By Brooke Schafer
The best part about a new horse to me is learning all of their quirks – what makes them tick, how they react to certain situations, what is their personality like – these are all things that I spend time observing to better serve me in retraining for whatever career may lie in their future. Some horses are destined to be World-beaters, some are destined to be child-packers, some are just destined to be middle of the pack ribbon winners. Each horse is different but they each have something to give and most appreciate having a job.
When working with a new horse, it is our job to learn what makes them happy and what doesn’t. They communicate to us through movements, body language, flicks of the eye – as they cannot speak, it is up to us to learn their language and in turn provide for their needs. Horses have needs just like humans. They have social, functional, physical, emotional, and mental needs. Figuring out these communicative needs for a human is part of my day job as a Speech-Language Pathologist. Figuring out these needs for a horse is my hobby (also known as my passion). Finding a job for a horse that meets these needs ensures a happy horse and a sustainable future.
Call Me Wonderful has quirks. I know looking at him from the outside he appears a specimen of perfection (ha! Ok-maybe that’s just in my eyes) but he does indeed have quirks. For instance, the horse LOVES water. Like loves it. Can’t get enough of it. He guzzles every bucket with his face fully submerged 2″ above his nostrils (how can a horse possibly drink and not get water up their nose?!). If you turn on a hose – beware! He will dive between you and whatever stream of water there is to submerge his face and get a good drink. I’ve never seen a horse love water as much as he does. Using my skills of observation, I’m making a mental note of this love of his – how can I apply it to his career? Perhaps he’ll love water jumps on cross country? Perhaps he’ll be agreeable to early morning baths? Perhaps he’ll be a trick horse in the circus who jumps into a giant swimming pool Okay… maybe not the last one.
Taking in a horse’s quirks helps you plan for the future. Study your horse. Having an OTTB means that they come with plenty of quirks.
CMW’s quirk #2. He only eats his grain at night. I’ve never met a horse that did this either (is my horse a freak?). He chooses not to eat his breakfast or his dinner during daylight hours – instead, he hoards them both until night when all the lights have been turned off and the barn is quiet. When we come in every morning, his bucket is clean. Maybe he has a complex about people watching him eat? Who knows. This is a quirk that doesn’t necessarily play into his career although it is something I will need to be aware of when competing him later on – I’ll need to consider certain things such as: Will he eat at a horse show? Will he be sluggish in an afternoon cross country ride if he hasn’t had any breakfast? How can I supplement his eating schedule?
Knowing these idiosyncrasies about my OTTB partner will aid me in the long run. Hopefully by the time we reach the Thoroughbred Makeover Project in October – I will know CMW so well we will be like best friends. Knowing your horse is a true advantage in competition – or any situation. Take some time out to study your horse… and Happy Riding!