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All in a day’s work for horse communicator in Nokesville

Drew Van Hook, manager and instructor at Silver Eagle Stable in Nokesville, said horses experience many of the same emotions as do humans: happiness, sadness, fear, anxiety, anger. They also behave differently when they’re ill. Pet owners recognize their dogs’ and cats’ dispositions because they live together but how do equestrians know what their horses are feeling?

Van Hook has worked with horses since age ten, when the previous stable owner, Jim Barrett, took him under his wing and taught him all about horses. “He taught me how to read a horse by their physical cues. He pointed out their emotions based on their ears, eyes, head, tail and sounds.”

A horse displays his happiness with, as Van Hook said, “a good expression.” His ears are forward, he’s not wide-eyed, he moves with ease. “I know he’s comfortable and happy.”

A horse is rarely sad but when he is, his ears are outward and his head is dropped. “You can also see it in his eyes,” said Van Hook. “Most horses are used to their routine, so I don’t see sadness very often. But they can show sadness when they’re unhappy with the situation, like not being allowed out.”

Van Hook said a horse expresses fear by not letting anyone near him and tucking his tail. Some shake and try to run away; if in a stall, it may shy into a corner. He said anxiety is indicated by pacing back and forth, a lot of neighing, wide eyes and weaving if he’s in a stall.

An angry horse will pin his ears straight back, kick, paw the ground and swish his tail. Van Hook said to address the anger, one must understand that a horse is a herd animal. A male might be the only one among females when another male approaches and circles while the herd male protects. The intruder gets permission to enter or is run off. Asked for examples of what else would anger a horse, Van Hook said other horses, being untrained yet or simply being himself, just like a person.

“Angry horses can become dangerous. I’ll put them in a circle until they submit to me. I give them verbal cues and hand gestures [to calm them down].”

Van Hook said horses move, so when they’re standing still, aren’t interested in food or water, are lethargic or just not acting like themselves, they’re not feeling well. The most common problem is colic. He explained that a horse’s intestines are 100 feet long and coiled. If they get clogged, the horse can’t move its bowels. Since a horse can’t vomit, the contents are trapped.

“I can tell if a horse is colicky (have a stomach ache). It doesn’t have a bowel movement, tries to roll, paws the ground and is very irritable. If they roll, they’ll need surgery.”

Asked how he calms an anxious or fearful horse, Van Hook said, “I take everything slowly. I approach him slowly and speak softly and gently. I talk to him rub his neck, back and head. That puts him at ease. Some horses haven’t had much human contact. Once they get comfortable, they trust you.”

For information about Silver Eagle Stable, visit sestable.com.

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