I have a little problem with my
horse. My uncle is a veterinarian. He knows the behavior happens in
other horses, too. He suggested that I tell you about the problem and
see if you have ever seen such a rude habit and if you know whether it
can be fixed.
This is the situation. My horse
lives at a stable for old horses, not at our house. Our family has
adopted him and pays for his care, and we go there to see him and groom
him once or twice a week. I can ride him a little, but mostly I just
visit him. It's really hard for me to explain, but this is what he does.
Whenever I take friends there to
show him to them, he really tries to embarrass me and gross them out.
What he does is trot right up to the fence as soon as we pull in (or to
the front of the stall if he is in the barn) like he is really friendly
and excited to see us. He loves carrots and kisses and pats on his nose.
If you wiggle his whiskers, he does that laughing thing with his nose,
like Mr. Ed. After a few minutes, he sorta gets bored and turns away a
bit, always stands sideways to me and my friends, and does something
really weird. First, he looks like he is going to go to the bathroom,
but he doesn't really do that. He just "flashes" us. He waves
his "thing" back and forth. It gets bigger and bigger,
especially at the end. Then my friends say really wise comments about it
and about him. Some people think it's really gross. Last Saturday, my
older cousin said we should not look at it. She made everyone go over to
the goats and chickens.
Why is he trying to do this to me?
He doesn't do it when I go there alone, just every time he sees my
friends. Once, when I rode him over to my one friend's house and stopped
to talk to her brother and some other boys, my horse "flashed"
them. The same thing happened. He was nice to them at first, then he
stepped away and stood where they could see him. They laughed and
started pushing each other around and scared him, and he stopped. My
friend's parents came over to check it out. Next, my horse did it to
them. My friend's mom asked me if that thing can be removed. To make it
even worse, when he was starting up again, he popped them a woofy. Mom
says I don't need to tell you or anyone else what my friend's father
said that woofy meant.
Have you ever heard of this behavior
problem? Can I stop it? I've yelled at him and he stops for a couple
minutes, then starts again. The barn manager told me to get a big water
gun and aim it right at it. She said the cold water would scare him more
and work better than yelling.
To answer your first question, I have
seen exactly the behavior you describe, including the whole deal of
doing it "in front of company." I saw it the first time when I
was about your age. My sister's old gelding Blackie did the same thing.
We were similarly curious and embarrassed by people's interpretation
that this was strange, rude, or kinky. Unlike you, we were afraid to ask
any adults. Fate has been that in my professional career, this exact
behavior has been part of my clinical and scientific research with horse
behavior. So let me try to do as good a job of explaining as you have.
Everything your horse does might seem
rude and deliberate, but this behavior is normal and natural. Male
horses normally have what is called spontaneous extension and movement
of their penis throughout the day and night. Each episode lasts a couple
minutes or more. We're pretty sure it just happens automatically. They
probably are not thinking about anything or trying to do anything. The
behavior usually is naturally delayed or interrupted if the horse is
excited, distracted, or busy. If the horse is busy for a long interval,
when he returns to calm behavior, he might have several longer and/or
more frequent episodes as if to "catch up." Related to this
excitement-relaxation bit, no matter what a horse is doing whenever he
experiences a burst of excitement or arousal to a more vigilant state,
as soon the excitement subsides, this behavior almost always happens
within a few minutes.
So for your horse and my sister's horse,
that is exactly how things happen. When you visit with your friends,
your horse trots up with excitement, gets his treats, things settle
down, and there it goes. In fact, the same thing happens in a lot of
usual horse situations, where we don't necessarily appreciate it, and it
is easy to misinterpret it as rude or deliberate. Say in a show, where
the horse is all excited, then stands quietly while you're waiting for
the skinny judge in the navy blue suit to finally bring the ribbon.
OOPS! Not again! Something extra for the photograph. Or when people come
to visit a breeding stallion to size him up as a potential mate for
their mare. The stallion is roused from his quiet stall, then has to
stand quietly for the family history lesson. Oh no, not again! No matter
how we or other observers feel about it, it is normal and natural and a
rather good indication that the horse can relax around people and do
Now--your question about stopping it. In
these situations, simply keeping the horse alert or distracted with a
quiet little tickle under the foreleg or on the lip will usually delay
the behavior. So, you could easily do that while your friends are there.
But should the behavior happen, I would advise you to just take a very
academic view of all of this. You might even calmly head off any
embarrassing comments by explaining the biology. Explain that it happens
in horses, bears, dolphins, and almost every other mammalian species
that has been studied. It's just as normal as other body functions.
Again, thanks for bringing up this
question. You sound like a very good observer of animal behavior. You
are welcome to visit our vet school anytime. We see this and other
interesting horse behaviors. If your cousin comes along, we can look at
some scientific reports on equally similar and equally cool behavior in
goats and chickens.