Married with Horses: Behavior Training

A horsewoman's husband shares his first experience with "crab walking and whip waving" (aka "horse behavior training") in his column Married with Horses.
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A horsewoman's husband shares his first experience with "crab walking and whip waving" (aka "horse behavior training") in his column Married with Horses.

It was late when Kimberly and I returned from work. She went directly to the barn to bring in and feed the horses. I went inside to fix something for dinner. Though I spent years cooking professionally, our economy and our busy schedule had me occasionally preparing things like cream of chicken soup and frozen pizzas. I am not proud of this. I winced as I placed the sad, cold pizza in the 450-degree oven and poured the soup concentrate and water into a sauce pan over medium heat.

I figured there was time to fix the dog's dinner and take a quick shower before the food heated up. I removed my work clothes and threw them into the washer. When I opened the side door to call the dog in, I heard hollers coming from the back pasture. It was definitely my wife. I threw on my boots and ran out the door. Now, I will always think first of Kimberly's safety, and second of anything else. This includes running out of the house in just boots and underwear.

What was my wife hollering at? Horse thieves? Bears? Snakes? A million images flashed through my brain as I ran toward the pasture. Might a fight ensue? I quickly reviewed all the Kung Fu moves I knew: none.

Fortunately, when I got to the field, Kimberly was alone with Skip, our recently acquired Quarter Horse. She was engaged in a kind of crazed crab walk, hollering, clucking (yes, horses can speak chicken) and waving a longe whip with a plastic bag tied to its end while a confused Skip bounded around the pasture. Kimberly didn't notice me and continued crab walking and whip waving. Horse thieves would have actually made this scene seem more reasonable. Since there were none, I decided immediately to join Skip in his confusion.

Maybe it was the look on my face. Perhaps it was that I was standing outside in just boots and underwear. Kimberly immediately stopped crabbing.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"What am I doing?" I inquired incredulously, "What are you doing?"

"Positive behavior training" she said, jogging over to me, "Grab some of these plastic bags. Unless he stops and faces you, keep him running by hollering, clucking and waving one of these bags around. The idea is that we make him work harder until he accepts the easier option of letting us put his halter on. Oh, and take a few extra in case they tear," she said, holding out a wad of plastic grocery bags.

I don't know about anyone else's underpants, but mine never come with pockets. I stuffed about five of the terribly uncomfortable bags into my shorts. I joined Kimberly in her hollering and clucking, bag-waving, crab walk.

Gadzooks! Is this really what horse ownership does to us? Do we end up completely crazy, running around the pastures, hollering, with underpants stuffed full of grocery bags? One note: It didn't take long before I was hollering because my underpants were stuffed full of grocery bags. Those things really chafe.

The entire scene was completely surreal. I half expected Skip to start speaking Swedish or for pink elephants to appear, but, alas, no. This event was real. Crazy bag waver number one was my wife. Crazy bag waver number two was me. The insane horse in the pasture was mine, as was the other horse screaming in his stall. I married into this. This is my life now. I resigned myself to this thought and just kept hopping and hollering and waving. I was in my own world.

"Hey! Hey! HEY!" Kimberly was yelling--at me. I had gotten so into my underpants crab dance that I failed to notice that she had actually gotten Skip to stop running and had put his halter on. Okay. Mission accomplished. As I removed the bags from my shorts, I was hoping nobody got any of this on video.

It was dark when we finally got Skip in his stall and fed and began walking back to the house. "The food!" I shrieked. I sprinted the rest of the way and threw open the side door only to release the cloud of smoke that was supposed to be our dinner. Smoke rose from the sauce pan of what now looked like cream of crude oil. And if you ever wondered if a home oven has the ability to turn frozen pizza into a shriveled disc of pure carbon: yes, yes it can. I felt like stuffing the bags into my underwear again and running right back out to the pasture. Fortunately, before I could do anything, Kimberly grabbed the car keys and went to pick up some Chinese take-out.

I opened all the windows and doors and put the pan and cookie sheet in the sink to soak. I looked out the kitchen window at our two horses in their stalls, peering out over their half doors at the peaceful, moonlit night. Skip sure didn't look like a horse who was traumatized by seeing his father running around like an idiot in his underwear. Skip didn't appear to be anything but calm.

I was still feeling slightly silly, but I wouldn't trade the horse life for anything. It hasn't even been a year since our wedding, but I think that the time in this new life has started making me a better person. There may be hope for me yet. Besides, think of all the stories I can tell the grandchildren. Let's see--whips, plastic, crabs and underwear... Hmmm. Well, at least I can tell them all the other stories.

Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in Grifton, N.C., with their two cats, two dogs and two horses.

Read Jeremy's other columns in EquiSearch's Humor section.