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Family Ties

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Bullet & Rascal

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A recent post from a fellow blogger  brought up some thoughts and feelings that I’ve visited regularly throughout my life. I guess I could say I’ve always thought horses, dogs and other animals have feelings and form attachments (or aversion) not only to us, but to one another. In fact, my belief in this can be traced to my childhood and is probably a direct result of having read Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe at a young and impressionable age. I suppose it’s normal for children to believe concepts put forth in books and movies, but I’m not sure why some children never set those beliefs aside when they grow up. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I didn’t.

I can recount numerous times when I thought I sensed something akin to human friendship taking place between certain critters. I’ve watched horses bond closely and stress over even just the temporary separation they experience when a buddy leaves the herd to go for a ride. For example, I’ve noticed in my current herd both geldings are far more stressed when the mare leaves than when one of the boys goes and she stays behind with the other. Why that is I don’t know because she seems (to me) like the least congenial companion in the group. But apparently she has a calming affect on the boys because they become restless and vocal until she returns … where upon she immediately pins her ears and threatens to kick if they crowd around to greet her!

For the first time ever, when I “adopted” Rascal I witnessed (what I believe was) grief for a human companion.  His former owner got Rascal when she was just a young girl and he was a young horse. Since then, he hadn’t been very far away from her or known any other owner until now. When Rascal first arrived he was skiddish and wary.  I was very relieved to see that true to his nature, Bullet was curious, but welcoming.  With Dharla away for the winter, the boys had plenty of time to get to know one another without having to jockey for hierarchy. Bullet was so happy to have company that he willingly shared his hay and shelter with his new companion. Still, Rascal stayed wary, especially of humans. He didn’t run from me or behave badly, he just seemed tense and aloof.

I gave Rascal lots of space and love. I can’t explain why, but I sensed he was grieving. Something about the look in his eye, his posture, spoke of sadness. Yes, all his needs were being met, but there was an emptiness I couldn’t put my finger on except to say that I felt it. We’d go out on a quiet trail ride together and I’d talk to him, praise him for his effort to do what I asked. He was a good boy and instead of testing me it felt like he was trying very hard to please me. He did great, and I found many opportunities to tell him so. Still, his demeanor didn’t really change very much. Back home Rascal would always move just slightly out of reach where he would stand, gazing off in the distance with a faraway look in his eye. It was during those melancholy moments that I wondered most what Rascal was feeling. Did he miss his old pasture mates? Did he miss his old owner? Did he wonder why she’d left him, forcing him to adapt to a whole new way of life?  Do horses blame themselves? Like any human might, did he think his new circumstance was his fault?

Slowly, over many months something started to change. I’d go out to the pasture and instead of having to pursue Rascal’s eye, he started to look for mine! Then one day I was shaking out Rascal’s morning hay when he turned his head and nuzzled my hand. It was subtle, but it was the first time Rascal had reached out to me instead of the other way around.  And just a few days ago Rascal actually walked up to me for no other reason than to say hello! I smiled as I scratched his jaw, enjoying the knowledge that Rascal has finally decided I’m family.

Welcome home little brother. I’ve been waiting for you to choose to join us.

3 responses

  1. Yes, they do grieve, just like their 2-legged animal companions. No question about it.

    October 18, 2014 at 11:33 AM

  2. For me – like you, the question has never been, do animals have strong emotions, but, why on earth should we be arrogant enough to think they don’t?! So glad Rascal is responding to your, and Bullet’s, tactful, sensitive welcome and handling 🙂

    October 18, 2014 at 2:51 PM

  3. Cavalier Attitude is right. How dare we be so hubristic, so arrogant, to think that animals don’t feel the same things we do? Love, hatred, fear, friendship, need, happiness, sadness…they have them all, in full, as we do. They just show them in different ways, if they show them at all. The absence of proof is not proof of absence.
    I don’t think, though, that animals hold themselves responsible for their situation. A dog that is dumped at the shelter because he refuses to be housebroken doesn’t understand that that is why he’s no longer in the house. If animals were capable of such ruminations they’d be as screwed up as we are. Remember, when you discipline a horse, you have no more than three seconds in which to do so.

    I’m glad Rascal is coming around. He’ll be fine.

    October 20, 2014 at 11:27 AM

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