I've been getting to do more horse handling, which has been a lot of fun. Since I don't have much horse experience I'm just going slow and trying to pay really good attention to what I'm doing, what the horse is doing, and what the experts are telling me. I started out with Scooter, who is fairly new to the facility. I went to his pen, got a halter on him and led him to the washstand, where I washed his arthritic knees with cold water. He didn't like it too much, but it was to help reduce inflammation. Next, I took him into the barn and did a little grooming and a little massage.
Debora showed me how to massage the big shoulder and leg muscles, which will help Scooter, who is 27, feel more comfortable. He was a little nervous I think because there were several people in the barn, it being a volunteer work day and barn sale day. But he soon calmed down and let me massage him. Jewel told me she could see that Scooter was really liking the way I was handling him, so that was good to hear. Jewel also tuned into Scooter a bit and said that he didn't understand why he had been treated the way he had, with other horses nipping at him and being sort of left on his own in his previous pasture. So it was good to know how to talk to him, and what kind of tone of voice to use.
A few days later I handled Scooter again, and Doc, and Debora showed me some literature on how to do horse massage, so I gave it a try. I was doing what's called a Bladder Meridian massage, where you run your hand down either side of the spine, where the bladder meridian is located. This kind of massage helps the horse relax, which is good if they are spooked or have aches and pains. The literature said that the horse would start yawning over and over. Sure enough, I got Doc to yawn a bunch of times! I haven't been able to get Scooter to yawn yet, but I'll work on him some more.
The nice thing is that anytime I'm grooming or handling a horse, I can use this simple technique to help relax them. It's easy to do and they seem to really like it. It's gratifying to see a horse cock his back foot and start licking his lips, both signs that he is relaxing. Debora also showed me how to pick out their hooves so I can add that to my list of skills. I learned how to do that about 15 years ago but haven't practiced since!
Debora also loaned me some Clinton Anderson DVD's on basic horse handling and groundwork. These are really well-done videos and very informative. Clinton is one of the trainers that Debora really likes so I feel like I've got another great resource to learn from.
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Laura Weise is a Wings volunteer who lives in Stevensville and will be bringing you stories of life at the barn.