We had just returned from pasture, and I was unloading Restar Lucky Joe and OH Torrin from the trailer and returning them to their paddock. Lucky Joe was first to come off the trailer, and we walked towards the paddock as we have done numerous times before. We passed through the gate and headed to the fence where I customarily tie him while unloading Torrin. Just before we reached the fence, he spooked. He skirted sideways and spun around in front of me as I let out the lead rope to give him space, his eyes wide and his feet busy. I looked quickly back in the direction from which we’d come, which was where Lucky Joe was directing his attention, and I couldn’t see anything that would cause such behavior. My husband was unhitching the trailer, and the dogs were headed our way after getting out of the truck.
I looked quickly back and forth between Lucky Joe and the trailer trying to determine what was causing him so much concern. I even asked him what was bothering him. Usually a pony’s gaze will indicate what is causing them anxiety, but Lucky Joe didn’t seem focused on any particular thing. Then I realized what it was.
At pasture I had loaded Torrin and Lucky Joe into the trailer without incident, but when it came time to leave, the dogs were nowhere in sight. I called and called and became anxious when they didn’t appear. We were parked on the edge of a highway with a 65mph speed limit, and I try to always know where the dogs are to keep them out of danger of speeding vehicles. I continued calling, first one dog’s name and then the other. Meanwhile, Lucky Joe and Torrin patiently and calmly waited in the trailer. Finally one dog and then the other appeared through the deep grass, and I loaded them and got in the truck myself. I was immediately assaulted with a very rank odor, and I was given a clue why the dogs had taken so long to return to the truck. One or both of them had gotten into something very smelly and probably long dead. When we picked up my husband on the way home from where he was doing a chore, he had to hang out of his window to avoid being sickened by the smell that was coming from the back seat.
It turned out it was only one of the dogs that had become odiferous. And it was when that dog had gotten close to the paddock at home that Lucky Joe had spooked. Lucky Joe must have caught the smell on the wind, and even he was having trouble figuring out the source of his anxiety because he’s around the dog all the time so the sight of the dog wasn’t the issue.
After I figured out the problem, I yelled at the dog to leave the paddock, but he wasn’t interested in obeying, and since I still had Lucky Joe on a leadrope, I wasn’t in a position to shoo the dog away very effectively. Finally I got my husband to call the dog, and sure enough Lucky Joe settled down as the dog got further away. I was then able to tie him to the fence. Next I went to get Torrin off the trailer, and you can be sure I kept my eye on the odiferous dog. I was curious to see how Torrin would react. He didn’t seem nearly as concerned, but he did seem to notice that the dog wasn’t ‘normal.’
I’ve been around Fell Ponies long enough to see a fair number of shies but much less often a full blown spook, which I consider a quick, large, and fear-induced movement. The longer Lucky Joe is with us, the less he finds alarming, so his spook was unexpected. And normally when a pony spooks, it’s either because of something they see (a moose appearing from the woods, for instance) or something they hear, such as a tree falling in the forest. After I realized the cause of the problem this time, though, I could hardly blame Lucky Joe. The dog really did smell awful! He was bathed a few minutes later.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014
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