When I first got back into horses several years ago, I remember learning how to train horses. One evening my teacher and I were working with a green* pony on some groundwork exercises. I remember her saying, “Do you see the change in the eyes? When the eyes soften, we stop the exercise.”
I’m looking at this pony’s eyes as we’re doing the exercise. They were big and dark, and I remember thinking, “Ok, I see the eyes, but I don’t see the change.” This was one of my very first lessons in training horses, and at the time, it was too subtle for me to recognize.
Today, after years of experience, I see the change. In rehabbing old horses, often times they come with distant, withdrawn eyes. Healthy horses are curious by nature, and when you look at their eyes they are engaged. Sometimes you will hear people describe curious eyes as being bright. My long-term goal in rehabbing old horses, is for them to have bright curious eyes and engaged with life.
Practice observing horses’ eyes. Are their eyes drawing you in, or is there a wall between you and them? The eyes can tell you a lot about a horse before you ever touch them.
Today, as I rehab old horses, I get to see the change in their eyes from withdrawn and distant to bright and curious. It doesn’t happen overnight, but given the right environment, diet and exercise, it will happen. And in a senior horse who has given years of service to humans, it’s wonderful to see them come back to life.
*green means a horse who has just started training