Horse Update-Fall 2023-Part 2

The Trials and Tribulations of Being a Teenager

Now we come to our metaphorical teenager, Highlight.

Highlight’s arrival into our lives was overshadowed by Juniper’s health issues but a few things stand out for me. My very, very first though was “please don’t get hit by a car” since the shipper opted to just park and unload from the road rather than navigate our curvy driveway with his giant rig, but right on its heels was “you are much shorter than I was expecting.” Granted she’s still young and will hopefully get a little taller, but how much taller is an open question and I would be surprised if she gets as tall as I had anticipated she would. The shipper said she was a good passenger and really levelheaded for a horse her age. She seemed to be taking everything in stride (pun intended) as we walked down the driveway and through our yard to her new home. All signs were pointing in a good direction. But I also clearly remember thinking to myself “Do not analyze her conformation, wait until you fall in love with her, then take a good look.” And at first that plan was working. Highlight is a very personable horse, she almost always comes up to say hi if you approach the gate, and if I go out with a halter she comes running up to greet me. She is very curious about the world around her and about people, she pays close attention to what people are doing and she will try to mimic you, which of course can be a double-edged sword. Even when something is new and kind of scary she’s more brave than affraid. It only took a few tries before the overhead door in the arena went from a scary horse eating monster to no big deal. Though the yellow rope used to pull the door shut stayed scary for a few more days. Then two things happened the same day. Juniper and Highlight got introduced together in the same pasture and our farrier came to trim their feet.

The farrier was the first one of my horse professionals to see my new horse and with him there I finally looked at her conformation for myself. She is severely toed out in the front. Severely. And every so often she stands so that her humerus/elbow standout oddly from the rest of her body. How the hell did I miss that?! I know that there is no such thing as perfect conformation, she was going to have some flaws, and I’m not saying this would have been a deal breaker had I known about it, but how did I miss it?! And how did the vet doing the pre-purchase exam not see it and/or say anything to me about it. I’m not saying this makes her a terrible and unusable horse, and it is possible that as she grows up and fills out it may not be as severe as it is now, but after searching so hard and making such a big deal about finding the best conformation it feels anticlimactic and frustrating. All of which I could probably get over if I could just fall in love with her, but she is making that very hard by being a total jerk to Juniper every day.

Horses have hierarchies and these pecking orders are totally normal and totally healthy. This means there are dominant and submissive horses, and Juniper is unquestionably a submissive horse. She will always be the bottom of any pecking order she is ever in. Which doesn’t have to be a bad thing. A healthy herd with a good hierarchy means that the horses on top make sure everyone is okay and following the rules. By the time Leeloo was ten-ish she was the single most dominant horse of a heard of 30+ and she was good boss mare. A good boss mare is always on alert keeping an eye out for danger, deciding when it’s time to go eat, when it’s time to go drink, when it’s time to seek shelter, and when it’s time to rest. They also make sure that everyone is following the rules and behaving themselves. However, Leeloo didn’t even start moving up the hierarchy ranks until she was four or five and even then she didn’t catapult to the top, she slowly worked her way up spot by spot. She didn’t make it anywhere near the top until she was older and mature enough to handle that responsibility. Highlight is three and a half and in no sane world would she be the boss mare of any herd because she’s basically a teenager. You wouldn’t put a teenager in charge of a business or a family and expect it to go well but that’s what we have. When you only have a herd of two and one of those two is Juniper that means the other horse is going to be the most dominant horse and Highlight is not handling it well at all. Thankfully for all involved things are slowly, so slowly, improving. After the first two days I was genuinely concerned for Juniper’s life because Highlight was straight up attacking her. Resource guarding everything, trying to drive Juniper away from everything, pinning her in corners and trying to kick the crap out of her. I took a night off of work to start the process of separating them back out, but the next morning things were a tiny bit better. And the day after that was a tiny bit better. And now things are okay. Not good, but okay enough that I no longer fear for Juniper’s safety. But Highlight’s behavior towards Juniper has put a huge dent into the “fall in love with her and then her conformation flaws won’t matter” plan. It is really hard to fall in love with someone who is tormenting a creature under your care, one that is already having her own set of issues and does not need this shit right now.

And adding to that is my own guilt at not realizing this would happen. I know Juniper was going to be the bottom of their two-horse herd and I know a three-year-old has no business being the dominant horse, but I put them into this situation and now we’re all having to deal with it. This means I am frequently starting out my interactions with Highlight already annoyed at her because of how she is treating Juniper which means I have no patience for her very normal three-year-old behavior. Much as adults are often low-keyed annoyed with teenagers before they do anything so the moment they aren’t perfect the next step up is more frustration/anger than necessary. It took a few less than stellar interactions for me to realize this and as soon as I did I added another layer of guilt to the emotional turmoil I was dealing with – which we all know is super helpful.

What has actually been helpful is to pause and ask myself what I would do if this were “teenaged” Leeloo. When she was three and not listening as well as I would like, or being easily distracted, or just generally misbehaving, how did I react? Highlight deserves the same treatment. It also helps that I am trying to set aside dedicated time at night to work with Highlight and to take a moment to ground myself first. It is not her fault she is not perfect and it is not her fault she’s been put in charge when she doesn’t know how to be in charge, but she’s doing her best and I will do my best and that is all any of us can ask for.

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