Wednesday, May 25, 2011

the senior horse, 4: beating the heat with a bath

This week we're having some very warm days for May - highs in the mid-90s and an intense humidity that makes everything seem sticky and sweaty.

After breakfast this morning I got things set up underneath the big oak tree in the little barnyard and led Salina out for a bath. I had a feeling she might appreciate it more than the usual grooming we do.

For a few seconds she didn't want to go with me. I had put a lead rope over her neck and started to march out of the barn, but she stopped and tried to turn into the stall. I stopped too and realized I'd skipped a step. In my own head I was ready to get going with her bath, but I hadn't taken the time to communicate that to her.

"I thought a bath would feel good," I said to her, and pointed with my left arm out to the oak tree. "Let's go out and cool off, Salina Bean." She immediately walked out with me. I looped the lead rope around the base of her neck and adjusted it so the buckle wasn't hanging in an uncomfortable way. I had everything ready, so I got started quickly, a gentle scrubbing with shampoo diluted with water. Salina doesn't like being bathed with the soapy sponge around her face, so I usually start mid-way her neck and go backward, then around her tail and up the other side.

As I got going with the rubber scrubber and sponge, in my right hand, Salina kept putting her nose on my left hand, very gently as if she was trying to tell me something. I stopped and just stood still with her. She turned and looked me in the eye, rested her nose on my palm, and said very clearly, "thank you." It was as clear as if she had said it in human English. And interesting because Salina is not often affectionate in that particular way, but she very much wanted me to stop and allow her to not only say thank you, but to do it in a special way, with her nose and muzzle.

I also had the sense she wanted me to slow down and just enjoy the time with her, so I notched down several notches, and just stood rinsing, very slowly and deliberately on the "gentle stream" setting, rotating the hose nozzle so she got a little bit of massage action. I went over her body inch by inch, really taking my time and letting the water soothe both of us.

Salina emitted a very long and relaxed sigh of contentment.

The donkeys came out and began to roll in their dust circle, which they often do while Salina gets her water baths. We shifted angles slightly so Salina could watch them roll while we continued rinsing.

After the first round of rinsing, Salina turned to me again and this time nuzzled my arm, again very gently. This time meant something different, and this time I was much more attuned to her, so I knew immediately what it was - even though it's something she rarely wants. She wanted me to stand right in front with the hose and spray her underneath her jaw. Keil Bay loves this, and I do it often for him on hot days, but Salina generally wants no water from the hose aimed anywhere near her face.

But this morning, she wanted exactly that, and she knew how to tell me so. By slowing down and just being with her, I had tuned in enough to listen and understand.

We spent several minutes with the hose under her jaw. I tested several settings - gentle stream, mist, cone - and we ended up back on gentle stream again.

When she was done with the under-the-jaw hosing, she very quietly turned so I could get back to rinsing her body again, and at the exact moment I thought in my head, there, all done, she stepped forward toward the barn.

"Wait," I said, and she stopped and allowed me to take a clean cloth with plain water and wipe her eyes, her face, and all along the poll and upper neck. Then when I removed the lead line, she waited one more second to make sure I was done, and she headed into the barn.

I took the sweat scraper in and did a gentle scraping, and she was back with her donkeys in the cool barn, clean and very happy.

I was thinking as I stood there with her, how different it is to bathe a horse who is tied and unable to communicate by turning and nuzzling and even by walking away if something is truly unpleasant. The communication is so much easier when they can move and let us know what feels good, what doesn't, and what they would like us to do.

All of ours enjoy baths and hosings when it's very hot, but the seniors especially seem to appreciate a long, slow rinse - especially when there's nothing else in the world but us, them, a hose with some good settings, and a little soapy water sliding down and away, watering the big old oak tree that lends its shade.


Michelle said...

What a beautiful description! I think maybe I need to work on my communication with Tiny more, after reading your latest posts. We have a good relationship, but I don't have that level of communication. Maybe I just never take the time to hear it.

Grey Horse Matters said...

It seems unusual to have such hot weather this early, I hope you cool off soon.

Salina knows how to tell you what she wants. It's nice that you two are so in tune with each other. I'll bet she felt so much better after her bath. I think if I were you with those temps I'd have turned the hose on myself.

ponymaid said...

billie, although I abhor water baths myself, I found this to be one of the nicest pieces of writing about human/horse interaction that I've ever read. How nice that the two of you can talk this way.

billie said...

Michelle, I bet if you just slow way down and listen you will have it. You may have it and just not even realize it!

billie said...

Arlene, I did the wet hat trick. It is amazing how much that helps when out in the heat!

billie said...

Sheaffer, that means the world to me. Thank you.

Máire said...

That's a really nice description. Once again showing just how much a horse wants to be with us and communicate with us if we only slow down and listen - and believe them capable of such subtle communication of course.

I loved reading that. I was right there with you and Salina under that oak tree.

billie said...

Thank you, Maire. This morning Keil Bay got a turn. I went into his stall and put on his halter and lead rope (because I had things set up differently and really didn't want him to march around while he got his bath) and I put it on him and turned to the back stall door. He was having his mid-morning hay (this after a big breakfast tub) so he really did not want to leave it.

I stood for a minute and let him take several more bites and then thought OH! I can just untie the net and take the whole thing with us.

So I did and of course he was happy to come along then.

I had things set up for the bath so just tied the hay net to the gate, tossed the lead line over the gate too, and let him eat while I bathed.

We were out there for quite a while. It was hot but there was a nice breeze, and with the water it was all quite lovely. When we were done, I just undid the net and we marched back around through his back door again!

I guess tomorrow it will be Cody's turn. :)

He too