The Post of Don Sam Incognito

Sam’s Dream

This afternoon, I went out to work with Mattie to reinforce some of the clicker training I’ve been doing with her. Now that it’s March, the sun is higher in the sky and stays out longer so that, at 2 in the afternoon, both horses are dozy and take naps in the sun.

When I got to the corral, Mattie’s halter slung over my shoulder, brushes in the grooming bag in one hand, clicker and beet pellets in my pocket, I noticed Sam stretched out flat, a white horse sleeping in the snow. He lay completely still; a thin cirrus of breath rose from his nose. Every time I see the horses sleeping like this, I have a moment of panic. As a child, I read that horses sleep standing up, which they can, and I saw horses sleeping with their legs tucked under them and chins resting on the ground. But it wasn’t till I had these two in a corral so close that it seems like part of my living room that I realized that, like us, horses need periods of deep REM sleep, totally relaxed. It’s a sign of how safe they feel in my corral, I guess, that they can sleep so vulnerably as this, though I notice that they do it one at a time, with the other usually standing watch.

I stood watching him for at least five minutes, maybe more. His breath was slow and long and I could see it rise in a mist around his head at regular intervals. His ears swiveled forward and back, as if he were listening to a rider he respected. His hooves twitched, first the back, then the front. Once, I saw his legs move as if pushing off into a collected canter. Sometimes he bobbed his head up and down slightly. Sometimes he wobbled his lips as if taking a treat or working his mouth on a bit. His eyes flickered, too; they seemed to open and close. He switched his tail.

I wondered what I was watching. I imagined he was dreaming of his former life, the training he had, the shows or exhibitions. I imagine that Sam loved his training and worked with an exacting trainer who taught him things I’ll never know about. I imagine that he misses this work, and has only tolerated those of us who’ve had him in our lives since them. Sam doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and in his eyes, we all may be fools.

I have to go through a pass-through between Sam’s and Mattie’s sides of the corral to get to Mattie, so I waited for Sam to wake up. I could have walked right by him, but he would have heard me coming and sprung to his feet. Eventually, he opened his eyes and rolled to his belly, feet tucked under him, head up to see me. I held my hand up, in the “stand” gesture, and he lay there, still drowsy, and let me walk up to him and scratch his forehead-something he usually resists. I talked to him and rubbed him on the neck, then left him, still resting, and went to see Mattie.

Things went well with Mattie. I worked on clicker training to reinforce the “ears up” command and “stand” as I groomed her with the rope slung over her withers. She was drowsy, too, a black mare in the sun. When I brushed the sun side of her, her coat felt so warm that I didn’t need my gloves. I finished by picking out her tail, using detangler, while she stood, head half-lowered, eyes half closed.

All in all a good day to be with horses.

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3 Responses to “The Post of Don Sam Incognito”

  1. Clare Says:

    Hi –

    This is Juliet’s sister, Clare. I just discovered your blog address in a response to one of my posts. I see that you are using clicker training! I’ve just really gotten turned on to using it to train horses. (It was recommended in Temple Grandin’s newest book.) I’ll have to keep checking in on you to see what you are up to. I can’t imagine how you get through winter in AK..

    Happy Horsin’

    aka “NaturallyGaited”

  2. Glow Says:

    Welcome spring! Mattie, Don Sam, MP–I’m so happy to read about your drowsy, sunny work day. MP, as you described Don Sam sleeping, I thought about my goats and dogs and cats and lovers–and how we all snooze and dream. Thank goodness our Watchers stand guard over us as we enter the dream world. Sam is lucky to have his Mattie and his MP.

    When is the next Poetry Challenge?

  3. mattiespillow Says:

    Hi, Glow–Spring is all in our minds here in what we imagine under the snow. I swear I see the kale and pansies growing as I look at the white stuff! I’m waiting for my seed order to get here.

    Did you see Poetry Challenge 9? I’ll put another one up soon.

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