Whenever I want to talk about the horse-human bond, I seem to fill with emotion and lose all my words.
I’ve loved horses since before I ever touched a horse. From the very beginning, just looking at a horse filled me with wonder and reverence and yearning. My whole life has been a love affair, not just with the special horses that have been my companions for a time, but with all of horse-kind.
What is it that’s so special about the horse-human bond?
It’s not like loving a dog. I find this hard to explain to my non-horse friends. Yes, my dogs live with me much more intimately. They share my house and some of my most private moments. But they touch me in a different way. Unlike dogs, horses are so big, and they’re prey animals, wired to turn and run if they feel threatened. So for an animal like this to trust a human enough to become their partner in activities that are complex, demanding, and sometimes dangerous speaks to the power of the horse-human bond.
What impresses me most are the quiet moments of shared company.
There was the day I shipped Gandalf to the veterinary college to have his eye assessed after he’d poked it with a piece of hay. I turned him into one of the stalls in the “waiting room” and started to walk away to fetch something from the trailer. Immediately he started whinnying and rushing back and forth inside the stall. Only when I hurried back and stood with him did he settle down. Someone else had to fetch my stuff.
When I show up every day and fetch Larry from his paddock, he leaves his turnout buddies and comes to greet me at the gate. When I take him back to the paddock, he often hangs around the gate and watches me leave.
There’s always an exception, like the day when I opened the paddock gate and removed the lead shank before he was all the way through. The brat ducked back out and started sauntering towards the unfenced land at the end of the lane. When I started jogging after him, he flagged his tail and broke into a trot. I stopped. What was the point of chasing him? He has twice as many legs as I do. At the exact moment that my shoulders slumped in defeat, he turned around and came trotting back to me. He nuzzled my hand as if to say, “I was only fooling, Mom. I’d never leave you.”
Another time, I was leading Larry to the arena, and paused in the doorway to admire the beautiful sunny day. He stood beside me with his ears pricked, looking so handsome that I decided I just had to take his picture. As I fumbled for my phone, I lost the reins. In a flash he was trotting away with his mane and tail fluttering in the breeze. Then he broke into a canter and disappeared around the corner. Before I even had time to wonder how I’d get him back, he came trotting back and stopped a few feet away, waiting for me to come and catch him.
When Larry had to visit the vet college last fall to have his arthritis problems assessed, part of the diagnosis involved him trotting around inside an indoor round pen – a circular corral about 50 feet in diameter. He was turned loose in the pen, and an intern stood in the middle with a lunge whip to keep him moving. Larry trotted around and around with his eyes rolling in alarm. When the clinician was done, Larry was too worried to stop. Finally, in a low voice, I said, “And waaaalk…” Larry stopped on a dime. The clinician was impressed. So was I – impressed and humbled at Larry’s trust in in my familiar voice.
For me, these epitomize my bond with Larry. They illustrate the wonder of the horse-human bond: how two individuals of different species can learn to trust, communicate, and become friends. To touch each other’s souls.
If only we could do a better job of this with our fellow humans…