Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Learning a thing or two about horses

Yesterday morning, as planned, my Welsh neighbor Will Walters came down here from Presles and we spent a good part of the day enlarging the electrified paddock for my donkeys and his horses. While awaiting his arrival, I distributed fragments of stale bread to the animals. While doing so, I became alarmed by the behavior of the black horse, which appeared to be exceptionally lethargic. To my inexperienced eye, the animal was drowsy. Instead of eating bread, it simply rolled over onto its side as if it were weak and sick. I was most alarmed, because I had the sudden impression that the horse might be agonizing… maybe poisoned by toxic weeds, or something like that. I put a bucket of water in front of its nose, but the animal continued to drowse, as if in a troubled coma. I tried several times to phone Will, urgently, to inform him of what was happening. Thankfully, he arrived soon after in his big 4x4 vehicle, with his three dogs (Fitzroy's family). I yelled out to him to come quickly, because I was persuaded that his beautiful black horse was on the verge of death.

"Let me look into his eyes," said Will, calmly, "and I'll tell you whether there's anything wrong." He did so, promptly, and the horse even got up onto its four legs. Will is one of those rare individuals who knows how to whisper into the ears of horses, and see what's in their eyes. He started to laugh. "William, the horse was simply sleeping. Deeply and serenely, in a state of bliss." When I pressed him to explain, Will adopted the stance of a professor of veterinary science… then his clear and concise explanations enabled me to learn a thing or two about these animals. "Horses have always belonged to the category of prey rather than predators. So, they sleep standing up, while locking their knee bones so that they won't fall over. In that way, if a predator such as a saber-toothed tiger were to arrive on the scene, the horse would wake up instantly and gallop away to save its skin." For the moment, I couldn't quite see what Will was trying to tell me, because I had been convinced that his glorious black horse had been in a state of somnolence, on the verge of death. Will carried on his explanations. "On rare occasions, a horse can find itself in an exceptionally positive and totally comfortable frame of mind. This can happen when it has eaten to its heart's content, and when it's located in a totally friendly and reassuring atmosphere, surrounded by familiar entities. In such an exceptional situation, instead of dozing while remaining upright, the horse is capable of suddenly lying down on its side and falling into a joyful state of sleep… which is exactly what just happened to the black animal. In other words, William, the horse was simply expressing its joy at being here in the friendly surroundings of Gamone."

This morning, observing the black horse grazing contentedly in a sea of apples, I thought about Will's wise words. Later on in the day, the two horses stood calmly upon the slopes of Gamone and gazed down at me as if this were their new home… as it is, for the moment.

I'm looking forward to the next time one of these huge beasts rolls over onto its side and falls asleep.

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