By Kate Ingmundson
It is a warm August evening at Medicine Horse. When I walk through the front gate, I see Tabs in the distance, leading Mischief to one of the barns. She waves and tells me that Slick has come back.
Slick is a handsome bay quarter horse with a long, thick black mane. He has been a therapy horse at Medicine Horse for ten years, give or take. Slick has been here longer than any of the other horses, except maybe Suzy, who is old and wise. He has been “on vacation” in a neighbor’s pasture all summer, and I have missed him. I gather brushes and a halter, and go to get him out of his pen.
I think he remembers me, even after a summer apart. At least, he remembers that I used to give him carrots. Slick turns his head and looks at me with a particular expression on his face, which is how he asks for carrots. We don’t generally hand-feed the horses (sometimes it makes them nippy), but I can give him bits of carrot when he is doing “carrot stretches”. Before he went out to pasture for the summer, I taught him stretches to ease his sore neck and back. He would stretch his neck left and right, reaching way back towards his flanks, and then down, with his nose between his knees, as I bribed him with bits of carrot. He was always a gentleman and took the carrot bits from my hand very gently. He was not nippy, though he did request carrots rather frequently. *
His neck and back are better now, but he does, of course, remember the carrots. As if to demonstrate that he has earned one, Slick turns his head and stretches his neck, touching his right side with his muzzle. I laugh and tell Slick he is a good boy. Apologetically, I explain to him that I did not know that he came home today, or I would have brought some carrots. I promise to bring him some tomorrow.
I take Slick out to our favorite hitching post, a cool, shady spot, and groom him. His summer coat is shiny and soft. Tabs comes over and checks him out. She looks over his face, neck, legs, belly, back and haunches, noting any little bumps and dings he acquired during his summer in pasture. She takes pictures of both sides, his head, and his legs for his health records, so that any changes can be noted in the future.
Slick looks healthy, although he had dropped a little weight over the summer. He will be getting some extra hay.
Tabs had noticed some fly bites on the tender part of Slick’s underbelly. She finds some ointment, and I smear it on, making a mental note to check the bites tomorrow.
I take Slick back to the barn. It is his dinner time. He walks with purpose, but he remembers to stop and wait as I walk through the barn door, and enters when I say “OK”. It is bad manners, and unsafe, for a horse to crowd a handler when entering a door or a gate. He remembers this, even though he is eager to get to his stall to be fed. He stands quietly without backing out of his halter as I take it off, as I had taught him. I give him a pat on the neck, tell him he is a good boy, and reassure him that I will bring carrots tomorrow.
Slick quickly forgets me and the carrots when one of the volunteers puts hay into his feed tub.
*Please don’t feed Slick carrots. He only gets them when he is doing his neck stretches. He will tell you otherwise, but don’t listen to him! He can be very clever and convincing. Besides, he gets extra hay!