Does my horse ‘listen’ to me?
Whilst horses cannot ‘talk’, or speak our language, it is suggested that they are able to understand many of our communicative techniques. Wathan et al (2016) found that horses are able to analyse facial expression of conspecifics, to gain social information. More recently, Proops et al (2018) found evidence of this analysis being used by horses to gain information on heterospecifics; in particular, humans. This study suggests that horses remember human emotional expressions, and associate the memory to the specific face from which they saw it displayed.
One of the most distressing things I that had read when researching this topic is how negative facial stimuli affects horses. Smith et al (2016) measured stress parameters against photographic stimuli; finding increased heart rate to be amongst the most expressed when negative stimuli, such as a frowning face, is presented. Perhaps bear this is mind when you are around your horse?
So… horses are great listeners. But do we listen to them?
In light of this, another phrase comes to my mind… a Winnie-the-Pooh (A. A Milne) quote, of course.
This quote makes me feel so sad, because it really is so true. While horses clearly ‘listen’ to us, we don’t always listen back. They spend time to monitor our emotions, yet do we do the same?
The reason that I am bringing this quote up is because this is something I held onto when I lost Rakker. I think it is easy for us, as owners, to stop paying attention. I don’t mean ignore your horse - I mean, get so wrapped up in worry and paranoia that you forget to ‘listen’ to them. I hold my hand up and admit this. Having a sick horse is not easy, and becoming over-focused on keeping them ‘well’ can cloud communication between you both.
When I had the decision to make, I thought about this quote. I thought “What is Rakker saying?” “What does he want me to do?”
Sadly, a genie didn’t fly out of a lamp at this point and give Rakker the magical powers of speech. Instead, I realised that I was being so selfish. I thought I wanted him alive because I would miss him too much if he went. I didn’t stop to think about what he wanted – I wasn’t listening to him.
By ‘listening’ to Rakker, I made my decision, and, as you’ll know, it was his anniversary was on Tuesday. I let Rakker sleep on the 2nd July 2018. I decided to take him to my local vets practice as he had been there many times before – he expected needles and vets. I didn’t want to stress him out by doing it at home, as he was always such an anxious horse when his home routine was disturbed. My vet, who Rakker knew well and trusted, sat with me, as we let him sleep. Rakker’s head was in my arms, as my tears rolled down his cheek. I still get upset with myself for crying because I so badly didn’t want to upset him. But he wasn’t upset. It was honestly like he knew. He was calm and he looked happy. He was led looking at me and he just drifted off, in my arms. He went peacefully.
I have honestly never cried like that in my life. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve known your horse, losing them is the hardest thing you’ll ever go through as an owner. Whether you’ve known them for one month or ten years, the pain and overwhelming feeling of loss still applies to you. Don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t grieve for the horse you’ve known for one month; only you know what you had with that horse. Only you know what you went through and the times you spend together.
Despite all, what I do keep in mind is this:
By letting him go, I listened to him. I let him talk to me, and I listened. I didn’t let my own words overwhelm his.