Giulia Zanone Orth, MSc.
I am learning to hit pause on all the opinions and beliefs I've accumulated about horses over the last 40 years and just observe them.
All of my mentors have repeatedly said, "Ask the horse." The truth of this statement is pervasive. Case in point, my horse Mana, who is essentially turning out to be my steady guide into the landscape of humility and reality. He is a horse who truly asks to be seen for who he is. When you meet his needs, he is very kind.
He's a horse who asks that you meet him where he's at, if you want any true cooperation at all. That's my experience of him, anyway, and we are friends.
When I ignored his needs and operated out of generalized expectations for his breed, level of experience, genetic endowment, athletic ability...we were not friends then. There was some level of cooperation, sometimes, but no affinity between us. In any case, this post is about blankets and blanket assumptions.
I don't blanket.
We live in the warm climate of northern California and that was pretty much always my protocol for healthy, young horses. My horses have shelter, ad lib hay, freedom of movement on 2 hilly acres...so, no blankets. Then Mana met a wonderful trainer called Andrea Bianchi, and he learned about rain sheets, tail wraps, and puffy cozy blankets, as well as many, many other valuable things.
Mana likes blankets so much that if there is one on the fence he'll pull it off and lay down on it, no joke. He's a character that way. Anyway, recently I was taking care of an older, sick horse and started pulling blankets out of storage to find some that fit him. Mana didn't skip a beat, he came to the pasture gate with that look of, "What took you so long?"
For several days I repeated the same mantra when he'd stop alongside the pile of blankets and point with his nose (he knows how to communicate by targeting). I'd say, "These blankets are not for you," and we'd move on. I thought I could feel his displeasure with my response each time. But this morning I really looked at his face and body after a night of rain wondering what I could to to help him, and he wistfully pointed to the blanket pile.
He was under the shelter, hadn't moved from there in a while, ears back, sad long face. Ignoring my own sense of foolishness, I tramped through the mud and took Mana's rain sheet from the pile, he pricked his ears. I came back into the pasture holding his blanket, "Now we're talking!" He (somewhat stiffly) walked up to me, with a bemused look. I swear some tension lifted off him as I buckled his rain sheet.
A long breath in my ear, his thank you, and off he went, meandering curiously around his pasture, like the world was a new place to explore. Happy as any horse who can get his human to behave properly.
Tiger, of course, was horrified. "You better not try pulling that one on me," he said with one stern look before stealthily heading in the opposite direction. Tiger's as opinionated about the uselessness of blankets as I was. But today I figured out that it's blanket assumptions that are our true enemies.
It's a simple lesson, really. If you want the answer, just ask the horse.