Sugar cubes, handkerchiefs and horses


As a HoH kid growing up in rural Idaho I quickly discovered that I could relate to animals – especially dogs and horses – better than to most people. Why? Well, because horses and dogs don’t talk with words, they talk with their entire being – as if they were deaf.  You can read ears, tail swishes, quivers, and snorts or growls.  They are total communication creatures.

I never really understood why I got along so well with farm animals until recently. I’ve been reading two books sort of simultaneously. One is Zoobiquity and it talks about the treasure trove of information Veterinarians have on medical problems that relate to the human animal as well as all the critters they are trained to treat.  The other is a book called Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin.  I  highly recommend these books for the physical and emotional insights provided.

In particular, the Grandin book explains to me why I was largely so simpatico with dogs and horses.  They communicate in ways I could see and respond to. As a HoH kid I was very attuned to behaviors rather than words – to expressions.  To this day, I remember faces far more easily than names.  I learn how to get places by landmarks rather than written directions (turn left, go 1/4 mile, etc.).  I see seasons change – don’t need a calendar to tell me when to plant or harvest.

When I was in my mid-teens I realized that I could train my colt to perform tricks.  I’d already taught his dam (mother)

Thanks to Superwoman 79, photobucket, for a good likeness of my former colt.

to drink out of a soda bottle by holding it between her teeth and lifting up her head so it drained into her mouth.  Cute trick, but in this case I decided to do something Gemini could make a name for himself with.

It began with a sugar cube and a handkerchief.

First I presented him with a sugar cube – beloved by all horses (although not particularly good for them).  And he lipped it off my palm with great gusto.  Then I put a bandana on my palm and put the sugar cube on it.  In a little while I folded the handkerchief over the sugar cube and he learned that either a red or blue bandana equaled a yummy sugar cube.  I started sticking the bandana and sugar cube in an easily accessed pocket.

Soon, every time he saw a farm worker with a handkerchief in his back pocket that little horse would sneak up, lip the edge of the bandana and sort of nudging the guy with his head in an affectionate manner until he could get a corner of the handkerchief with his teeth and pull it out.  Then he’d lift his head and trot off, waving the bandana like a flag.  Triumph!  And sometimes he’d curl his upper lip back in a horse laugh.

Just shows what a HoH kid who is into behaviors can pull off with one little sorrel half-Arabian colt and a Quarter Horse mare.

Like Grandin says, animals make us human.  🙂

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