I just had the loveliest experience with two nearly wild horses. They’re Irish thoroughbred fillies, or maybe one’s nearly a thoroughbred, I’m not sure. Two years old, relatively unhandled (= either frightened of or not interested in people).
So here’s the situation. A field in rural Ireland. Knee high grass and buttercups and weeds. The horses are grazing. When I clucked to them from outside the fence to see if they’d come over, they startled, then went back to grazing.
The goal was to get them to take a bit of cut apple. I went into the field slowly, eyes down. I paused regularly. Soon I was near enough to pique their interest, and then they came to me and sniffed at the apple and started eating.
Well, eating may be too generous of a word. They didn’t really know what to do with cut apple and so would gnaw it a bit, drop most of it in the tall grass, I’d pick it up and try again and they’d want to know if the other horse’s piece was the same and it went on like that. When they got some between their teeth, you could see them having to think about chewing, apple isn’t at all like grass.
Then the really beautiful part happened. The apples were eaten and/or lost, so I turned away and walked half a dozen steps. Then I stopped, my back to them, just to see what would happen.
The horses followed me. I would turn, praise them, give one a rub on her neck, then walk on. We did this six or eight times.
They got even more curious as we went, nosing at my hair and clothing, but gently. I’d only look at them when I’d stopped walking, and then only briefly and not directly in their eyes. They stopped exactly when I did. I remember standing between them, petting the huge brown horse right in front of me, with the other right behind me. The vast majority of my small experience is with horses that are used to people. We were all new at this.
I was aware that if they felt threatened, I could get bitten or kicked, but I also knew that they were calm and curious, and so I trusted that they would play with me. We kept this up until we’d all had enough, and they went one way and I went another. The whole experience might have taken ten minutes, but it was as if time had gone soft, stretching like taffy.
Two years ago I couldn’t touch horses. I’d get hives. I was scared of them; they’re big hairy powerful animals. Even a small horse could kill you if it was frightened or upset enough.
But some friends took the time to teach me how to be with horses. I started to learn to handle them and to ride them. Two years. I’m still very much a novice. I’m aware that I could be killed or hurt if I make the wrong mistake, and that will always be the case no matter what skills I develop.
I write this now trying to convey a feeling of awe. I had expected that learning to handle horses would be rewarding, but I didn’t realize how intense it could feel. There’s nothing like a nearly wild animal choosing to be with you.