Well, close, anyway. Pictures of cats and barn kittens from the last month or two. It’s been quiet around here for health reasons—turns out the foot isn’t broken but they’re still sending me to a specialist to find out why it’s still double size—but at least there’s still cats.
I have never met a horse who didn’t talk. Horses don’t always feel a particular need to communicate at a given moment, but they’re never silent. They always respond, even if it’s just to say, ‘leave me alone, please.’
Every flick of an ear, every sideways glance, every deep breath or turning of the head—it’s all communication. Most of us already know their language. We brush pony down and tell our barn buddy that pony seems extra chipper today. How do we know? She greeted us with ears high and eyes open but relaxed, presenting her nostrils to exchange scents, and investigating our pockets. Pony is in a good mood—energetic but not stressed out, and wants to do something that earns treats. She wants to work, and earn the reward for working.
Or maybe pony seems sad. Eyes are half shut, jaw is tight, ears are in the stiff, half-back position that signifies discomfort or even pain. Pony mostly just stands there, drawn into himself, disinterested. We don’t need to be experts on equine anatomy to tell that pony isn’t happy—we just need to know him. He’s not usually like that. We probably should keep an eye on him.
Horses are in constant communication with each other, but not necessarily with us. A horse doesn’t try hard to talk to us if he’s never experienced us actually listening or responding—and definitely not if we responded with telling him off for unwanted behaviour. Those who are accustomed to being heard talk to us, a lot. Even if they probably think we’re a little slow on the uptake. They are master listeners; they pay attention to excruciating detail. In comparison, humans don’t see half of what’s going on around us.
Horses want to communicate with us. From the foal curiously investigating our hands and trying to figure out what we’re for, to the senior horse politely asking for a back rub of sore old muscles. They don’t think like humans (duh!), they think like horses. Horses talk about horse things. Ask us about horse things. And when we listen, we train each other to get better at talking.
Every horse I have owned I have had to start with polite hellos, getting to know one another. Six months later, I’m having conversations—chats that feel as real to me as any chat I’d have with a human. The neighbour talks about his lawn and the hedge that needs trimmed; my writer friend talks about pages written and grammar rules; my horse talks about the weather, what she’d like to do today, and would I care for a mutual grooming session. We all talk about the things that matter to us.
Ask and answer
I think the most challenging part of talking with, rather than to, horses is learning to ask questions and let horses make the decisions. They’re really good at it; the herd survives because each horse constantly evaluates who is best at solving whatever problem we’re dealing with, and then following the lead of the horse who knows best. A horse won’t think less of you because you defer to his judgement. He won’t think less of you because you make him defer to yours. The horse or person most suited to solve a problem makes the call.
I ask Emilie all the time to make decisions. I sit down on my chair, in the position for massaging her chest (which she loves) and ask her, do you want a grooming session? Sometimes she marches right up and starts grooming my back in return (which she is absolutely great at!). At other times she glances at me, turns her head away politely, and grabs some straw. Thank you, but not today. Do you want this brush? Yes, please. Do you want your butt washed today? Yes, please, it’s sweaty and itchy. Do you want me to comb your leg feathers? Naw, they’re good, and I’m feeling ticklish today.
Because of my physical handicap, I have been training Emilie from day one to be able to take the lead. In our relationship, we take turns being in charge. When we do the things I think are necessary—whether it’s waiting at the box door or (shudder!) the farrier, I’m in charge. I tell her what to do. When we’re in the paddock or the field, or anywhere else at liberty, she’s in charge. As a result, I have a horse whom a toddler can lead; but who can also take charge of a situation and boss humans around if necessary.
Emilie brings me her ball for kicking. She takes me for a grazing walk where I support my weight against her shoulder and she matches her pace to mine so I don’t stumble. Evil chickens come too close? Emilie steps in front and protects me from perceived danger. I can’t currently ride her due to my own pain, but when we do—if something scary happens, she will evaluate the situation. If it’s too scary or stressful for Emilie to feel confident, she will walk up to my husband and command him to take charge, regardless of what I say.
That’s intentional. I have fainting spells. Emilie knows that if for some reason I become non-responsive on her back, appear distracted or give half-assed signals—walk up to the nearest adult and ask for assistance. Yeah. Horses are that smart. Mares know to protect foals. The herd looks after its own.
That’s the crux of it, really. Don’t be master and servant. Be partners. Meet on equal terms. Talk, and listen.
Let me be honest here: May sucked.
Not Theresa (though my British friends tell me she sucked too). Just the weather. May in Denmark usually has two or three weeks of gloriously hot sunshine during which everything explodes out of the ground in a cornucupia of scent and colour.
Not so this year. It’s been mostly cloudy and rainy. But in between the rain there’s been a few days where the sun came out (and even two that had summer-like temperatures). I managed to grab a few good shots in the garden and elsewhere, without getting drenched.
Without further ado, the pictures of May (such as May was).
Most of our garden is bee and small animal friendly but that doesn’t mean we don’t have beautiful colours.
There were two warm days, and we made them to the zoo in one. Out of about 1200 pictures a few were worth sharing (I’m still learning this camera).
It’s been a while, and what a while; one of those whiles where you struggle to keep swimming and at some point you look back and realize that six months went by without you really noticing. But I’m not dead yet, and as long as there’s life there’s hope.
I did not get to do much with Emilie in this long while. She’s still struggling with back pains, and I am still struggling with fibromyalgia. Together we exercise from the ground – she needs to practise lifting her hind quarters over cavalettis and using her hips correctly, and I need to walk, any kind of walk. It’s harder than it sounds like, and I’m still not sure how I feel about my new walker-rollator. On one hand it means I can leave the house – on the other hand it kind of feels like giving up on ever walking unaided again.
My health has been down the crapper this autumn. I’ve been through the proverbial wringer, with hospital visits and with testing out new medication options. At this time it seems low-dose Naltrexone works best for me. It does not reduce my pain, but it does give me some energy and ability to cope in spite of the pain. The Combar that I was put on in order to solve my not sleeping due to pain issues has to go – it has weight gain and muscle pain as a side effect, and I’ve gained 10 kilos in three months in spite of moving more about than I used to.
In spite of the last two paragraphs, though, this is not a venting session or pity rant. The structure of my life is holding together. The framework is solid. I woke up this morning with the strangest sensation of relief; the proverbial manure hit the fan a couple of times, but the windmill is still standing. If there’s something to be grateful in life, it’s the ability to cope with crisis and still be there afterwards. I’ll never take that for granted.
Ah well. Onwards, let life speak for itself in pictures.
What comes next? Only time will tell. Life’s being a bit of a female canine at the moment but it tends to go on anyhow. A mountain of trouble may seem like a road bump six months later. I’m not dead yet.