It's humbling to be outsmarted by your animals. I'm used to it with the dogs, but I rely on their smarts - their senses and experience finding lost game helps keep my freezers stocked up. The dogs on the whole work in partnership with me.
Then there's Alan.
I mentioned in the last post that Alan is a smart horse. Kitty has the looks, but Alan has the brains. Mostly he uses them for his own amusement, and he seems to get most of his amusement exasperating me. It would not surprise me at all to find that Alan has a secret lair in a hollowed-out volcano where he hatches his devious plans.
We moved the pair to a small but greener paddock, for a change of scenery and a few days' fresh grazing. Within hours, Alan worked out how to unlatch the small pedestrian gate, and how to open it - inwards! - and took Kitty out for a walk. Of course, he waited until it was dark to do this. The gentleman who owns the farm where the horses live noticed they were missing and kindly drove to our house to let us know. Alan timed his escape to coincide with our dinner.
Worried that the pair may have wandered onto the road, I called our friend Tim, who's a local policeman, to ask who I should notify. Within ten minutes Tim and his wife Megan showed up to join our search. They're good friends, the kind who, on their night off, come out in the cold to help you search for your horses in the dark. We tracked the horse hoof prints in the mud to a nearby orchard, and using flashlights we eventually found them happily grazing in a hedgerow. We caught them up for the mile-long walk back to their regular paddock, and confined them behind electric fencing.
They were both out again in the morning. Alan used his thick winter rug to protect him from the shock of the electric fence and simply pushed the tape at chest height until it snapped. This time they walked to the farthest orchard behind some houses, to have breakfast with the owners. Alan looked completely unrepentant when I turned up. I spent the next few hours replacing and reinforcing their fencing.
The following morning both horses managed to breach the first line of defence, but were caught by the second. And I had another few hours of fence repair while Kitty and Alan ate their hay and watched me carry posts and tape, and a heavy post banger, up the muddy track. Of course, Alan broke the fence in the far back corner, the one place inaccessible by vehicle, so I had to walk everything in.
Besides reinforced fences to keep them from breaking out, I upped their feed and changed the regime to make it more stimulating, hoping to make them want to stay in. It's a 'carrot and stick' approach. Or in this case a 'carrot-apple-hay-mineral lick' and stick approach.
I understand that they are as fed up with the rain and mud underfoot as I am. I think Alan is looking for drier pasture where he won't slip when he walks. I explained to him that it's like this everywhere, we all just have to tough it out. He hasn't broken out since our chat (and the extra rations!)
I've been riding for nigh on 30 years now, but it never fails to surprise me how much I still learn from horses- whether I want the lesson or not.