Stall Vices

5 Jan


I have not kept a horse in a stall except at shows.  Growing up in the country, horses were kept out in pastures with shelter.  I had one wealthy neighbor who had stalls for their horses.  I remember approaching the jail-like bars and looking in at the horses,  then sliding the door open to release one for riding.

My own horse spent his days on five acres, across the street from our farm.  Even though we had an actual farm- a farm with cattle and hay fields and pasture, my dad said no horses were allowed.  So I kept my horse at my neighbors’ house where he lived with their two Appaloosas in a blissful pasture life.  When he wasn’t injuring himself or being forced to work by me.

Years later, when we got a pony for my daughter, we kept Gypsy outdoors with a three sided stall.  She only used it in the worst of rains or to eat.  It kept her hay dry.  We sent her for training one Spring at a large boarding and training facility.   The only boarding available was an outdoor paddock with a shelter.  One day there was a different horse in the paddock next to her.  It was a new horse who had come from a stall situation.  I went over to say hi.  The horse swung her neck in a wide circle, impressively making it large and symmetrical, just like you would want in dance class.  Then the horse shifted her weight side to side in a little one-two step and bared her teeth at me.

Gypsy, being a no-nonsense pony, looked at the horse in utter shock.  Gypsy usually runs over and charges any creature that might be thinking about coming into her territory and eating her food.  This time she was so shocked she just stood there with tilted head and ears back.

Then something stranger happened.  The horse did it again.  In some strange ritual dance, she repeated the head swing, one two step and teeth baring.   It wasn’t until later I realized this was a stall vice.  A horse confined to a stall, which is usually a 12 foot by 12 foot box, can get upset about it and develop strange rituals to deal with the stress and maybe to amuse themselves.  Not all horses develop stall vices.  Some horses love their stalls.  But many like wide opens spaces and to be part of a herd.

I started thinking about how this applies to people and our stall vices- over shopping, overeating, gambling, you name it.  We were originally a nomadic species, migrating and seeing new things.  An interest in novelty kept us trying new food in new places and surviving.  Humans still enjoy the vestiges of this when you seek out Italian or  Chinese take out (if this is not your native diet).  Now most of us spend days commuting in “shiny metal boxes” to quote the Police.  We might end up in another small box, aka 12 x 12 stall- and be stuck there for 8-10 hours.  That is when stall vices can kick in.  Our culture has a love affair with shopping, buying things that are shiny, entertaining and whose value is short-lived.  Even a new car depreciates quickly.  The value is in its newness.

Maybe I’ve taken it a step to far to liken people to stalled horses, but I hope you get the point.   Everyone needs exercise,  friends and good food.   A little personal space goes a long way. Unfortunately the wide open spaces don’t exist in the quantity they used to.  Things are confined.  Built up.  Every trail system, park or nature preserve, every open field where animals graze and every wooded hillside is a reminder of what used to be.  Today go out for a hike, bike, trail ride, trail drive, run or just find a scenic park bench and sit and admire something vast and wild.  Make it a good day.  Don’t let anyone box you in.

Note to followers:  if you see typos in the email, please visit the blog page where I have corrected them.  I often submit before the caffeine kicks in.  Thanks so much.  And thanks for reading.


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