My black mare, Dicey, is an expresser.
I’ve cared for six different horses at this point, and I had the chance to know all of them pretty well during the time they were at our barn. All of them have had likes and dislikes, funny quirks, and different problems…just like any other animal, human or otherwise.
We have Dicey’s age pegged at about 24. She’s not papered as far as I know–we wound up with her because some other people were tired of taking care of her. The previous owners wanted a chance for her to be on pasture, which I’ve got.
She’s a coarsely-built mare–sturdy legs, big head, and round as a barrel. She has one of those low facial whorls that looks more like a long feather (I think I remember Linda Tellington writing that any horse with a whorl like this who isn’t willing and affectionate needs to have a history check for abuse). I know she’s had at least one baby, and that she was ridden in a saddle that pinched her withers (she has the white-hair scarring to prove it). But other than that, everything else about her is just a guess.
The first thing I noticed about Dice was how bossy she was with the horse she was living with when we went to pick her up. Even though she could barely walk (she hadn’t been trimmed in some time) she gimped all over the pen after the Appy gelding that was in her “care.” We all were grinning about that while we watched them.
At the time, I’d been looking for an older horse that was in fairly decent shape to babysit my fillies. I’d had to put down the Polish arab I’d wound up with because he kept blowing through fencing–he was nearly blind and deaf and built like a Mack truck. He could go through the fence without a scratch, but the girls would wind up with horrendous cuts and wire marks on their lower legs, and my neighbors were tired of waking up in the morning to find my horses looking in their kitchen window.
Dicey followed me into the trailer like she’d always been my horse. Once she’d been trimmed, her gait improved tenfold. And I began the long process of getting to know this interesting mare.
I had accidentally wound up with exactly the horse that I needed. I didn’t feel right about the “girls” being out in the pasture without an older horse–and yes, they were two and old enough to take care of themselves, but there are dangers all the same–snakes, skunks, fence problems, wild neighbor kids, strange farm equipment. Dicey is one of the most solid horses I’ve ever seen as far as remaining calm in emergencies.
But Dicey also turned out to be a taskmaster. My paint filly, Friday, is an intelligent and independent type who had been acting as the arab’s caretaker. She would always try to help when he was having problems seeing where he was going. Although Andy would occasionally try to boss her around, it was easy to see his heart wasn’t in it–even though he towered over her, he just wasn’t interested in discipline. I never saw Friday be aggressive with Andy, but there were many times when he wouldn’t bother chasing her off from his feed or when he would allow her to bull into his space.
Dicey, on the other hand, immediately took charge. She saw Friday for what she was–a young filly that needed her guidance, and plenty of it. I know some folks hate it when their horses pop up with any ding or scratch from pasture-dust-ups, but Friday is a tough enough nut that I’m actually glad to see her missing a patch of hair now and then. I am a firm believer that this kind of older-horse schooling makes it easier for a young horse to mind their manners no matter what situation they might find themselves in (either with other horses or people). It teaches them to pay attention at all times and not to overstep their bounds–and older horses also “show” younger horses that they’re not concerned about Tractor X or Skunk Y and that they’re to be ignored.
And then there is the fact that Dicey also has this incredible ability to exude affection. I know my younger two horses enjoy my company, but I’ve never had a horse that was able to radiate “glad you’re here” quite the same way Dicey does. I’ve tried really hard to figure out what it is–is it her half-closed eyes when I bend down to scratch around her front feet? (For some reason she really enjoys this.) The way she nickers? The way she’s always interested and likes to “try out” obstacles I’ve set up for the fillies to work on?
She doesn’t run up to me in the pasture or go into hysterics when I show up, which Friday and Dove will often do. She enjoys treats, but doesn’t get overly excited about those, either.
So what is it? Am I just projecting onto this mare because I like her? Does this kind of intense feeling of affinity have something to do with particle physics and spinning atoms or something? I’ve never been on her back (I wouldn’t ride her anyway, as sore as her front foot is). I’ve never done much with her other than have her around when I’ve been working with the younger horses. I’ve only known her for a couple of years.
I’m not sure what it is. I just know she really appreciates me in a way that is special and different from any of the other horses I’ve taken care of and worked with.
The other night I scratched around her feet and just stayed down there, resting on my haunches, and she gently breathed into my hair. We stayed like that for a long time.
There is something about that acceptance and closeness with a horse that can inoculate a human being with serenity. Good thing, too–I’ve needed more than my share of that this summer.
A lovely horse is always an experience…. It is an emotional experience of the kind that is spoiled by words. ~Beryl Markham