There are telltale signs: ears pinned back, whites of the eyes showing, a nicker, a weight shuffle. All of it communicates what our horses are thinking. But the other day, after 23 years of experience with horses, I was introduced to a new, more organic form of communication with horses: poop!
I keep my pony, Smokey, and mare, Sophie, at my parent’s cattle farm. The horse barn is an open plan design with a large covered area that opens directly to a 12-acre field. This setup is ideal for mucking because the horses have 12 whole acres to fertilize rather than 12 whole feet.
Over the years I have noticed that Sophie has her “spot” in the barn where she deposits her manure. Like a litter box trained cat, she only goes in that one area. It’s handy for me when mucking, and I don’t have to go all over kingdom come to scoop the poop since she’s already conveniently placed it in a cumulative pile.
The other day, we returned from a week’s vacation. Tim (my husband) and I drove up to the barn and were greeted with a hearty neigh from the field. Sophie always trumpets a kind welcome whether you have treats or not. As we walked into the barn, Sophie followed suit and headed in the same direction.
“How sweet,” I thought. “She’s so excited to see us that she’d leave her tasty grass to spend time with us.”
I unloaded my saddle while Tim moseyed over to the barn gate to say ‘hi’ to Sophie and scratch her neck. Sophie walked in and stopped halfway to where Tim was standing. She stared at him and then me, her ears forward, eyes bright. This was unusual since she always came all the way to the gate for her scratch.
It was then that I noticed the small Mount Everest of poop that had accumulated in her “spot” and the numerous piles littered throughout the paddock. I made a mental note to muck after my ride.
“C’mere Sophs,” Tim cooed, trying to get her to come closer. She bobbed her head in response.
“What do you think she wants?” Tim asked as I zipped my boots on. Before I could answer, Sophie turned around so that her rump faced us and then proceeded to deposit a large mass of feces on the open ground.
I have had a relationship with this horse for 13 years and knew exactly what she was saying. I had to shake my head and chuckle.
“She wants her ‘spot’ cleaned.”
“Her what?” Tim looked perplexed.