Bodhi, my 13 year old gelding, who I’ve had the honor of caring for, since he was 3.5 months old, told me that he was mistreated while I was out of town, for only one day.
It’s so important to know our animals, be they dogs, horses, cats, etc. because when we are so in tune with them, we immediately know when something’s not right. It goes a long way when we explain their behavior to a veterinarian as well as understanding when they need our help to overcome any anxiety or fear they may have. This means becoming a body language expert.
I had to go out of town for one day, last week and asked the caretaker, where I live to feed my horses and gave explicit instructions on what and how to feed. They are pasture horses, coming in only for feeding time and then back out to pasture. They have been positively trained and never had a bad experience with me. When they have had a bad experience, it’s been done by someone else, a farrier, another caretaker as in this scenario, a veterinarian, etc. I have fired farriers and veterinarians on the spot, if they mistreat my horse with antiquated methods, even when I explain that they are not to be used. It’s hard to get through sometimes, but as my animals advocates, I will do everything in my power to stop any and all mistreatment and why I am always present when their feet are trimmed and for all vet care. In this case, having someone feed my horse seems pretty benign but shit can happen when people are using old ways of handling animals and think they know better.
As you see in the video, Bodhi back up when I open the door. Notice the whale eyes too, ears moving back and forth questioning if he’ll get hurt again, unsure of me, the door and being fed. This is not even a week later. This means that 13 yrs of careful handling and teaching my horses how to be appropriate during feeding, feet trims, vet care, etc. the trust has been broken in one day, probably in one feeding. This kills me.
Here’s what happened the day I came back to feed them. I opened this same feed door and Bodhi flew back as if I had just shot him. He scrambled, head flying, whale eye and slammed into the wall. He was so frightened and I knew exactly what happened to make him feel this way.
The caretaker, upon opening the feed door, saw that Bodhi came to say hi and he must have thrown his arms up and yelled at him, (that’s how they did it in the old days), Bodhi having never had someone yell at him or throw their arms up, jumped back and in doing so hit the side of his head above his eye, removing hair, exposing the skin as you see in the photo above. As soon as I saw his reaction, I checked his head for a wound and sure enough, it was right there above his eye.
While this is just a superficial wound, it’s not a superficial emotional wound. The part of his head where he slammed it against the metal frame of the door, is a very sensitive part of their face, surrounding their eye. To remove the hair, it had to have been a very hard blow. OUCH! Now, the door opening at feeding time is associated with pain and fear. 13 years, down the drain. UGH!
Thankfully, my horses trust is so strong that this incident won’t take a long time to recover from. But as you can see in this video, 4 days later, he still shows signs of anxiety, all described above. Listen to how I ask him to back up and how he respectfully does so, without rushing but calmly backing away allowing me to put the hay in the stall. This is how he’s been taught and I’m certain he’ll recover in time, but I’m sick that it even happened to him.
So, Bodhi told me that something horrible happened while I was gone, by his body language and antics during a normal routine. If your dog, horse, cat or any of your animals acts strangely, they are telling you something. Pay close attention to them and your inner detective will shine through so that you can help them overcome whatever anxiety they’ve experienced. Become a body language guru and your bond will grow tenfold.
About the author: Jill Breitner, is a professional dog trainer and dog body language expert loving and living her life on the west coast of the USA. She is the author of Dog Decoder, a smartphone app about dog body language recommended and used by veterinarians, shelters, trainers, educators and guardians worldwide. It’s available in iTunes and Google play. Jill has been teaching gentle handling/basic husbandry skills to clients and their dogs for 40 years, to be your pets advocate for a happier and stress free life. She also does online dog training, worldwide. Join Jill on her Dog Decoder Facebook page