“Uncomplicated” is used in some districts of the equine universe as a polite euphemism for a horse that’s not so smart.
For better and for worse, both of our horses are complicated.
Moondo is nerdy, curious, and friendly. He’s sensitive, an attentive learner. He likes the methodical training and intricate movements of dressage, and is always eager to show me that he remembers everything when I get on him after not having ridden in a while—at the first hint of an aid he’ll start busting out moves, trying to anticipate what I want.
To say that Moondo is sensitive, though, is to say that he can be flighty and that he takes offense easily. He’s incredibly opinionated; I’ve mentioned some of his preferences and creative ways of expressing himself in this space before. Years ago, before I knew that he didn’t have much of a sense of humor, I bought him a jolly ball. These are tough rubber balls with a handle molded onto them, so horses can pick them up in their teeth and toss them around. When I gave him the ball, Moondo sniffed it once and gave me a mortified look that said, “You don’t expect me to play with that THING do you??” He never went near it. When I gave it to a neighbor a few years later, her little mare played with it so hard she popped it within a day.
Jake, Moondo’s pasture-mate, is smart, albeit in different ways than Moondo. He’s a goof and a show-off. He scratches his ankles by crossing his front legs and rubbing one foot up and down. He tries to steal peoples’ hats. When tied, he has a hard time standing quietly: he’ll bop the metal clip on his lead with his upper lip like an OCD desk jockey clicking a ballpoint pen; he’ll run his teeth back and forth along the metal rails of the pipe corral; he’ll see how much of his lead rope he can stuff in his mouth. He was probably spoiled earlier in his life, given treats or praised when he did something his handlers thought was cute. Now he’s like the guy who’s convinced he’s the funniest one in the room—that guy who is kinda funny, initially, but who quickly gets annoying because…He. Just. Won’t. Stop.
Jake has a sweet side, but he can be petulant and he insists on testing me regularly to see if I’m still a killjoy who likes all that stuff around manners and maintaining personal space. After five years, I’m still not used to the idea that I can’t just hang out and relax with him the way I can with Moondo.
There’s been even less in the way of relaxation with Jake lately. We cross-fenced the Big Pasture last summer so we could rest the grass on half of it each year. Jake tolerated the arrangement until the first signs of greenery started poking up this spring. Those sprigs weren’t even grass—the pale fronds of fringed sage are the first things that green up in these parts—but Jake didn’t care.
The conventional wisdom is that details make for better storytelling, but I’ll spare you the gory particulars. Suffice it to say that even smart horses do dumb things, and Jake’s insistence on gaming the cross-fencing system resulted in a to-the-bone laceration on his left hind leg, a trip to the equine hospital, a splint, antibiotics, regular changes of an elaborate stacked bandage, and stall rest.
A quick note about that last one: “stall rest” has a serene ring to it, but there’s nothing restful about the practice, at least not for non-equine members of the caregiving team. Stall rest means a shitload of work involving, among other things, many loads of shit.
It hasn’t been easy for Jake, either, I know. He’s a big, strong, athletic horse, and although the slow-feeder hay nets (he wrecked a couple over the course of this process) kept him mostly pacified, being confined to a 12 ft. by 12 ft. box for weeks on end was hard. Luckily for him, Moondo has been nearby through it all, hanging around in his stall or in the pipe corral—although I have to admit that his role as steadfast nurse-companion was enforced by the closed corral gate.
Ten weeks on, Jake is out of bandages and is getting hand-walked twice a day. Moondo now gets time out in the Barn Pasture, while Jake stretches his legs in the pipe corral. I’m beginning to catch glimpses of life beyond stall rest.
The recovery process is ongoing, and there will no doubt be complications—some of which I didn’t already know about.