It will come as no surprise that Clifford is smart. He can paint pictures, play fetch, signs his own book, and has the good sense to go into schools and libraries and basically anywhere and keep his wits about him.
What goes beyond training is the communication that happens when you have spent so many days and months and years with one horse. This is where it behooves one to stay alert, because horses often have something to tell us.
Which brings me to today. We are in a habit of Clifford going out on his line in the morning and then again in the evening. Clifford has never been a fatty, but as he ages it’s taking extra groceries to keep weight on him. On his tie-out, he gets to eat lawn grass (yay) and have a big meal unencumbered by a greedy, bossy, alpha great-nephew.
Every morning he waits for me to come and get him. If I get to dawdling around pulling weeds or feeding pond fish, he will nicker a reminder. I go into the barn and hold out his halter. He sticks his head in it, usually giving me a playful little side-nip in the meantime. I open the gate and he goes out. The other two horses, if they have come in with him, know enough to not charge the gate.
Clifford runs out into the yard and starts grazing but keeps a watchful eye on me. I head into the garage and get a scoop of grain. I walk it out to wherever his rope is located. There’s a rubber pan there where I dump the grain. He usually figures out where the pan is, gallops over and is waiting to eat by the time I get there. I dump the grain and hook him up while he is eating.
When the day gets too hot, he lets me know he is ready to come in. If I’m outside he calls to me. If I’m inside, he stands on his line staring at the house.
The same thing happens in the evening. Usually, when he goes back in, his nephew, Kerry Seventh Gen, the Junior Horse, is pushing and bossing him around. Even if he is out in the pasture and sees us coming, he will come running. He has learned to step back and wait while I let Clifford in through the gate. I hand out treats to the three of them before saying good night. Junior has had to learn that he is last in line. It has taken months of conditioning to learn that if he pins ears or pushes another horse away, he will get no treat. He has to stand quietly while I go from Clifford to Trudy and back again, handing out treats. If he is good, he will finally earn one.
Today, when I put Clifford back in, he stood waiting at the open gate for his apple wafers. I typically take off his halter, open the gate wide, and he stands there waiting. I give him his wafers and then he goes inside. He usually goes directly to the water tank which is right by the barn door.
Today, the other horses were far out in the field and didn’t come in when Clifford did. As usual, he waited for his treat, munched it, walked through and went for a drink. As I was swinging the gate shut, he swung his head around and hustled back inside, nickering to me urgently.
“I’m out of treats!” I laughed. “You want some more? I’ll get some.”
Then I noticed what was going on. The other horses were WAY out in the field; unaware that we were even in the barnyard. Clifford thought it was a good chance for him to get an extra meal. And, he was right.
I walked quietly into the garage, got a half scoop of senior feed and dumped it into Jr’s bucket, which is the one bucket the other two wouldn’t see from where they were grazing.
Clifford happily plunged into his second dinner.
I have no way to explain this other than to say Clifford was telling me it was a good opportunity for an extra feed. It told me he understood the whole problem with Junior and the reason he has to be fed separately. More importantly, it told me that he understood how to ask, and knew I would probably listen.