June 11th, 2010
Submitted by EARS volunteer Shari Neal of Marion, Iowa
It seemed simple enough. After the rain, the pasture was sloppy and wet so adding sawdust would make it less muddy…right? Who knew that the delivery of sawdust would start a frenzy of horses behaving like dogs — rolling, kicking and digging? Apparently everybody but me. This is exactly what happened and it was amazing to witness.
The front-loader zipped across the property to the sawdust pile and when the bucket was full, it crept through the pasture gate and the driver carefully dumped its load toward the back of the pen while the horses and mules nervously hovered around the far side, not much liking the sound of the engine. As soon as the machine had passed back through the gate and its roar became faint, one brave horse slowly walked to the pile to see what it was — after all, it might have been something to eat.
She sniffed it and put a hoof in, as if she were testing the temperature of bathwater, but had to retreat as the engine noise was getting louder and the next load was about to arrive. The driver dumped the second load, spun 180 degrees on a dime, and headed out the gate for more. This time a sniff and a hoof dip were not enough; the horse dug into the pile, throwing the sawdust like a five-year-old child in a sandbox digging for treasure. By this time the other horses and mules were watching, waiting to find out what this stuff was. But they would have to wait as load three was getting closer. Now the piles were getting larger and the machine didn’t seem so loud and scary, so the instant it cleared the gate the exploration began in earnest making the most of the short time afforded them before the front-loader’s inevitable return.
The brave mare went to the piles, dropped to her knees and fell on her side. First she pushed her head backward into the soft mound nearly submerging her face. Next she flung her legs from side to side rolling back and forth reminding me of a dog being taught to roll over. The only thing missing was the snausage reward. Clearly the joy in this animated animal was reward enough. Once the others saw this, they too waited for the sawdust delivery man to clear the gate, then went through the rolling dance as the first horse had. First the sniff, then the dip, then the dig, then full-blown, hard-core rock and rolling. Legs flailing wildly throwing sawdust in the air. Butt-wiggling, nostril-flaring, tail-swishing fun. Like nothing I have ever witnessed. An awesome display of equine ecstasy.
It reminded me of how dogs play with sticks and cats play with cardboard boxes instead of the expensive toys purchased for them. Give a horse a pile of sawdust and you’ll have a buddy for life. Since its delivery, they all take turns in the pile several times a day, anytime they need a pick-me-up I guess. And since they have begun to play, they have also begun to relax and open up to the possibility that humans are okay, maybe even better than okay.