Hair tousled, with grungy slobber on his shoulder, he approached me, held out his thumb and proceeded to tell me how the horse had bitten it and wouldn’t let go.
“Were you giving them peppermints?” I asked my visiting family member.
“No, I didn’t have any with me today. Why would he be so mean and bite me?”
I knew the answer, and was reluctant to blame the horse.
For days he had been going out to the barn with handfuls of peppermints, paying homage to the royal equines. Only this day, when he went empty handed, they were not pleased with their subject in the least. Eying the dirt on his shoulders, I presumed the thumb biting had followed a search of his person by a filthy snout.
“He wasn’t biting you per say, he was looking for the button,” I responded.
Yep, that’s what we are to them.
And they spend much of their time trying to figure out what buttons to push to make the good stuff appear.
Imagine you were standing in front of a soda machine and the first button you pushed did nothing.
So on you go to the second … same thing.
Then the third … Finally you push a button and … Shazam!
Now imagine you’re the machine.
That’s how the feeding routine can feel some days and each critter has a way of approaching the situation.
My dear old guy looks at me to make sure he has my attention, then he walks to his feed bucket and sticks his nose down inside, keeping eye contact as he lifts then dips his nose over and over again.
My filly calls out, prancing back and forth and sometimes pawing at the rails to make more noise because the delivery just isn’t fast enough and my bully boy waits by the rails of his stall for his chance. If I mistakenly walk close enough and am distracted, he angles his head to the side and tries to snatch a mouthful.
Meanwhile the chicken, Molly, follows along behind me, and if I stand still too long, I can feel the hard peck of her beak on the back of my boot.
And it’s not just the barn group.
The lizards will scratch at the glass of their cage and look at me from across the room; the snake lifts his head and waits for the top of the cage to open and the scrambling morsel to drop in.
And I have woken to a cat sitting on me, staring to give a big “meeoooowwww” when my eyes pop open.
Sometimes it can be funny the creative lengths critters will go to try and get their goodies and even I can’t help but laugh at their antics.
However, this vending machine doesn’t like being a vending machine.
Does anyone ever thank the vending machine? Do people stand and talk to it just for the sake of talking?
As the keeper of the food, I have all the power — or at least in theory I should.
Sure, I get it. They love us because we feed them and they love food, but I demand the illusion that it’s more than that.
Loud or pushy horses get reprimanded and fed last, dogs must wait while the bowl is filled and sit patiently until they are given the green light, and cats, well the only way that seems to work with the cats is a schedule.
As long as they know, that without fail, the food will come at the same time every day, they seem content not to go to the trouble to hunt me down and harass me.
Teaching the chicken not to peck at my boots? That’s one I haven’t figured out yet. With the precision of that beak, maybe I can get her a gumball machine that dispenses cracked corn. Hey, now there’s an idea!
Sharna Johnson is a writer who searches for meaning in sharing life with animals. You can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org