Another story is about a horse. We couldn’t have bought this beautiful farm had we not been able to have some help. Well there was a great apartment in the top floor of the barn. So we advertised for someone who could help us with our 58 acres and they would have a place to live. We had pages of the names of all those who responded to our ad, and there was one couple that stood out. She had an agriculture degree in stable management. He had a horticulture degree. And they had this little baby, Shane. They would each be able to keep their day jobs and still help manage the farm. So it was a good deal. The only caveat was—when she called she said, “I have some horses.” Well, I’d been ready to buy some horses just to ride! She asked, “Could I bring them?” I said, “Absolutely, if I can ride them.” So she agreed and I thought, “This is going to work really well.” And it did. It was just terrific.
There were two horses. One was a quarter horse and the other one was this big black stallion that had been abused. It was quite skittish. You couldn’t get close to it. Of course, I was determined to become friends with that horse.
All summer, there were months out in the field where I wanted to get close to that horse, but I couldn’t. I made little progress. When the horses would come over to the water trough to drink, I just tried to get a few feet closer. But I couldn’t make it. I never touched the horse. You literally couldn’t. He would come in at night, into the barn, following the other horse and go into the stall. When he was in the stall you could touch him because he couldn’t get away. But when he was free, that’s what interested me. I wanted to be close to him when he had the choice.
And there was a third horse, a little Shetland that was almost 30 years old. It had a mane that almost touched the ground. It looked like it walked out of the pages of a child’s storybook! It’s name was Flower. It was just the sweetest horse! It would walk around just like Eyore, you know? [laughs] Each day the three went out to the pasture and then came in at night.
The second summer, Chris was leaving and I still hadn’t gotten to ride that stallion. His name was Brandy. The other horse was the one we rode. The stallion was so skittish and scared you just couldn’t get close to it.
Well, a few weeks before the caretakers were going on vacation, the stallion had gotten tangled in some barbed wire and tore his back hip. So he needed some antibiotics. The best way to give them was to grind them up and mix them with some grain.
So we had the horses in the paddock and each day he was to get these antibiotics. Well, how was I going to get close enough to give the stallion the medicine in the grain? The other horse hoarded everything. As soon as you put the hay out, the mare would hoard it until she had her fill. Then Brandy could come and have some hay. So he would stay at the far end of the paddock and nibble on a few weeds or something.
So I get pan with the grain and mix the antibiotic powder in it. Then I went and stood in the paddock. I turned my back to the mare, the in-charge horse, and I looked over to the far end of the paddock where the stallion was. He was nibbling along.
Well, I just kept looking at him. Finally he looked at me and he throws his head up in the air. I throw my head up in the air [gestures]. Then he shakes his head and I shake my head [gestures]. Then looks at me and then he paws the ground with his front hooves. And I paw the ground [laughs]. I have no idea where this came from! But I did this [demonstrates]. I just imitated everything he did.
After awhile, he took a step and I took a step. Now we’re looking at each other. We’re probably a good forty feet away from each other at that point. But we’re coming a little bit closer. I keep my back to the mare who’s eating hay on the ground behind me. My head is turned toward the stallion. And everything move he would make, I would imitate it just slightly.
Then I gestured with my head for him to come closer. It was as though he understood. By that time, it’s as though we’re in some kind of connection looking at each other—and me still slightly imitating each of his moves.
Then I just gently shake the pan a little bit and he realized there was something in there. Then he kept walking toward me. Periodically he’d shake his head and I’d shake mine. He’d take a few more steps and I’d gently nod.
He finally got right in front of me. And then he puts his muzzle down into the pan and is eating the grain. I’m just standing there completely still.
While he’s eating, I lean my forehead right on the star that’s between his eyes. And I just keep it there while he’s eating. And he finishes the grain while I’m leaning my forehead on his. When he finishes, he raises his head up and presses his muzzle on my forehead. Then he walks away.
And somehow once the contact was made, something was understood. It was a moment where change happened. I could even scratch the side of his head. They love to have their necks scratched! I never rode him, but what I was interested in, I got. It was like learning his language. I was trying to help him. I grew up with horses. But we never had a horse like that.
Rosemary Peterson lives in Seattle and tells great stories about her animals.
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