Last year when Presto was very sick and spent those few weeks at the vet clinic, I spent most of those days right there with him. I wasn’t really doing much… I would hold the IV bag sometimes, or go get his vet if he seemed particularly uncomfortable. Mostly I just watched him and rubbed him and spent time with him, but I felt a strong pull to just be there. Those weeks were so up and down, so touch and go, and so… well… ominous.
Why did I feel such a strong need to just be there? It took me a while to really figure it out. When he first checked in at the clinic I don’t think anyone actually expected him to live, and the whole first couple weeks were really damn sketchy, every single day. While I wanted so badly for him to make it, I was well aware of the fact that the odds were stacked against him. I know this sounds crazy and like I’m anthropomorphizing here, but if his life was doomed to be short, I wanted him to at least feel like he was loved, every single day that he was here. At that point it was the only thing I could do for him, so I clung to it.
Are horses really capable of feeling “love” as we know it? My first inclination, from my admittedly skeptical side, is to think of course not. That’s silly right? But then again maybe I’m not giving them enough credit. They understand a lot more than I think most of us even realize. They’re perceptive. They’re intelligent. Their minds are creative enough to dream. Love, though? I don’t know. I guess first you’d have to define what love really is, and that’s tricky enough. I would venture to guess that the definition would vary, depending on who you ask. Is it attachment? Affection? Caring? Kindness? And who’s to say that horses would even define it the same way we do.
Example being: think of what it means to be “cared for”. A human might see a horse that is well groomed and in good weight and describe it as being well cared for. But that well groomed healthy horse might be pretty unhappy emotionally. We see those kinds of things manifest themselves all the time in their behavior. So would that horse agree with our “well cared for” assessment in that case? Probably not.
I do think that horses definitely understand attachment and affection. They have very strong herd instincts after all, and are social animals by default. It’s easy to see horses form bonds with each other, and sometimes with their humans. Just like dogs, I think that some of them are more intelligent than others, and some build connections with humans more easily than others.
I also definitely believe that they know when people are approaching them with kindness and caring, versus when they aren’t. It would be naive to think that a creature that communicates almost solely by body language – down to the tiniest details – wouldn’t be able to pick up on that. Horses and humans are able to form some pretty incredible relationships, and have been doing so for thousands of years.
Yes, these are the types of random ponderings that keep me up at night.
I find myself looking at both of my boys sometimes, wondering if they have any idea how loved they are. Do they have any concept of it, or are they just happy as long as they’re getting food and have some companionship? Hell if I know. But if they do, if they can perceive what it means to be loved, I really hope they know.