Thursday, February 5, 2009

Lessons about Horses Learned from Cats

I have had (not owned) cats all my life, and I just adore them. My current cat, Thunder, is a Mini Maine Coon Mix, and we are best buddies, to say the least. Whenever I am in the house, he is with me. If I am in a different room, for some reason, he calls for me. Silly me, I usually run to him to see what he wants. He has slept with me every night since I got him, too. Sure, he wanders off before dawn, but he often comes back bringing a toy with him.

Since I have spent so many years with cats, I have a pretty good idea what they are thinking and what they want. If Thunder holds his plume-like tail up in the air, he wants me to follow him. When he sits on his round pedestal, he is ready for bed. If he looks up at the microwave, he wants a toy. If he sits funny, he doesn’t feel good. Just call me the cat whisperer.

Well not really. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to learn more about how cats think. I started wandering about the internet. After some time, I finally found what I was looking for—some very good articles about cat behavior. I went right to the ones about body language. Most of it I already knew, but I was surprised to read that cats do not like direct eye contact. That is why a cat will walk into a room of people, go directly to the person who doesn’t like cats, and say hello. It is not because the cat knows about the person’s dislike for cats. It is because that is the only person not looking at him! All the cat lovers can’t take their eyes off the cat.

This got me thinking. The only time that Thunder acts a little out of character is at night. I put him on the bed, and he will sit there, looking at the floor for a couple minutes. I talk to him and rub him behind his ears. Eventually, he will curl up by my side and go to sleep. At other times, when he sits on my lap, he will purr himself to sleep, but not at night.

It was time to experiment. That night, I brought him upstairs, put him on the bed and I looked at him with half-closed eyes. He burst out in purrs! He ended up purring himself to sleep. This is how he has been ever since.

Now how does this apply to horses? First of all, it emphasizes how important body language is when working with other species. Ever try leading a horse by facing him and pulling the lead rope? Horses will go the direction that you are facing, not the direction you are pulling. (I have taught my horses to respond correctly to this, in case I have to lead them through a narrow place and I want to go first—you can too.) Try lounging and having your body in the wrong place or facing where your horse is coming from instead of where he is going. If your horse is reluctant to trot on the lounge line, try trotting yourself in place. The list goes on—just ask Kevin who is learning all of this for the first time with Starry. By the way, he is doing very well with lounging Starry, now.

This applies to horses in another way. Just because I had cats my whole life, it didn’t mean I couldn’t still learn something about them. It is the same thing with horses. We can’t stop learning if we want to be true horsemen and horsewomen. Now, I truly believe that the people who are reading this feel just that way—that’s why you signed up for my newsletter—to learn along with me.

Beware of the people who know it all. They often don’t know very much because they have decided they don’t need to learn anymore. If you hear someone say that he or she has been riding since the age of four, that doesn’t necessarily mean their advice is valid. Take all advice, even mine, with a grain of salt. Only until you have thought it through thoroughly, should you take it seriously. I have received and heard of other people receiving very bad, even dangerous advice from the so-called “experts” that have been into horses for years. Beware! ! !

Be smart, be safe and if you want your cat to purr, try looking at him with half-closed eyes.

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