Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Rituals and Routines

Just How Do Animals Tell Time?

It was just about 8:30 this morning, the time I've been feeding the horses.  I had just rolled out of bed and was headed towards the kitchen when I looked out the window to see Peppercorn, the barn kitty, heading for the house.  This was not a random stroll, but a direct walk with a mission--to meet me at the door as I was coming out to feed.

The house is too far away for him to have heard me roll out of bed and I hadn't turned on any lights or made any kind of noise he could have heard. And yet, he knew it "WAS TIME" and I would be on my way.  Some internal clock had struck "breakfast" in his brain and he was acting on it.

Feeding the Boys is a routine, of course, but when I see those faces waiting for me to appear, I begin to wonder where the routine ends and the magic begins.

I enter the barn with hay first, open Toby's stall door, put his hay in the corner and go into Tucker's stall from the outside door to put his hay in as well.  Toby is always fed first, in deference to his alpha horse standing in the herd. Then I cross the aisle to put Chance's hay in his stall.

Each horse, in turn has to pee. I'm not at all sure what that is all about, but it's part of the routine--or the ritual.  Sometimes one, or all three will go out to the paddock to do this duty, or stand just inside the stall door looking out as they do.  Wet spots are almost always in exactly the same place in each stall when I muck out, so that too is part of the whole scenario.

If I leave Toby's inside stall door open as I often do, part of his routine/ritual is to come out into the aisle and stand at the feed room door, watching me dole out the feed.  It's apparently important to him to both be out, in charge, and supervising my work.  One quiet reminder "Back in your stall," is enough to send him back in where I dump the feed in his bucket, then Tucker's and finally Chance's.  Same order, every feed time.

Toby a long time cribber, gets caught in another habitual behavior as he eats, stopping after a bunch of bites to windsuck on his stall wall.  If I don't catch him Tucker takes that as his cue to sneak into Toby's stall from outside to grab a few bites of Toby's grain while Toby is lost in the euphoria of his vice.  Most of the time, I see the sneaky Bay Boy and once again, "Own stall," is enough to send him back home unless Toby rouses himself and chases him out with snaky ears and an alpha horse warning.

It's the same every feeding. A routine we all share like clockwork.

And most of the time, Peppercorn joins in, insisting--as cats are wont to do--that I feed him first of all.  Alpha cat--only cat.  He lets me pet him as he eats now and is thinking perhaps it might feel good to get some stroking at other times, although he's not quite sure yet.  

He led the ritual this morning, but was clever enough to wait under the shed roof, nestled in the leftover hay in the wheelbarrow as the rain drizzled down this evening.

Apparently, ritual can be dependent upon the weather here at Follywoods.


  1. Love the kitty on a mission. I don't know how they know what time it is maybe they all have clocks hidden in their stalls.

    It's the same around here, the dogs come and get me at five on the dot at night and wait by the door at eleven to go out. The horses start vocalizing at the same time every morning and come up to the catch pen at 4:30 since the clocks have changed. They all mostly come to the gate in the same order too.

    Rituals are good though it keeps everything orderly and easy.

  2. They're not past moving feeding time up a few minutes every day, if we let them.

  3. Ahaa! We have put a camera in the room we lock the cats into at night. They have a door to the outside, and two of them go out shortly after the door has been shut, and don't come back in again until shortly before it is due to be opened. And there were we thinking that because we find them asleep each morning, that they are warm and cosy in their beds all night!!