Thursday, March 05, 2009

Grief

A couple of days ago a horse at my barn died of colic. This horse happened to be Steen's best buddy in the stall-horse herd. Yesterday I went out for a ride, and Steen's behavior made me wonder (as I often do) at how closely horse emotion can be related to human emotion. It is obviously clear that horses experience feelings like jealousy, curiosity, fear, and affection. Every horse I've ever interacted with has demonstrated its own complex personality. But one thing I've never much encountered is grief in horses.

I was not thinking about the deceased horse when I arrived at the barn, but shortly after bringing Steen out into the aisle I noitced he was unusually withdrawn and still, often staring blankly into the distance or into the (now empty) stall where his friend used to live. He wasn't nearly as interactive as I've come to expect in recent weeks, not as playful or engaged. Of course, it is entirely possible I was projecting some of these qualities on him, knowing that if a buddy of mine had just died, I wouldn't be up for much goofing off.

But some of it simply could not have been in my head. For instance, when I held the bridle up he did something he'd never done before. Instead of lowering his head so I could slip the bit into his mouth like he's been doing consistently for months now, Steen instead swung his head to the side and nestled his nose and forehead in the crook made by my neck and my upraised arm. He then just stayed in that position, utterly still, for a few moments. I stroked him and talked to him, promising an easy ride. After accepting my condolences for a while, he turned his head back to the bridle and took the bit.

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