The KENNER Ranch horse Tess peering around a tree as I photographed her.
Do horses remember you?
Do horses think? Do they remember us? Just what do they think about and what do they remember? I think that they remember more than we imagine they do.
Horses have huge hearts. We ask them to do our bidding and expect them to participate in our own desires. We establish relationships with them that can be dynamic and rewarding. But do they last? Do horses remember you?
Even after years off from work, a horse will still remember the cue to canter or the meaning of “whoa”. They might need to be reminded, but the knowledge is there. But do they remember specific people after a long absence?
I had been back in horses for a year when a friend mentioned to me that she had seen my old horse for sale at a barn a few hours away. Ziggy and I had formed quite a successful partnership in my teens. He had been a best friend to me all through high school. The bond had been there, but I did not know whether it had survived in the ensuing years. My father and I set off the next day to visit our old buddy.
Walking down the barn aisle, I was disappointed not to see his familiar face looking out the barn door with eyes open and eager to greet a passerby. Looking into the stall, I could see his dark, familiar shape in the dim light. His head hung low like a three day old helium balloon. When I softly called his name, he slowly turned his head and took a step towards the doorway. He extended his head over the stall guard for a pat. I reached out and petted his soft nose. Although the shape was familiar, the vestiges of time had taken its toll. His body was skinny and his coat was greying and splotchy with a fungal infection, which left bare spots on a dull coat.
As I petted him, he raised his head to my shoulder and blew a warm breath across my neck. Suddenly, he began to nuzzle his nose against my ear, twirling my hair against my cheek. Amidst happy tears and laughter, he gave me a greeting like the old days. Quick and deliberate he nipped me purposefully on the arm. It was clear he was happy to see me, but I was chastened for being gone so long.
As I started to walk away down the barn aisle to talk to the trainer, we heard a loud snap. Turning around, I saw Ziggy standing three feet out of his stall as though it had taken every ounce of energy to get there. His body looked spent, but the splintered wood was a testament to his determination. He had broken through the stall gate with his shoulders in an attempt to follow us.
When I looked into his eyes, the message was clear: You had better take me with you. You left me behind once before, you aren’t doing it again. For me, the question whether Ziggy would remember me after so many years was answered. Horses do remember. The imprint they make upon our lives is returned in kind. As I put on his halter and went to talk to the man about a horse, I knew I would be bringing home an old friend.
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