Fine, I thought, what I need is a puddle so big she can't avoid it! So we went to the pond in the pasture... which she walked right through.
I thought maybe this was because the pond was too familiar, and full of floating weeds, reassuring her that it was safe to walk through. It wasn't a "puddle" at all. So I built my own puddle! I took a black rubberized tarp, spread it out in the yard, and hosed it down with water. There! A dark reflective puddle, too big for her to avoid! Perfect. Annie was slightly hesitant and began her avoidance techniques, but eventually we did it. After about the dozenth time leading her through it, she was walking over it like a pro. I saddled her up, and we rode over it a dozen more times. There, I thought, that's fixed!
Feeling very self-satisfied, I gave myself permission to go on a nice trail ride. There weren't any puddles around to test our new skills on, but I was confident we didn't need any more practice. Hah. Pride goes before a fall!
We reached a place where a neighbor's driveway extends a little ways into the roadbed. The driveway is made of designer concrete, that bright shiny-white kind. As we went past, Annie stepped around it. Frowning, I turned her back and asked her to walk on it. She refused, and began the avoid-the-puddle dance. Oh crap.Trusting in the good nature (or at least the absence) of my neighbor, I moved her around the house to the other side of the driveway and pointed her towards home. There, I thought, now we're going home through that driveway or else!!
Of course when you argue with a horse, it usually ends up being "or else, " except you're the one on the receiving end. So it was with Annie. Despite twenty minutes of patting and coaxing, firm cues, then firm pushes, then hard heels, then taps on her butt, she went up, down and sideways, but not forward. I was tired of bouncing around, and my neighbor's lawn was taking a beating. We backed off. I asked her for circles, bending, etc, which she performed without a bit of protest. Back at the EVIL concrete, her resistance returned. Finally, I got off and led her. She was reluctant, but followed me across the dreaded uber-puddle. And that's what the concrete was; it was a big, shiny, flat object-- a huge "puddle." I hadn't improved anything except possibly our ability to walk over wet tarps.
Damn, what do I do now?
I know why this is happening. It's the flat object problem. The flat object problem is one we've all encountered-- it's just that we don't always recognize it. All of the following problems are really one problem:
- Horse refuses to step through puddles or over tarps
- Horse over-jumps a jump, or jumps too soon or too late
- Horse is nervous about shadows or changes in pavement color
- Horse won't cross a ditch or gap, or jumps it instead
- Horse seems to be looking at something, but then suddenly shies from it
- Horse turns his head to look at something while traveling, doesn't go straight
This in turn happens because a horse's eyes are on the sides of its head. They have "monocular" vision, meaning they're only looking at things with one eye except for an area in front of their faces.
The next time you're dutifully following your spouse around a boring mall/car show/convention, try keeping one eye closed. As you walk around the unfamiliar space, you'll notice you're having more trouble reaching out and grabbing things accurately, not bumping into things, finding the best way through the crowd, etc. It's because you lack the two different inputs from both front-facing eyes that give you depth perception. And that's despite the years and years of practice you've had judging distances with your binocular (two-eyed) vision. (This exercise has the added benefit of making your spouse want to leave early. Super bonus points to you if you use an eyepatch and growl "arrrgh!" at vendors.)
Horses have monocular vision because it allows them to see the most stuff at once-- they get a nearly 360 degree view to check for predators. Other prey animals, like deer, rabbits and mice, also have side-eyes/monocular vision. Predators, like wolves, cats and snakes, have front-eyes to more accurately judge depth, allowing them to pounce on prey. Birds can fall anywhere along this scale, depending on how predatory they are:
|From left to right: Cute & Fluffy, Slightly Scary, Badass Predator|
Exceptions to this rule include front-eyed kangaroos, which are not meat-eaters but have no natural predators themselves, and humans/apes/monkeys, which are complex cases. We're all slightly predatory (yes, even chimps hunt sometimes) and we're also hunted by other things. Mostly, I think we need depth perception in order to swing through the trees and get decent scores in mini-golf.
Pardon me for all that there digressin' -- let's get back to the horses. Horses have adapted to their lack of depth perception in several ways:
- Whiskers provide a way to "feel out" the distance/depth of objects near the face
- Turning and looking at something worrying allows maximum perception of that object (binocular vision)
- Lowing the head brings the zone of maximum perception closer to a ground-level object
- Instinct to leap first rather than look (spooking and bolting) because vision is unreliable
- Avoid and fear areas where visibility is further reduced-- i.e. woods, etc
Anyway, I know why this is happening, but not how to fix it! Have any of you found a way to defeat a persistent puddle/flat object problem? If so, please post in the comments below!!