Stu was shy when I first met him. Being a little foal, he naturally wanted to be with his mother, and not with this stranger who showed up occasionally. He was still timid when he came to my farm and was overshadowed by the far more personable Ollie, who wanted to be best friends immediately.
He started coming out of his shell, but he was still wary. After she left, I pitied him as he tried to befriend the other horses, who didn’t want him anywhere near them. He looked so sad and friendless.
I stepped in to spend time with him. I groomed him, gave him scratches and pets. He would rest his adorable little baby head on my shoulder, and my heart would fill up with adoration for this little friendless colt.
Eventually, he did make friends. Through either determination or just sheer pushiness, the mares would let him hang out with them and rest his head on their backs. They still thought he was a pesky little youth, judging by the way they’d put him in his place for his cheekiness, but overall there was peace.
He still wanted to be friends with me though. Every time I went into the pasture, he’d come up to me. I just realized today I have a very limited variety of photos of him because he was always sticking his muzzle in my face. He wanted affection, and he wanted to see exactly what I was doing at all times.
At first, it was cute. Then it became annoying to have him breathing down my neck constantly. Then, he’d be between me and another horse and the other horse would go after him, resulting in him leaping sideways. Or he’d get frisky and decide it was a good time to sprint away from my side, hooves flying. It became dangerous. He isn’t a foal being adorable anymore. He’s a huge horse, with huge hooves, and zero concept of personal space. After walking to the barn hundreds of times with him inches behind me, I suddenly realized I’d created a monster.
For the most part, our horses are our pets. We may get them for competitions or recreation, but we get them because we love the animal. As animal lovers, it’s easy to want the horse to like us and show us affection. As in, want it to act like a dog, an entirely different species who operates in an entirely different way.
It’s very common to see horse lovers fawning over a horse, stuffing it with treats, laughing at it’s “adorable” antics. I think we all have a story of watching someone new to horses, with a newly bought horse, feeding it treat after treat, laughing at the pawing, and allowing the horse to push through them. The horse, regardless of how it was before, became spoiled. The owner had treated the horse like a dog, wanting to earn their affection, and the horse just saw someone lower than it on the pecking order.
There’s a desire to be liked by the horse, so people give the horse what it wants, and don’t want to do anything that will upset it.
People, including myself, will let a horse walk all over them either because it happened so gradually they didn’t notice, or they just didn’t know horses were like that. It’s easy to imagine that being kind to a horse will make the horse kind to you. But while horses may understand kindness, respect is their language.
Respect is what made me throw clods of dirt at Vintage for kicking out towards me (she was going at another horse – but unacceptable with my nearby). Respect is what made me banish her out of the herd for 20 minutes. (It got pretty boring at that point so I left). She hasn’t done is since.
Respect is why I whacked Pony hard the first time I ever picked his hooves and he kicked out. Never done is since.
I always prided myself on my ability to manage the herd. I’d dealt with some obnoxious characters in the past, and I refused to be lower on the totem than a horse. I enjoyed walking out to the barn, my herd following me dociley at a distance.
So how did I let Stu get so bad? Why did I let him get obnoxiously close into my personal space? Why did I not make him mind his manners?
To be totally fair to him, I never taught him his manners. I just assumed since he was so sweet, he meant well. Then it got bad so gradually, I didn’t notice. And I wanted the poor lonely colt to have a friend.
Well, now that he has friends, it’s time to put an end to it.
I went out into the pasture, as I often do. And Stu came running up to the gate to greet me, as he always does. And we walked down to the barn together.
Except this time I had a muck rake, and if he got closer than several feet, he got wacked with the rake. It only took one wack for him to stay away.
Another day, I went out into the pasture, and I was examining Berry. He popped out right behind me, I noticed Berry’s ears go back first. I turned around and made a fuss and he flew backwards. I hung out with Berry for a little bit and every time he got into my space I agressively shooed him out. Eventually, he stopped trying.
I’m sure it’s going to keep happening for a bit, but I’ll keep sending him out. Once he understands the pecking order, and understands respect for me, we can be friends again. But not a moment sooner.