooing this message: “Its safe, you can trust me.” She received this message: “YOU can be the Alpha Mare, I, Jane, am a wimp, please take over.”
You could do a dental ID on this mare by photographing my rear. It’s clear she’s had excellent dental care. Beautiful teeth. Nice and even grip.
Mares 1. Jane 0.
Luckily, she was self-correcting. She had a violent reaction to biting me: assuming (somewhat correctly) I was going to beat her to death, she backed up, reared, and hit her head, looking shocked and startled. She was convinced I’d somehow managed to correct her from afar. I glared at her, to reinforce her mistaken idea I’d actually done the correction. It’s hard to glare when you are mad at yourself for being stupid, not the glare-ee for acting horse-like. But I took one for the team.
Before I shut the stall door behind me, I notice every single mare in he barn is on high alert. Our interchange had been closely monitored. Oh. Good. Miss Least Likely’s huge reaction did me a favor: they all believe I aggressively turned on her and instantly dealt out alpha mare justice.
I’m not about to set them straight. I glare at them too, until they turn away, or put their heads down.
I calm Miss Least Likely by ignoring my throbbing butt, forcing myself to relax, and unnecessarily adjusting her blanket until the tension drains from her body. When she pins her ears, I get in her face. Her ears go forward, relieved. She didn’t really want to be the boss. She lowers her head and nudges me: I had to. I drew the short straw. Sorry? Do over?
I rub her face.