July 14, 2008

The itch

Both Luna and Wenona get udder and belly rubs when we catch them and put them in their corral each day- it is much stronger reinforcement for coming in than a cookie or a pat on the head. It has become a ritual. Usually I'll lead Wenona into the corral with the halter, and Luna will follow. As I stand there with the gate open, Luna will stop outside of the gate and lower her head, as if to say "I'm staying out here." As soon as I start to scratch Wenona's belly, Luna comes rushing in, stopping right beside Ana and stretching out on her tippy toes in back and front to expose as much belly as possible. Ana and I spend the next five or ten minutes rubbing bellies and udders and scratching all over, and get reciprocal rubs with the extended upper lips of the horses if we put our hind ends within range. This is reciprocal grooming- horses do it all of the time with each other. Luna never nips, but I have to watch out with Wenona sometimes because if she is in particular exctasy, she looses control and the teeth get involved.

This morning Ana and I went out early to let the horses loose in the pasture for a few hours of grazing. No matter how hungry she is, Luna has gotten into the habit of hanging around for an udder rub even though the other two horses wander away into the pasture. Today Luna hung back for "the treatment". Wenona started to head out, but turned and came back, which irritated their pasture mate, Fire. I thought Wenona wanted a rub too, but rather than stopping and lifting her leg for her rub, she circled around us, curving her body around me and walking by several times. Fire was ready to go out, and not pleased about what was going on, so she started kicking at Wenona, which she stopped quickly when I took a menacing step toward her. Wenona was inviting us out into the pasture with this tight circling behavior, and with a pain in my heart I had to decline, because I was on 'human time'.

This snapshot of Wenona asking for a scratch has inspired me to do a painting. I lover her stance and the motion of the mane and tail, and the shadows of the gate. I'll post the artwork as it comes along.
In this painting, I'm using livestock markers and oil pastel on a black gessoed canvas. I love this medium! The final piece- this photo doesn't do it justice.

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