Films have always played a much loved part in my life. One of my favourites as a child was Dr Doolittle – the man who could “walk with the animals, talk with the animals, grunt and squeak and squawk with the animals” and have them talk back to him.
In modern jargon, communicating with animals is all about emotional sensitivity and understanding what animals bring to our lives. There are more than 5,000 species of mammal in the world, yet only about a dozen species have successfully been domesticated.
Co-existence and mutual adaption seem to have been the key. Of course, our closest friends are our dogs. They are wonderful companions and, whilst not fluent in English, each certainly knows its name and what the basic commands mean, even if these commands are then ignored. They watch me as I type which is not very exciting, although there is always the chance of a tummy tickle or a quick walk. I might go for a coffee for example and they can speed across the courtyard on a quick adventure.
Every evening I turn to Bella, our gorgeous but sadly now rather creaky matriarch Labrador, and say to her “shall we go up now?”. She practically nods, heads to the stairs and climbs a step at a time, pausing frequently, looking back to check I am also there and gathering herself for the next one. At the top she turns for congratulations and a quick cuddle.
Dogs are always there, loving you, whatever you look like and whatever you have done or left undone and are thus often more understanding than husbands! They have been part of human history for hundreds of years, hunting with us, protecting us and providing us with faithful companionship.
The other animal with whom we have a long history of dependency is, of course, the horse. They may “talk” to us less than dogs but they are intensely social animals. They do whicker or whinny, and in some ways each sound is a “code,” it signifies something. By contrast, most of our human language sounds are arbitrary and have no inherent meaning. Beyond their “code sounds,” communication with horses is about listening and sensing their body language. They do have a relatively large brain for an animal of that size and lots of the brain’s power is allocated to the demanding requirements of maintaining extraordinary agility and controlling their coordination.
Horses have been our transport and an escape mechanism, they thrill us with their speed, they have carried soldiers into war and pulled ploughs and carts. Who was not moved to tears by the film “Warhorse”? They can certainly sense what you are feeling, come when called, my horses love scratches and there can be an almost magical cooperation. I ride whenever I can, “up hill and down dale”, pick my way through woods, we squelch along muddy tracks and pick up speed across the parkland. Horses do respond when you try to train them because of course they have to learn and adapt to survive. I hope I learn too: deference and respect for these remarkable animals.
Currently, we have two broodmares in foal, one of whom has now delivered. For the last few days we have been able to see the foal moving around and can only imagine the discomfort of those long legs pushing against the mare’s sides. I successfully avoided the ears flat back moments but her grumpiness was understandable.
It has been a long process, checking every few hours which was not conducive to sleep quality.
It is, however, utterly magical when the feet first appear. I had agreed to head back to the stable at 2am and arrived just as the foal was arriving. I called Maggie our groom, and my husband Geordie. We all spent three hours into the dawn, watching to ensure the success of the first few hours of life.
Foals bear the promise of spring, and it is also very nice to have a good night’s sleep again! She is such a pretty foal, thus her nickname is “Bonny”!