Haflingers do have a variety of creative techniques for attracting attention to themselves when someone walks in the barn, especially around feeding time. Over the years, we’ve had the gamut: the noisy neigher, the mane tosser, the foot stomper, the stall door striker, the play with your lips in the water and splash everything, and most irritating of all, the teeth raked across the woven wire front of the stall. Some Haflingers wait patiently for their turn for attention, without fussing or furor, sometimes nickering a low “huhuhuhuhuh” of greeting. That is truly blissful in comparison.
Most creative of all, however, was our mare, Nuance, who did not live up to her name in any way. She was the least “nuanced” Haflinger we’ve owned. Her chosen method of bringing attention to herself was to bump her belly up against her rubber water buckets that hang in the stall, making them bounce wildly about, spraying water everywhere, drenching her, and her stall in the process. She loved it. It was sport for her to see if she could tip the buckets to the point of emptying them and then knock them off their hooks so she could boot them around the stall, destroying a few in the process. Nothing made this mare happier. When she had occasion to share a big stall space with one of her half-siblings, she found that the bucket bouncing technique was very effective at keeping her brothers away, as they had no desire to be drenched and they didn’t find noisy bucket bumping very attractive. So her hay pile was hers alone–very clever thinking.
This is not unlike a wild chimpanzee that I knew at Gombe in Tanzania, named “Mike” by Jane Goodall, who found an ingenious way of rising to alpha male status by incorporating empty oil drums in his “displays” of aggression, pounding on them and rolling them down hills to take advantage of their noise and completely intimidating effect on the other male chimpanzees. Mike was on the small side, and a bit old to be alpha male, but assumed the position in spite of his limitations through use of his oil drum displays. So Nuance, my noise and water splashing mare, became alpha over her peers.
We humans have our various ways of attracting attention too. Some of us talk too much, even if we have nothing much to say, some of us strut our physical beauty and toss our hair, while some of us are pushy to the point of obnoxiousness. And some of us are real bluffers, making a whole lot more noise and fuss than is warranted, but enjoying the chaos that ensues. Meanwhile we may leave a wake of destruction behind us–not unlike my mare with her soaked stall, and mangled buckets–all done to make sure someone notices.
I’ve learned I need to quit stomping and quit knocking the door in my impatience, quit hollering when a quiet greeting is far more welcome. And I need to quit soaking everyone else with my water–after all, it yields me nothing more than empty buckets, and eventually I get very thirsty and wish I hadn’t been so foolish. As my horses are trainable to have better manners, so am I.
And I really am trying.