I have had the good fortune of being able to help and assist the fourth-year students with their treatments on a lot of their patients here at New Bolton Center. Since every student is required to rotate at least once through Large Animal Surgery, Emergency/Critical Care and Medicine, I have seen my fair share of terrified “small animal-oriented” students attempt to administer medications to animals 20-30 times bigger than what they are used to.
The other day, as one of those students was asking me the proper way to assess a horse’s digital pulses, I had a striking realization. Granted, her physical examination of the horse at that time was nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, the horse was in great health and was at the hospital for an elective procedure. What I realized in that moment was that even though I have spent a great deal of time around horses, simply being in their presence does not make me any more competent. Understanding a horse’s body language, the way to safely interact with a horse, and when to simply stop working on a horse because it has had enough are all things I’ve picked up on in my years in the barn.
Of course, I will never be able to predict every move a horse might make. There are inevitably going to be some accidents. However, through my time in dealing with these thousand-pound creatures, I have begun to understand horses in a way I never thought was even possible. My respect for horses has matured since I was able to first ride one some fourteen years ago.
In my teenage years, I let my frustration take over in dealing with a horse that might not be cooperating with me in the best way. Now, I work with the horse rather than against it. I have realized that it is not about having the horse do what I want, but rather showing the horse that the things I need to accomplish can be done while approaching more calmly, smoothly and ultimately in a safer way.
And sometimes, the horse has simply had enough and the best thing to do is just walk away.
(Admittedly, I am still working on that last part.)