Last time, you may recall, we had just finished the first long day of our cross-country move with our family, goods, and two horses. Texas to Missouri had taken us a bit longer than we’d expected but it had been relatively smooth. Zip (our Quarter Horse) had taken the situation in very good stride, while Jasper (our Haflinger Cross) was much more perterbed.
After getting the horses settled into the horse motel – I’ll write a review sometime, as they were great – we settled down for the night in the luxurious Motel 6 just down the road. Soon we were fast asleep. For some reason, I woke up at 2am, thinking something wasn’t quite right, and since I couldn’t figure out what that something was and couldn’t fall back asleep, I slipped out of bed, tossed on my clothes, and drove down to the stables to see if the horses couldn’t sleep either.
Zip was just fine – relaxed, leg cocked, hay feeder empty, water half-gone.
Jasper was not just fine.
He was neighing, pacing, circling, and otherwise working up a pretty good sweat. He hadn’t drunk much water, and really hadn’t touched his hay at all. He was not in his happy place.
He calmed down quickly when I started talking to him, and when I figured it was safe I got in the stall with him. Although he wasn’t pacing or neighing, he still was sweating, snorting, and breathing pretty hard. Most importantly, he had the “wild eye” – that look horses get when they’re scared or worried.
I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on. The change in scenery didn’t make sense as the cause. Jasper’s not a nervous horse in general, and he hadn’t shown any signs of anxiety earlier in the year when we’d changed from his old herd to the pasture he’d lived in for our last months in Texas. No coyotes were howling nearby. Even if there had been, Jasper is a herd defender – the kind of horse that moves towards a threat, not away. No problems with his legs or hooves. No injuries. I attributed the nervousness to leftover stress from the trailer ride, so I decided I’d get him out and see if he could walk his nerves away.
I slipped the halter on, clipped on his lead rope, and walked him down the wide aisle and out of the barn. As soon as we stepped outside it was like a switch turned off. He calmed down immediately.
Hindsight is 20-20, but unfortunately it only works when the event is behind you. As soon as I looked up and saw the stars, and heard Jasper’s breathing slow down, I got my hindsight.
You see, Jasper spent at least the past several years, and I’ll bet all the time before that, in a pasture. In fact, the place we bought him from in Oklahoma had the herd out in a large pasture with only a tree-line barrier for shelter.
The large pasture we’d kept the two of them in over the past few months had a 3-sided runout shed available, but we had noticed that even during a severe snow and ice storm, neither horse had gone in the shed. We’d arrived that morning to find them chasing each other through the snow, their backs covered in ice. Hoofprints up to the entrance showed that they’d taken a look at the shed and decided they’d rather hang out in the open.
For all we know, Jasper had never ever spent any appreciable time with a roof over his head, much less walls around him. Making him do this for the first time after a long trailer ride, in a strange barn… well, that was asking a bit much of him.
We had a long day of driving ahead of us, and it was about 3am by this time, so I needed to get him back to bed so that I could do the same. We had a long day of driving ahead of us. I walked him back into the stall hand fed him some soaked hay, then backed off to watch him for a bit. He seemed pretty calm, so I headed back to the truck. I waited a bit, didn’t hear any neighing, and so I continued on to the motel for a couple more hours of shuteye.
The next morning Jasper seemed pretty well-sorted, though a bit more excited than normal. We figured that was just nerves from the night, and as my wife and I hooked up the trailer, the girls took the horses out to lunge them and get some energy out. They hollered that he was pretty jumpy, and so my wife went over to help.
I turn around just in time to see him hit the ground.
(Yes, this is a “hook” to get you to read the next one, but I know lots of you are soft-hearted, especially when it comes to horses. Spoiler alert – if you go to our farm’s webpage you’ll see that Jasper is doing just fine today)