May 18, 2010

scaredy cat

Yesterday at the barn, Larry, a fellow stall-cleaner and barn mate, mentioned to me that when her turnout door is open, my horse will stand with her head out the door but never goes outside. I suspected this might be the case but had hoped that maybe she was out during the day, when I wasn't around. Her stall opens on to a small pasture, and once every couple of days it's her turn to be out there. She's only been in this stall for a few months; before that, she was in a stall in the middle aisle of the barn, where there was no access to turnout at all. I considered this a major upgrade, so I really would like her to do more than stick her head out the door.

Larry's assessment was that she must be afraid to step in the mud immediately outside the turnout door. Because this is Oregon, and it's May, and they are horses, there's an area about two feet wide of puddle/mud next to the barn. The other horses just walk out into it and beyond, into the grass. Larry decided to take her out of her stall, walk her around to the outside gate that opens onto said pasture, turn her loose, and then feed her in her stall so she'd walk through the mud to come in.

This morning at about 11 I got a text from him with this photo:

happy cookie

I was so happy! Look at her go!

A few hours later we had a tremendous rainstorm in downtown Portland, and I thought, "Well, I sure hope Cookie's gotten over her fear of the mud and isn't stuck outside in this."

When I got to the barn, I walked down the aisle and, as I always do, called out "Hello mare!" which is usually what brings her to her door (if she's not already there). But: nothing. I got to her stall only to discover this morning's hay still on the ground, and no horse. I let myself in and peeked through the open turnout door. There she was, around the corner, just hanging out. She walked over when she heard me but stood about four feet from the door, on the 'safe' side of the mud.

People, my horse is afraid of mud. My horse, who has been trail riding through the backcountry of Montana, who has lived for a winter in a stall prone to flooding, who spent her first several years outside all year in pasture in OREGON, is afraid of mud.

All I can say to explain this is that the mud in front of her stall door is trampled by the feet of many horses, yet very squelchy and wet; in places there is standing water. It's not very deep -- not even ankle deep on me -- but to a horse lacking higher reasoning processes, it must have seemed like a scary place to put her feet.

So, I put her halter on and began to lead her through. I stood next to her and gave her a pep talk, then took a few steps forward into the mud. She walked with me for a second, and then balked. I made reassuring noises. She was not reassured. She stood there and looked at me like, "yeah, right," and didn't budge. I stepped into the doorway, holding her lead rope, and pulled gently. She reared up a little and refused. Okay, okay. Take two: I grabbed a handful of treats, stuffed them in my pockets, and resumed my place in the doorway. Leaning out, I held a treat just out of her reach. She took one tentative step forward, so she got to eat it. I held out a second treat. Her front feet were lined up primly next to one another, just at the edge of the mud. She leaned her head as far as she could possibly lean it -- go go, Inspector Gadget head! No luck for her: the treat was just out of reach.

Finally, just like a kid who finally sums up the courage to dive into the pool, she seemed to take a breath and then LEAPT into the stall. Fortunately, I'd anticipated the possibility of getting run over and I got out of her way in time. She leapt so neatly that her back feet weren't even muddy. She looked relieved and a little sheepish, and dove into her grain bucket with relish.

What a weirdo. I'm hoping she's cured of it, but I didn't get an opportunity to drag her back outside yesterday -- I wanted to let her eat. When I left her she was surrounded by both her morning and evening hay, munching happily. I couldn't bear the idea of forcing her back out into the muck.

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