One of my strongest convictions related to horses is that horses need jobs. A horse with a job is more likely to be fed and cared for. A horse with a job has opportunities to be good and be rewarded for it. A horse with a job gets mental exercise as well as physical. A horse with a job has the best chance at happiness, or at least healthiness, if you prefer to avoid anthropomorphism. The job can be anything; it doesn’t have to be super rigorous or difficult.

It could be modeling.

(Incidentally, my thoughts are ever-evolving on the “dangers” or folly of anthropomorphism, largely because in domestic mammals and birds especially, emotions are observable and often apparent. On parallel and interconnected tracks, animals and humans are continually evolving to work and live together (and have for centuries, if not millennia) and the more I read on it, the more it seems likely that emotions of animals and humans have more in common than not. Which to me means every moment we are with an animal, we are communicating with it. What the animal thinks of us when we are not with it, who can say? But yes, horses need jobs like people need jobs.)

Right now, Eli is facing unemployment. Alternately, he is about to be claiming workers’ comp … although I am not sure he was injured on the job? Maybe?

No arena walkies yet.

But hold up. While it’s true that Eli cannot perform at the job he usually does, he is not without employment opportunities.

Right now, the sole opportunity is hand walking. We are in that cooling-the-inflammation phase of his recovery. So he is going to be the best at hand walking that he can be. I am sticking with walking in the barn because it is a hard surface, and it’s just for a few minutes a day right now.

This isn’t much work for Eli. My main concern is his mental state. He is going to get very bored very quickly, which is why I am trying to think of things he can do day to day as he gets cleared for additional activities, if he gets cleared. I also worry about his physical condition — he will lose some fitness, of course. But I want to give him enough opportunities to move around so that we don’t end up with that muscle soreness in his lumbar area. It may not be avoidable, but maybe I can mitigate it a bit.

If he can see me and I am not touching him, he paws. And then when I touch him he pins his ears and grinds his teeth. He’s so entertaining.

I see this as an opportunity to improve our ground work — it’s a different job for Eli, but it is a job! To this aim, I plan to order the Cherry Hill 101 Ground Training Exercises. I have the Linda Allen 101 Jumping Exercises and I love it. It’s arranged the way I like to use instructional literature — steps, diagrams, adjustments; and the spiral binding is awesome because the book can lay flat and not flip closed on itself.

Eli seems truly disappointed to return to his stall right now. I am hoping to change that, even if his new job involves a lot of walking and nothing else. I want him to feel like he has a purpose, and that it’s a purpose at which he can succeed. Sport breeds like thoroughbreds need both physical and mental challenges.

No ETA on this trotting business.

I thought I would be bored and antsy about Eli being off, but then I turned it around in my head. I don’t need to worry about me. I need to worry about Eli. Duh. This opened up a valve of streaming ideas in my brain and I hope we can do a lot of things at the walk over the course of Eli’s recovery. I may be getting ahead of myself here, because we are still in the icing phase. But I know Eli will be happier with stuff to do, so I am crafting a plan for that hope of mine. What we are trying to avoid is existential doom and I think we can. (Yes, I actually just wrote something that makes it seem like I think that horses experience existential doom.)

12 thoughts on “Unemployed

  1. so I have been traveling for work (BOO) so missed all this and need to go back and read to find out what happened. Poor Eli!! I wonder if you can also set up some trail obstacles (and do in hand) nothing too much but stuff to make his mind work a bit.



  2. I agree totally. I can see that Irish is much happier with a job than not. He has established himself as official greeter on the farm (you have to say hi to him first) and if any young children need pony rides or want to groom a horse he’s the guy. He’s also really safe to have others ride. I don’t ride him so much (except for the odd hack) because he expects to perform at the level he did before retirement.

    I received the 101 ground work exercises for Christmas but have not had a chance to try it out.


  3. Oh yeah, Amber LOVES having a job and all the attention that comes with it for sure lol. For all the horse’s I’ve worked with there were maybe 2 that didn’t enjoy having a job.
    I think that’s great tho finding a way to turn it around for Eli! The groundwork exercise book looks interesting – I didn’t know there was one for groundwork. Sounds like you have a good plan!


  4. Sounds like a great plan. Maybe he can learn some tricks too while you’re mostly stall bound. I tried to teach Ducky some tricks to keep him entertained in the winter. I wasn’t all that successful, but I also didn’t really know what I was doing.
    When Rio was laid up one of the many times, I got him one of those giant rope toys they make for enormous dogs. He loved throwing it around his stall. But it really hurt when he started throwing it at me.


  5. For as lazy as Frankie can be, he’s overall much happier and more engaged when we have him in a consistent training program. I joke that he loves toodling (and he certainly does enjoy the mental break sometimes) but he’s noticeably more energetic and playful when we give him things to engage his mind and challenge him a bit (because then he gets to beat the challenge and be told that he’s a Very Good Boy)


  6. It is a difficult time to have a horse who is used to be in a work and training program to be “laid off”. I did lots of handwalking and hand grazing when my horse was off. I also read Linda Kohanov’s book The Tao of Equus. It was a good book to read during that time.


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