Every so often I read in newspapers that horses can sense what we feel, recognise, remember and thus think. Such a report follows weeks of up to the minute, specially designed tests which Maggie (who looks after our horses) and I read with amazement as we sit down over a cup of coffee.
My husband, Geordie, would say we have too many dogs and too many horses. Like people and friends they come in all shapes and sizes.
Phoebe, my Arab filly, is perhaps the most intelligent, not merely knowing her name but is so empathetic you can almost just look at her to ask her kindly to stand up rather than lie down. Speaking to her works as well, however.
Frankie, a bay gelding I bred, is never convinced he needs to be groomed but loves going out to work. Lara is a real lady, delicately shaped feet, glossy bay coat with a golden sheen and obviously the boss. Mellow, the chestnut thoroughbred, never fails to have an accident but then rushes up for a cuddle, hoping to come in to a stable. If she were a human she would live in a beautiful pale, light filled apartment and be waited on hand and foot.
A favourite of everyone’s is Muffet the Shetland pony who, despite being the smallest, will try to boss Ollie the Connemara around. I bought Ollie as a 14.2 hand pony, who would be a safe ride for my friends. He arrived here rather shut down, tense and muddled. He was so safe he threw Maggie on the very first ride. A year later, he is now rather wonderful, calm, walks with a swing through anything – scrub, wood branches, impervious to any obstacle and is 16.1 hands high.
My old Arab mare Azzie remains the same, four feet rarely on the ground when I ride her, convinced that a lion might be in a tree, or the bough on the ground is a snake despite the fact she has only ever lived in the UK.
Earl, the Welsh mountain pony, is sadly getting older and I have been observing him as his back dips and his legs stiffen. As a result, we have now acquired Skye, a little grey pony for my nieces to learn to talk to and ride. She is meeting her new “horse” friends, talking a lot, and not quite sure where she stands in the pecking order in the field. She is being left to relax and eat grass, with a little bit of lunging to help with balance and manners.
Two foals are also sprawled out in another field, either snoozing or extending their ridiculously long legs to stand up and look for their milk bars (mothers). They seem to be rather relaxed and usually want their quarters scratched.
Most people who own horses know that they are incredibly sensitive at reading our faces and body language. They need such empathy because, when they used to live in the wild, accurate apprehension meant they could evade trouble.They undoubtedly remember and interpret.
Frankie, now 9 years old, was fostered by Hottie, a truly beautiful grey mare who was owned by Gary Witheford, a “Horse Whisperer” – a horse trainer really. Years ago, one of my sisters had split up with a boyfriend and, utterly miserable, was staying with me. I thought a ride would be good so I saddled Hottie for her and Azzie for me and off we set. Hottie was so concerned with how my sister was feeling that she stopped every few steps to look round and check. My sister was full of woe and Hottie was tuned in. I encouraged them both but by the end of Lime Avenue I was exhausted. We had been walking and stopping for 45 minutes and gone about 500 yards. A drunken snail would have sped past us. Hottie spent the last years of her life here before I rang Gary to say that she was leaving us. I felt lucky to have known her.
Horses do recognise us, they know our state of mind and riding them you can sense their mood too. They carry less “baggage” than us. Each day is a new day and one to be lived well. Perhaps they could teach us to re-consider how much of our baggage is really necessary.