The trials of a horse whisperer


You may not know what the animal is thinking, but you are certainly smarter than its owner.

Twenty-five years of practicing veterinary medicine has revealed a tremendous amount about the human-animal bond to me. I don't know what animals are truly thinking-and no one else does either-but some people think they know everything about the subject.

I can spot these people the second they get out of their pickup. They've been watching television and think they're animal psychologists and want to tell me how to handle animals at the veterinary clinic.

One couple had a horse-they didn't need a horse, but they had one.

This horse got out of the trailer with a happy look on her face and a offered a mild whinny greeting to the other horses at the clinic. I welcomed the owners to their appointment and patted ol' Lucy on the forehead. She gave me a little horse smile and we ambled to the clinic.

The owners began telling me all about the events in the last year of the life of Lucy and brought me up to date on all her health issues. Today she was here just for vaccinations and a checkup on a minor crack in her hoof.

They proceeded to tell me what Lucy was thinking. What she thought about cloudy days, what she thought about the birds that roosted in the tree beside the barn, that she liked the red trailer better than the blue one because red is her favorite color. They also told me she didn't like to be ridden so they stopped doing that years ago and, finally, they assured me she absolutely hated to be vaccinated.

Great. I've been down this road many times trying to vaccinate a needle-shy horse, but this one taught me a lesson I'll never forget.

I filled the syringes and headed over to Lucy to start the scary task. The couple was distracted at the door of the clinic talking to another client about someone they all knew.

I walked up to Lucy and wiped an area on the neck for the first of three injections she would be getting for her vaccinations. Much to my surprise, she took it like a champ. Didn't even bat an eye. I moved to another spot and wiped this area also, gave the injection, and again no problem at all.

I was beginning to think it was my lucky day as I walked around to the other side of the horse to give the last injection. This side made me visible to the couple as they stood in the doorway. They hadn't seen me give the two previous injections, so they assumed that this was the first one the horse was going to get.

When they saw me approach, they began hollering from across the clinic, “Whoa, Lucy … Whoa, baby … Easy … Easy!” They repeated this phrase with a tone that made every horse in the clinic look around like something terrible was about to happen. Let me ask you something: If the only time you heard the words “Whoa … easy … ” someone stuck a needle in you to give a vaccination, what would your response to “Whoa … easy … ” be?

When sweet ol' Lucy heard these words, she tightened up like a little kid about to get a spanking. Her eyes got huge and her ears went into hyper-motion mode trying to pinpoint where the impending assault was coming from.

The only time Lucy ever heard those words with that tone, something bad was about to happen. Suddenly she turned mean. She'd already had two shots without so much as a blink. I hadn't even approached her with the third shot, and the formerly kind-eyed Lucy was having a come-apart.

The couple continued hollering until they got close enough to reach out and touch Lucy. Then the wife started talking baby talk and the husband started lecturing me about how to approach a horse and what needed to be said to calm it prior to the injection.

He asked me if I had ever vaccinated an animal before. He said he was appalled by my lack of knowledge of horse handling and horse psychology.

He began rubbing the now frantic horse and talking baby talk in unison with his wife. The wife looked at me with a stern expression and exclaimed, “See how distraught she is now? She was perfectly happy until she saw you come at her unexpectedly with those syringes. You have to explain to her what you are about to do before you come running at her with a needle! Don't you know anything about horses?”

The man took the vaccine-filled syringe from me and put it up to the horse's nose. He let her smell it and explained to her that it was for her own good.

The wife got out a pouch of horse treats, gave her one at a time and continued to say “Whoa” over and over. Lucy never calmed down; she just ate the treats and looked around like maybe there was a bear outside the door.

After a good 15 minutes of vaccine foreplay, I was finally allowed to give the last shot. The wife asked where the other two injections were. When I explained that I had already given both of them prior to the horse psychology lecture, her expression went blank and she locked eyes with her husband, who was equally stunned.

I don't know what animals are thinking. But I do know this-a lot of them are smarter than their owners.

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