My little red horse Moondo has delicate skin, which makes him an attractive target for flies and parasites. This winter, he fell victim to a double-barren infestation: lice and ticks (technical term: Yuck and Double Yuck).
The lice have proven vulnerable to the nasty insecticide engineered to do them in. I don’t take the decision to use chemicals lightly, whether it’s in the house or on weeds or with the horses, but Moondo is elderly and a little frail and lice could, literally, suck the lifeblood out of him.
The ticks, despite the doomsday rhetoric on the product label, seem indifferent to the toxin, though, so I’ve been hand-picking them off. Daily. For weeks. I’ll spare you details other than to say that this routine is time-consuming and has led to Moondo receiving a disproportionate share of my equine-directed attention lately.
And this makes Jake sad.
Since Jake was the recipient of an enormous share of my time and emotional resources at this time last year, his melancholy strikes me as just a little bit theatric, but that’s Jake for you. We knew he was a ham from the beginning. When we first went to look at him, Jake ended our meeting by showing us how he could bounce his lead rope rhythmically with his upper lip. The trainer who was selling him scratched his head and said he’d never seen Jake do that before. Knowing what I know now, this doesn’t surprise me. Theirs was a strictly professional relationship, and Jake had no doubt learned early on that the trainer wasn’t going to fall for cute shenanigans. Doug and I, though, were a fresh audience, and Jake was already testing us, feeling us out for soft spots.
Playing with the lead rope is only one of the repertoire of tricks Jake has ready to deploy. As I’ve mentioned in this space before, he will also stuff said lead rope into his mouth, try to steal your hat, play with fence latches, and refuse to budge when he knows you want him to. He loves to be the center of attention, which wouldn’t be so bad if he knew when to stop, but he usually goes too far and what starts funny quickly morphs into obnoxious. He’s accepted that there are rules of behavior around Doug and I, but that knowledge does not always translate into acquiescence. Jake also does not generalize: he refuses to consider the possibility that our expectations might also apply to other people. I warn visitors to pay attention when they’re around him; although he’s friendly, every person is a new test case. If you’re strict, he might snort or fart derisively to let you know he thinks you’re a killjoy, but he’ll mostly behave. If you let him get away with stuff, though, he’ll keep pushing to see how far he can go…and a 1400 pound animal doesn’t have to go too far before things get out of hand.
Finding the right balance in my relationship with Jake hasn’t been easy. For a long time, I didn’t feel like I could relax around him, and I haven’t always felt like I could trust him. There were times when his attention-seeking had an aggressive edge to it, and living with him has sometimes felt, at best, like an uneasy truce. Since he arrived in February of 2012, Doug and I have nursed Jake through snakebite, colic, and the long recovery from his severed tendon last spring. There are many small acts of trust when you spend time with horses, and the accumulation of those, together with the familiarity of long-term daily contact, has slowly, finally, put our relationship on a new level.
I trust more Jake now, which is good given that he outweighs me by roughly 10 to 1, but he also trusts me more too. He still barges around and acts cocky and is, it seems, thick-skinned: I have yet to find a single louse or tick on him this year. The clowning has lost some of the demanding edge though, and his efforts to claim attention seem now more like affection. He still gets reprimanded at times, but reminders that he’s out of line are milder and less frequent. I’m still cautious about overindulging his smart smart aleck side, but I’m also better at recognizing how he behaves when he’s being sensitive. Jake’s known my soft spots for a long time, but I’m getting a better feel for his, too.