Blackberry Farm

Friends of the Farm

What's to love

I gaze out my window, studying the crowd. In the near paddock are massive black Percherons, Rock and Rolland, two of my favorite driving horses – ever, in their prime. With them is a Belgian, aptly named Too Big, in training as a carriage horse. In the adjoining paddock, wrapped in his winter rug, stands my old faithful foxhunting horse, Forty-one, now aged 29, enjoying retirement, and a young horse, Biscuit.  Their unlikely watchdog, Donkey Odie, rounds out the herd.

All are munching hay from round bales, happily creating excess mud and muck which will be with us ‘til spring. This time of year, horses provide more work than pleasure as we make sure the troughs are ice free and topped off,  hay is offered plentifully, and their concerns are met. They are fuzzy, happy and content – knowing, we, their servants, are ever attentive. When we’re late or forgetful, reminders  come in assertive body language, insistent whinnies, and in the case of Odie, a demanding bray! In the evening, I’m certain they view our house as TV, watching the lighted windows and our goings on…
Some days, when the wind is up, a playful romp ensues. From our porch, my husband, John, and I observe them galloping, bucking, rearing and roaring about.  Despite the fact that they tearing our pastures all to pieces, we take deep breaths and soak in the visual joy of it. Helen Thomson says “In riding a horse, we borrow freedom.” There is freedom found in watching them as well.
So what’s to love? Unlike dogs, horses can be quite aloof. Some are demonstrative in their affection for people (or are they simply begging carrots?) while others, though compliant to our requests for leading, riding, working, are distant.

There is much evidence to support the theory that in the evolution of the horse/human relationship, horses chose to be near people – likely a good move for protection from predators and ready availability of crops. I suspect these ancient awakenings in the horse still dominate their relationships with us today. However, through the ages, we fell in love with them. Sometimes our love for equines is irrational, based on our own aesthetics and desires. They are, after all, impressively beautiful at times and we find them irresistible.  We are very guilty of projecting on them our deep hope that they will love us back.

I’ve been in this love relationship with horses since I was a child, and now as an adult, have come closer to finding the truth in my relationships with individual horses. The truths discovered have been via a course of study in Natural Horsemanship. This concept is nothing new, but giving it a name has enabled a body of knowledge to form around it. There is much written and there are many gurus on the subject. But in its simplest form, Natural Horsemanship is about learning the subtle language of the horse—the language used with one another and also with us.  

Acute observers, as prey animals, horses pick up on gestures, body language, actions and sound. Likely they share deeper unvoiced perceptions with one another that we can barely tune into. Our best hope at communicating effectively with them is through carefully observing their interactions with other horses –and ourselves.

When I walk outside, the old horse, Forty-one pricks his ears and walks toward me.  He nickers softly and “helps” me open the gate. He follows me with no lead to the barn, and after his meal, will follow me out.  Rock, the Percheron, is more stoic. If a stranger reaches for his face, he pulls his head away in disdain. He seems a bit macho and does not look for overt affection. But every now and then, about twice a week, he will reach out to me and very gently, with his muzzle, bump my arm in simple acknowledgment “You are my person.” I’ll smile and thank him. Rolland, on the other hand, would sit in my lap if allowed! Nearly one ton of horse plays gently with my hair and my scarf.
I’ve given treats to Biscuit in the past and he has never forgotten—always hopeful. Odie wants to belong to John, my husband, not me. New to the mix, Too Big is uncertain about all of us.

Currently John and I share relationships with 26 horses, each different.
If you have always desired to learn the ways of horses, have always wanted to know what a loving relationship might be with this fascinating being, let us know. We’ll share our thoughts and our time with you in a Natural Horsemanship lesson or full day clinic.

You will find us at the Stables, loving our horses, and possibly, some of them will love us back.

Carla Hawkinson
Equestrian Program Manager