Monday, August 22, 2011


(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

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.


  1. Anita, a wonderful and touching story. I've witnessed animals pining for a missing friend or companion and it breaks my heart. You built the suspense in this tale until the very end when finally Night returned. Great post!

    Also, wonderful photo of Lancer, I assume.

  2. Where is The Horse Whisperer when you need him? I think it's highly likely that animals can have separation anxiety when they sense that something is different and they have little control. The more intelligent the animal, the greater the anxiety, and horses are very intelligent. This is an interesting portrait and I like your choice of textures.
    You may be interested to know that I have downloaded a selection of textures, as you suggested, from Shadowhouse. Though I have not yet put them to work yet, I plan to very soon.

  3. Earl - Thank you for the generous compliments. I appreciate the kind words Knowing that I pleased a fellow animal lover feels good. It is dreadful to see animals pining. One feels so helpless. A hungry anial can be fed. A sick animal can be doctored. But, there is no medicine for the animal grieving over a lost companion.

    You are right; that is Lancer in the photo.

  4. Ken - I certainly wish that Whisperer had shown up Saturday. It is amazing to be that so many people think horses are dumb. The more you are around them the more you appreciate their particular intelligence. So many of their traits that people interpret as lack of intelligence can be traced to their ranking on the food chain. As prey animals, they have keen instincts for what they sense as danger and limited defenses agaiinst their mortal enemies. I am happy to someone else who recognizes that separation anxiety and its desperation.

    I am delighted that you like the processing choices. Thanks for mentioning that. I eagerly await your foray into the texturing world.I look forward to seeing your choices (in both textures and photos) I am confident that you will produce fascinating work and hope we can kick around some of our ideas.

  5. It's horrible to see any animals upset like this, especially when you can do nothing to reassure them that everything will be alright.

  6. What a beautiful story, Anita and a beautiful portrait. I found my heart tugged at as well, waiting for the moment that you'd tell us that it all ended well and the two were reunited, as you did.

  7. I know those body shaking whinnies of heartbreak that you are talking about. It is sad to watch a horse pine for his buddy. I had a horse when I was a teenager that bonded with the stable goat. He'd jump fences just to be with the goat.

    It's a beautiful portrait.

  8. JP - You are right—that powerful urge to help, but no way to do it. It is not a good feeling. Thanks for the comment.

  9. Paul - Thank you for the compliments. I appreciate your thoughts and am pleased that I got you caught up in the story. I know I was happy to see Lancer's vigil come to an end. The situation made for a less than cheerful day. I can't help but see the horses outside the window and I was constantly reminded of his anxiety.

  10. Roberta - Yes, then, you know exactly what I am describing. If you have sat on a horse while the animal let out one of those anguished calls, you feel how deeply rooted the violence is in that big body. I have never personally known a horse that bonded with a goat, but have heard of it. I am sure that it is interesting to observe such an odd relationship.

    Thank you for you for the lovely comment. I am delighted that this works for you.

  11. Excellent story and told so very well. Your writing skill is shown well here. I also feel that because you are close to those animals you are able see and sense their feelings where many people have no ability to do that. Another aspect of you that draw me to your blog.

  12. Monte- Thank you so much for the compliment. Sometimes I try to restrain my story-telling urges, but mostly just give in and start prattling on again. I am pleased to hear that you enjoyed this one. I spent much of my early life dreaming about horses, reading everything I could find about them, then, finally riding my own horse. I still romanticize them and am happy to have them close by. I hope you will continue to visit and indulge my stories.

  13. Your story brings to mind something I read some years ago.
    Paraphrasing: "Horses do not to need to be with people, but long to be with other horses".
    Kind of puts us in our place. And excellent portrait.

  14. Steve - I think the statement you have repeated sums it up well. It seems that, mostly, they get along with us well enough, but I don't think a horse is ever completely distraught about being separated from a human. Besides, I suppose that it is a good idea for us to be put in our place occasionally.

    I appreciate the lovely comment.


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