When we first brought Sally home, I knew I had a lot to learn. I feared that Sally would know how incompetent I was, and decide I was too much of a moron for her.
In the wild, horses are prey, so they come equipped with a specific set of instincts to survive. One of these instincts is to form herds; horses are pack animals. As in most packs, horses have a social hierarchy Having a leader makes them feel safe, and they need a leader they can trust. As a horse owner, it is my job to be Sally’s leader. Mr. B explained all this to me before I had a horse of my own, but it wasn’t until I met her that I started to worry about it.
Horses are very intelligent, sensitive creatures, and they know when someone is lacking confidence. Mr. B tells me that this understanding is precisely why Sally is a good horse for me or any equestrian newbie. Not only does she understand when someone is uncomfortable, she reacts accordingly. I’ve seen this for myself; as I get more comfortable and confident around Sally, she tests me more and more. On the other hand, when we’ve had other inexperienced people (including small children) ride her, she senses their discomfort and behaves like a perfect lady, gentle and respectful.
Because she possesses this intuition, I was afraid she would know exactly how clueless I really was and have no faith in me as her leader. And, to be honest, for a while it looked like that was the case. She tested me, always trying to see what she could get away with, in ways that she never challenged Mr. B. Her interest in me seemed to be solely dependent on whether or not I had food for her. Mr. B has an amazing way with animals. They are mesmerized by him, adore him and respect him, so I wasn’t surprised when Sally responded well to him. But I was worried. I feared she would never bond with me or respect me, and that she would always view me as a friendly treat-dispenser.
A few weeks ago, however, she erased all of those concerns from my mind. We were in the barn, Mr. B was in a stall with Annie and I was in a stall with Sally, each of us brushing our respective horses. Annie was giving Mr. B a hard time, walking away from him and not standing still, so he eventually raised his voice to command her attention. In doing so, he scared poor Sally, whose immediate reaction was to turn to me and bury her head in my chest and under my arm. It sounds like such a small, simple thing, but it was a huge turning point for us. It means she trusts me, she looks to me to keep her safe. This is huge because horses look to their leaders when they are afraid. Instead of panicking and running to the farthest corner or pacing in her stall (as she sometimes does when she’s stressed), she came to me seeking comfort and safety.
I was thrilled. Freakin’ thrilled, I tell you. Sally loves me, and she knows she’s mine and I am hers!