What's so amazing about horses?
Ask anybody who is enamored of horses what their favorite thing is about them, and be prepared to pull up a chair and sit for a spell. "How long do you have to chat?" are often the first words out of the person’s mouth.
Well, in honor of Horse Week at Best Friends, we decided to ask horse staffers right here at the Sanctuary about their favorite thing about horses. These are the people who work at Horse Haven day in and day out, lifting bales of hay and mucking stables and counting themselves the luckiest people on the planet. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say.
Ann and Curly Sue
One of the most consistent responses had to do with intelligence in horses. "They are four to seven times faster learners than we are," explains equine trainer Ann Hepworth. She points out further that, as prey animals, they need to be fast learners. "They are extremely intuitive," adds caregiver Donna Arellano.
Best Friends veterinarian Dr. Tara Timpson, DVM, explains that the horses can even tell the difference between when she’s touching them as a friend, to say hello, and when she’s touching them as a vet. "They can tell when my intent changes," she says. "They’re super intelligent." It’s a wonder there isn’t a horse chess league in place somewhere! The thing is horses have a lot more going for them than their brains.
One other regular response across the board was, put simply, horses are beautiful to behold. "They are generally considered a beautifully formed animal," says caregiver Margaret Schreiber. So true. Not many of us can inspire painters and photographers when we’re doing nothing but standing around casting a shadow. Horses pull it off time and again.
Dr. Tara and friend
Another point that surfaced in the comments is the bond between horses and people. "They have complex social relationships that they include us in," points out caregiver Joseph Schulz. Horse manager Jen Reid explains a detail of the relationship many people don’t consider. "Horses are prey animals, and we are predators," Jen says. A dog and a person hanging out are two predators. Same with a cat and a person. But horses and people forming close relationships is a truly impressive feat when you think about it. "That relationship is quite remarkable to me," Jen says.
Donna is also quick to point out, "You don’t necessarily have to ride them to have that bond." So far we’ve avoided, on purpose, talking about the obvious truth that horses are fun, and useful, to ride. Too many horses lose their homes when they can’t be ridden any longer. This is a chance to celebrate all the additional great things about them!
Although in all fairness, Jen points out one undeniable claim to fame horses can make that’s worth mentioning, and it involves riding. "Civilization as we know it would not exist without horses." That’s true the whole world over. It’s kind of hard to pull wagons, carts, plows and do all the other jobs that helped build developing countries — and are still helping — without horses. Oxen can only get you so far.
With all the smarts a horse comes with, it’s impressive how they can pull off one of their other strengths: an ability to let go of bad things that have happened to them. With their long memories, you’d think they might hang on to extra baggage longer.
"They’re resilient," says caregiver Jackie Mawhinney. If a horse gets in an accident while in a horse trailer, Jackie explains, they will most likely still be willing to enter the trailer again someday. Another amazing aspect in the same light? "Their capacity to forgive," says Jen. Even when a horse has known a whole slew of downright mean people in the past, he or she is still more often than not willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.
Another consistent comment dealt with a horse’s ability to see right through you. Some police departments in big city areas use horses in their day-to-day police work. They might consider bringing them into the interrogation room instead. "Horses keep you honest," explains equine trainer Linda Alvey. "Horses don’t let you lie," adds Joseph. In other words, if you’re in a grouchy mood and go out to visit a horse, even should you paste a smile on your face, they’ll still find out your true feelings instantly.
Joseph and Waco
"They’re mirrors for how we are," says caregiver Ronnie Gentry. This can work to our advantage, however. Ronnie explains that horses will often come over and comfort us even when we didn’t know we needed it.
Ronnie’s personal story is interesting in that she was once afraid of horses, though she loved them at the same time from afar. As a child, a horse reared up three inches or so when she was on its back. The experience terrified her, but couldn’t quench her desire to have horses in her life. It wasn’t until college that she learned how to interact safely and with confidence around them.
"Now I do what I love," says Ronnie. "There’s just something about them."
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Photographs by Best Friends photographers