Sunday, May 4, 2014

Free-Choice Grooming

This morning I observed three horses making three choices when offered the same set of options.

My mares have been wearing rain sheets recently, with the cold rains we have been experiencing.  Today, I needed to pull off the sheets and give each mare a good grooming.
"Why, yes, that would be lovely!"
I decided to do this in their run-in, with no halters or ties.  

First up, Hudson.  I peeled off her red sheet and started in with the shedding blade.  She was itchy around her neck and withers, and enjoyed the grooming there.  She was less tolerant when I groomed her croup and flanks, but I needed to get rid of the clumps of hair that clung there, pressed in place by the sheet. 

As soon as I finished she trotted excitedly off up the hill.  I believe that the reason for this show of excitement was that, yesterday, I had let the horses graze on green grass for the first time this year.  After this happens in the spring, Hudson starts acting a lot like a dog at 4 p.m., when supper is at 5 p.m. -- trying to convince you for a full hour that it's really suppertime and shouldn't you be feeding her?  Except, in Hudson's case, it's not kibble, but the green grass she wants more than anything on the planet.  It appeared that her trotting off with great enthusiasm, then standing up by the pasture gate and gazing at the field, was designed to influence me.

When she trotted off, DeCato, still in her sheet, ran off after her, probably assuming there was something scary nearby, so it was time to bolt.
"Did that come off of ME?"
Starlight took a few casual steps after them, observed them standing and getting nowhere by the gate, then decided to turn back to me, where I was standing, holding the brushes.  She definitely made a choice, and that choice was grooming. 

So, I stripped off her sheet and brushed off wads of white hair.

Then DeCato, observing Starlight and I from up near the pasture gate, also made an obvious choice.  She was the only one still in a sheet.  She left Hudson, her fearless leader, to come back down and get her own salon treatment.  She waited for me to finish my last strokes on Starlight, then stood quietly while I stripped off her sheet and started removing clumps of red winter coat.
"I'm willing you to come open the gate."
Hudson, already sheet-free and groomed, chose to remain at the gate, alternating between staring hopefully at me, then longingly at the pasture.  She'll probably still be there later today, when I do actually let them out for a few minutes.

It was interesting to watch them make their choices and gratifying that two out of three picked grooming.  Of course, DeCato and Starlight will often literally line up for grooming, whereas, given the choice, Hudson will always pick the option that gets her closer to grass.

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