This is a horse post, but first, I want to thank everyone who has entered the emoticon contest. You guys are making it hard to choose a winner. Now, on to my three children with hooves.
I follow Warwick Schiller via his online subscription. I mentioned that before but I thought I'd mention it again, because if you American and living abroad or not American-- the United States and it's citizens love to block/ make impossible to access for international users-- he's a great resource. I also admire Vicki Wilson .
Animals do smile
Did you know horses can smile? Many clinicians and trainers talk about licking and chewing and lowered heads as signs of relaxation. There is a step beyond that and its a smile. Happy horses can even smile while being annoyed with you.
To me its a lot like human children. If you ever watch Supernanny, you'll see children smile even as rules they don't like rules are being laid out. That's because rules and consistency creates security. For a prey animal security is worth their life.
Before a horse will smile at you, he or she has to have a lot of trust and be able to relax around. Finally, they must like their life. Finally, they must feel that saying "no" is okay. Not that saying now will get them what they want, but that they can say it to you. If you watch a dominate horse drive a subordinate away, he or she leaves with a head toss or a kick. That's the equivalent to a human child stomping their foot and saying "fine!"
Horses do this by kicking out as you send them away, throwing the head as they move away, glaring while doing what you have asked of them and swishing their tails. Ears back however are more like eff- off.
Creating an environment where your equine companion isn't afraid to share his or her opinion but isn't allowed say "eff off" is like walking a knifes edge. There is a lot of grey area and requires the ability to read the most subtle cues. It may also be important to repeatedly until the desired behavior is performed without objection.
You might be familiar with “Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard.” Its the same thing. Obedience is a choice that the horse can make or not make, but the latter is hard and the former is easy. Warwick Schiller tells a story about some horse his former worker, Chewy, and a horse that runs back to the barn. In order to stop the horse from running back to the barn, he had to let the horse run back to the barn. But when got to be where he wanted, the horse had to work.
Not only must the trainer let the horse "win" but sometimes horses have bad days just like people. Allowing horses to have a bad day--letting go until the next day creates a bond of understand. This doesn't mean you induldge your horse.
For example, I used to have a mare who was unusually grumpy on her first day of heat. I could annoy her into behaving well. Or I could do whatever needed and let her alone for a day or two. She wasn't much of a talker when I got her, but seven years later she was always telling me things. She had a way of communicating when her cinch was pinching, she told me when she had a tick in her tail or something else was bothering her. Over time, I could tell the difference because just as I used the same body language to mean go, she learned to use the same hip drop and tail swish to mean tick.
I remember distinctly a little after I had moved her to a new farm. The owner came up to me and said, "Your horse is really smart. Her water trough was empty and she stood right by it nickering at me. At first I thought she thought I was feeding the other horses. But she kept doing it throughout the morning, but only when I had the water hose. That's when I realized she was talking to me, tell me she needed water. "
I recently read a study where they taught horse to touch symbols if they wanted their blankets on or didn’t want them on. By the end of the study, the researchers reported that some of the horses were running and neighing after their human trainers. What a great things to study. If horses could tell us what they wanted, would they. They answer is yes. But when the study was over, the trainers moved on to a new research project. I wonder what it must have felt like to those horses. Imagine that one day, you can no longer tell someone what you want and need.
When I sold my mare to come to South Korea, I turned away a lot of people. In the end, I chose a family for her. But a few months later they emailed me about her rearing and acting bad. I'd taught her to talk to me. She eventually did settle in with a horse person because she was trained well. But selling her is one of my great life regrets.
Well, below are some photos.
This is Thunder smiling. It's not the best photo, but it's really hard to get a good smile photo.
Thor was smiling too, but not as exaggerated as Thunder's. . We got Thunder from the racetrack in December and Thor at the beginning of April. So some of it has to do with the time.
Google search: horse smiling. Results, a lot of horses not smiling.
This horse is not smiling. He's chewing on the bit, or the rider is pulling on the reins, or he's pulling on the rider, or he doesn't' like the bit...based on his eye expression and ears, I suspect he's nearly pulling the rider out of the saddle, perhaps to get a bit of grass or perhaps because he's learned that pulling gets a release of pressure. .
Also, not a smile. Horse's wrinkle their nose and flip up their lip as a response to smells.It's called the flehmen response. This horse may well have been trained to smile... lots of people use this response to get horses to lift their upper lip. Humans associate showing teeth with smiles, but in horses, showing teeth isn't a smile.
In this case, the teeth mean, "I'm going to bite you." See the laid back ears, the white around the eye and the muscle tension in the entire body.
The horse in the background is either playful or telling the horse in the foreground. Notice the extension of the upper lip in the foreground horse. You'll see this in a lot of jumping photos, horses doing sliding stops... anything that requires full attention.
But Google does turn up one horse smiling. Not licking and chewing, or saying eff off, but a real smile. Notice the O between the upper and lower lips. If you had a shot of this from the side, it would be easy to see that the lower lip is more forward than the upper lip. Also nice the dreaminess in the eyes and the right ear slightly turned toward the person who, based on the hand position, is probably scratching this horses "it" spot. Whatever this horse has to put up with humans, he is getting much in return.
Mariel R. is an ESL teacher, horse trainer, writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. She lives in South Korea with two cats, three horses, a German Shepherd and 17 chickens.
Bear (Gom in Korean) then (above) now (below)
Geumbi (Goldy in English) R.I.P February, 23, 2018