I consider myself among other things, a former horse mechanic. The horses I did veterinary work on were ranch and feedlot beasts of burden. Workin' animals from man's point of view.
Up until about fifty years ago that would describe most of the horses vets worked on. I was always a little vain about distinguishing that my patients worked for a living, earned their daily oats and made a contribution to the good of mankind.
Backyard horse practice sorta ranked with spayin' cats and trimming Chihuahua's toenails.
That same kind of 'snobbery' still exists, I think. Somehow working on a valuable race horse, a Tennessee walkin' show horse, an endurance Arabian, a Budweiser Clydesdale, Fred Whitfield's ropin' horse, Kathy Petersen's barrel racin' horse, a New York city policeman's horse, a ranch horse, a rodeo bucker, a Quarterhorse cutter, an outfitter's packmule or a Lippizan performer is interpreted as doing something more worthwhile than floating the teeth on a backyard plug.
These working horses have a purpose. That dignifies your veterinary efforts, lends some value to your education and experience. All your acquired ability isn't being wasted in frivolous endeavor on a horse that isn't really 'workin' for a livin'.
But, with all that being said, what's work to a horse? Is it something they feel good about? Does it give them a sense of self worth? Of course not.
"Well, my little mare, I better finish this hay. Crooked Jack will be comin' to take me to the mall where I can walk in circles all day giving joy to little boys and girls."
"I'm so proud of you, Geldy. You bring so much happiness into the world."
Coyote Cowboy Proverb: Work to a horse is anything he does because you make him do it.
I tell people my horse likes to rope. Meaning, I guess, that he likes to chase cattle. But he spends a lot of time in the pasture with cows and calves, I've never seen him chase them on his day off.
Ah, but you good horsemen say, "This horse loves to run", or "He was born to buck", or "I can tell he loves to pull this plow. He can't wait for me to crack this whip!"
I see them run and kick up their heels in an open pasture... but not for long. Are they having fun? Can horses have fun? Are they bored? Can they get bored?
I'd be hard put to argue that they can't have fun, get bored or get mad.
Horses are domesticated animals. Under the care of and at the pleasure of those who pay for their keep. It is not their choice. It is ours. Like teenagers, if we give them room and board we expect something in return. At our pleasure, even if our pleasure is team roping, showing Arabians or just a good companion.
But in the end, it's all work to a horse.
Baxter Black is a cowboy poet, ex-veterinarian and sorry team roper, who now lives in Arizona and travels the country,
tormenting cowboys instead of cows.