- Associated Press - Sunday, July 20, 2014

FREMONT, Neb. (AP) - Maddie Thomas knows the importance of being able to “read” a horse.

The 8-year-old Cedar Bluffs girl has been showing horses for three years. Like many young horsewomen, Maddie recognizes that part of doing well in a show ring involves cooperation from the horse.

And that involves knowing the animal.

Maddie recently shared her equine knowledge before competing at the Fremont 4-H Fair with her quarter horse, Josie.

Outside the livestock arena at Christensen Field, Maddie’s horse had a sleepy-eyed look.

“See how they’re half-closed?” Maddie said, referring to Josie’s big brown eyes. “That means she’s really calm.”

If Josie’s ears go flat against her head, she’s not happy. If her ears go forward, she’s looking at something, said Maddie’s mom, Kristyn.

Reese Hanson, 11, of Herman has learned to read some signals from her 6-year-old pony, Annie.

When Annie is bored, she paws on the ground with her hoof, Reese said.

“I can tell when she’s confused: She kind of throws her head up a little bit,” Reese said.

Horses can differ in their reactions.

“Some horses show their emotions differently than other horses,” Jayden Henton, 12, of Blair, told the Fremont Tribune (https://bit.ly/1mOcHdj ).

Not every horse is mad when it flattens its ears against its head.

“Some horses, when they put their ears back, it means that maybe there’s something behind them or they have a fly on them or whatever,” Jayden said.

So it’s important to know the horse.

“You have to know how to react to them,” Jayden said.

Equine experts differ on what different horse actions mean.

Jayden speaks from her own experience.

“My horse gets frustrated very easily,” said Jayden of her quarter horse, Kip. “You can tell. He just kind of puts his head down and his eyes get really big and he waves around his ears.”

When that happens, Kip doesn’t always want to do what Jayden wants. So she uses various cues. For instance, she might use a voice cue - like a clucking noise with the tongue - to let the horse know what she wants it to do.

If something - like a waving flag - slightly startles a horse, Jayden lets up on the reins a little and figures out what’s spooking the horse. She then may let the horse look at the flag to show the animal that it won’t be hurt by it.

Learning how to read and react to a horse is a continuous learning process that takes time.

Just getting a horse ready for the show takes time, too.

Before the horse show, Maddie washed 13-year-old Josie and put rubber bands in her mane to make it lie down. She put baby oil on her nose.

“She likes to be pretty,” Maddie’s mom said of Josie. “She loves being pampered. She loves the attention.”

What’s the best part about showing with Josie?

“She’s fun and she’s always keeps her head down by me,” Maddie said.

Why does Josie do that?

“Because she loves me,” Maddie said, once again showing how well she can read her good friend.

___

Information from: Fremont Tribune, https://www.fremontneb.com

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