Monday, October 31, 2011

Maggie's Trick is no Treat for Murray

There's no question that Murray outranks Maggie in our three-horse-herd. He's less bossy than he used to be, but he still spends much of his days herding her from hay pile to hay pile, or forcing her to keep him company in the run-in shed while he naps. Overall Maggie doesn't seem to mind, but lately she has found a way to exert a bit of revenge.

Early one October Morning:

It's a morning like any other. As I walk into the feed room to prepare the grain, the horses begin their "feed me" rituals. Jaava pins her ears, shakes her head, trots around her stall, and rears several times. Maggie pins her ears and starts biting and licking the metal bars on Murray's stall wall. Murray stands patiently, but his nostrils quiver as he emits his "I'm hungry" noise. It's a whisper-like, high-pitched, not-at-all-masculine whinny.

Murray gets the most grain, and he's a slow eater, so he always gets fed first. I walk into his stall with a bucket of crumbly, soaked beet pulp in one hand, and a bucket of dry, hard, green pellets in the other. Murray spins around and follows excitedly as I walk toward the feed tub in the back corner of his stall. When he's halfway there, and at the point closest to Maggie's door, she stretches her head and neck close to him, then exhales abruptly through her nose to let out a sharp, loud snort. It's the noise horses make when they sense danger.

Murray, who's paranoid on the best of days, wastes no time in reacting to this call-to-arms. He abandons his breakfast, leaps sideways, sprints out the backdoor of his stall, and takes up an alert position in the centre of his paddock. His head is raised high. His ears are pricked, and his eyes scan the horizon for the invading army of enemies.

I turn back to Maggie to see if I can figure out what's caused this state of high anxiety. But she doesn't have the wide-eyed gaze of an anxious, spooked horse. The only thing she's staring at is me, and my buckets of grain. She shakes her head at me imploringly, rattling the long braids of her mane, so I give a shrug and go about dishing out the rest of the morning meal.

Murray, however, is determined not to be caught off guard. He stands outside for a few minutes, then eventually trots back into his stall. He picks at his breakfast distractedly, turning to look out his door between mouthfuls.

I forget about the incident until the same thing happens again a few days later. Just as Murray turns to follow me to his feed tub, Maggie again lets out a loud, urgent snort, and the whole scenario repeats itself. I start to wonder whether perhaps Maggie is frightening Murray on purpose.

Then, a few days after that, on a warm, sunny morning, it happens again, though in a different context. This time, the horses are out together in the larger paddock. I'm in the riding ring below, driving our truck around, and around, and around, in an effort to drag the ring and smooth the footing. I look up at the paddock and smile when I see Murray laying down for a snooze in a pile of hay. With his legs tucked under his body, he rests his chin on the ground, and closes his eyes. Maggie stands nearby to "guard" him. It's a peaceful scene.

The peace doesn't last long. After a few minutes, Maggie steps in even closer to the unsuspecting, dozing Murray. She then stretches out her head, closes her mouth, and snorts loudly through her nose. Murray's head snaps up instantly. Then, for dramatic effect, Maggie widens her eyes and trots two steps forward toward the fence-- purportedly staring at some immediate threat lurking beyond the treeline. Without any care for his arthritic joints, poor, old Murray leaps to his feet. The moment he does, Maggie relaxes. She turns back toward the hay pile and starts eating, as though nothing has happened. Murray simply stares perplexedly at the woods in search of a non-existent enemy. I swear there's a smirk on Maggie's face.

That was a few weeks ago. I don't know how often Maggie employs her decoy snort outside. But inside, she now gives a hearty "breakfast snort" every few days. And poor Murray falls for it every single time.