At the Little Valley, beautiful Tia has returned from her winter of stall rest up north. She's sound again, and just needs to get her muscle tone back. It's good to have her home; she's the alpha mare, the one who makes sure everything goes as it should. I mean, how did the Little Valley function without her all winter?
Her senses are razor sharp, and even when she's relaxed, she's alert. Sure enough she was looking for all the boogeymen in the forest. All the way around the ring, she had to lift her head and point her ears forward, because she knew there was something out there. I had to constantly remind her to pay attention to me.
Susan calls her the Attention Deficit Horse.
But I was thinking, as I worked the mare into a jog and gradually got her collected and slowed, that there must be a reason for Tia to be so hyper-aware of her surroundings.
If this was a wild herd, which they couldn't be farther from, Tia would be the one who calls the alarm. Bo would be a real stud instead of just in his own mind, and Skyla and Lily would kind of bumble along and do what they're supposed to. Bo would be in charge of moving everybody.
(By the way, a few months apart did not cool Bo's longing for Tia. He whickers at her every time he sees her... and she still hates him. Yeah, they're in different paddocks now to keep her from kicking the snot out of him and hurting herself again. And the old goat still stares at her lustfully while she ignores him. )
Anyways. Digression, see???
So this weekend I demanded horse time and I got it. After grooming for about an hour, I got both horses saddled up and rode them one at a time. My gelding, Phoenix, was his usual molasses-mouthed relaxed self. He spent more time stretching out his massive neck and yawning than taking consecutive steps. I figured he was working very hard at being easily distracted so he could get on with being lazy. My gosh, I do love this horse - he's so mellow and gentle, all I have to do is get him to work with me!
Meanwhile, Bucky was hammering things in the tree beside the corral, my ol man was in and out of the yard with his landscaping trailer, and Jethro was taking the chainsaw to the rotten floor of the stock trailer. Phoenix didn't ignore these things, but noticed and didn't care.
Actually at one point when I was grooming him, an empty paper shavings sack blew across the yard and flapped against his legs. He blinked. That's it. What a relief.
This isn't a horse who spooks easily. He takes a good look and decides if it's a problem or not. It usually isn't.
My darling departed red horse, Champ, noticed every little thing in the world. Everything. He didn't often bolt or lose his marbles, but nothing got past him. Trail rides were interesting. There's a metal grate halfway down the dirt road that he always had to walk sideways past. Every mailbox had to be passed with one eye fixed on it, just in case it tried to eat us. He'd go past it, but not let it out of his sight until it was behind us. "Mailboxes eat horses, you know," I'd say, explaining his caution. Some people tried to blame it on his Arabian father, but I knew the truth. He was just doing his job.
Champ believed, right to the end, that he was still a stud horse. And what does the stud do? Move everybody around. He herded any other horse he was with and was never off duty. On a trail ride, he was ready for anything.
It drove my ol man nuts. I would usually let Dad ride Champ because I was either riding the young greenie or a pony. Dad liked Champ for his spunk and speed but hated the constant distraction. Champ would suddenly jerk his head up and point his ears at something we couldn't see or hear. Then he'd lift his magnificent tail, arch his neck, and let a big aggressive whinny thunder through his whole body. "Why does he always have to do that? Can't he just go down the road?"
"No he can't Dad. He's protecting us."
"Protecting us from what?" he'd scoff.
"Well we don't know and we'll never find out, cuz Champ just scared it all away."
My dad think I'm kinda nuts too.
I always chalked my horse's distractibility up to his stud-like tendencies. But now I'm wondering if there's more to it.
When I rode the little mare this weekend, I thought about it some more. Like Phoenix, the Little Lady does not spook easily. Anything out of the ordinary will get the big eyeballs and a snort, but I've never seen her bolt in terror. Unlike Phoenix, she cares. She cares very much about what I want from her. She's gentle, but so eager to please that she almost turns herself inside out. She's a worrier, and a total sweetheart.
Since the first time I sat on her back when she was three years old, she has never bucked, bolted or reared up. She's packed my kids around from the beginning, and I wouldn't put my kids on just any horse. I trust her. This weekend, I noticed all over again how responsive she is to every cue. It takes the lightest touch of the legs to make her move; if I shift my seat bones back, she stops.
It's wonderful and makes her a joy to ride, BUT. It also means that every move I make could be a cue for her to do something, anything, what what WHAT??? All these signals come flying at her, and she reads every one of them, almost blowing her mind. Her rider has to be precise to avoid confusing her.
So I'm thinking about all these horses and the way they process the information they get from the world. They can be easily distracted.
Isn't this kind of a survival mechanism?
Think about it. Despite being born and raised in captivity and having steady contact with humans, they retain this instinct, this need to be aware of their surroundings. Never mind that those surroundings are farm fields and fences, not mountain lions. It doesn't matter that they've never really had to run for their lives... it's there just in case, this constant awareness of anything that might jump out and get them.
It might look like stupidity, or half-arabian flightiness, or Appaloosa goofiness. It might look like attention deficit. I suspect it might have served a very real purpose a few thousand years ago.
How does this relate to me?
Although not formally diagnosed, I have the Attention Deficit Oh Shiny. My pshrink, DOCTA-CHAN! basically told me that he doesn't even have to test me for it, because he can tell after a few appointments with me. He says I know it too. I guess he figures it's the least of my problems.
I see and feel and hear everything, although not always what I'm supposed to. I have a million ideas in my head, pictures, voices. It can be a beautiful and terrifying place, my brain.
I spook easily. I can be distracted by anything. I have to work to get focused, but sometimes when I do it's an unbreakable focus.
Is it possible that a few thousand years ago, in a different world, I would have been valued by my fellow humans instead of ridiculed, scolded, and given disapproving remarks on my report card? What if my creativity was allowed to run free instead of being forced onto the clock? What if, every time I jumped out of my skin, somebody paid attention and wanted to know what was creeping around in the hedges?
Would I have been the alpha mare in my herd?
I'm going to pay more attention (haha will it be hard for me?) to the reactions my horses have to their world. Obviously I still need them to pay attention to me. I want them to know that when we're working, I'm in charge, and things go better when they let me direct things. In return, I understand that for some of us, the awareness doesn't shut down, ever.
Maybe that's why I love horses so much... we relate?