Once again, I saw this scene played out on Saturday. Poor Lancer was the one left behind. When The Husband and Night leave on foot, the chestnut is agitated and thunders around the pasture, bugling and expressing what feels like a mixture of panic and rage. Neither of the horses handles being left behind with grace. But, eventually, the panic subsides, the futility of the rage dawns, and whoever is left behind returns to grazing.
But, trust me, they know what a trailer means. When one's buddy is drawn away in that white metal box, it is serious business. There is genuine doubt as to whether the departing animal will return. Not only do the panic and rage run their course sooner, but, for Lancer, in particular, the deep anxiety and despair set in. Saturday was typical. At first he ran full out around the pasture, a frantic hell-for-leather version of nervous pacing. When he returned to the gate he began the weaving (shifting weight from one front leg to the other) until he was exhausted, then with his gaze fastened on the road, he whinnied, not those soft whinnies you get as a greeting, or those short, impatient whinnies that say "where is my hay?", but great body-shaking whinnies, that come from somewhere deep in the gut.
Then he stationed himself at the pasture gate—the gate that Night had exited earlier—and watched. Watched, and listened for signs that his abandonment was not permanent. Attempts to distract him were met with impatience. Carrots earned only mild interest. He briefly interrupted his vigil a few times only to get a drink of water and grab a quick bite of his virtually untouched breakfast. From 7:00 AM until 5:00 PM he maintained his vigil. Standing. Waiting.
My heart hurts for them when they go through this. While animals are blessed with so many skills superior to our own, they are not equipped to deal with these human-engineered separations. Having other horses a pasture away is not enough. They want their buddy nearby. It is partially a matter of instinct. Like most prey animals, horses feel safer with their herd. They also form attachments. Some recent studies have indicated that horses may recognize other horses with whom they were associated many years before. That isn't surprising when you consider how many dogs cover hundreds of miles to find their owners. Whatever science may be able to demonstrate, you could never convince horse owner that these animals don't form deep attachments.
Our horses pick at one another like a couple little boys. They fuss, kick, and nip, lay ears back, and threaten mayhem. At times, you would swear they are mortal enemies. But, when abandoned, each is distraught. I always wish I could explain and assure the animal left behind that the separation is temporary. But, there is no reasoning with an animal separated from what has become family. It is painful to watch.
When Night finally came through the gate, he and Lancer touched noses and had a little horse hug (heads thrown over necks) before they set about their usual horse business of rolling in the dirt, eating—and fussing at one another.