Every day that I travel with Apollo, or really any time that I am around horses or even watch a horse video on youtube, I am awed by the way that people and horses are able to interact. How simply amazing is it that a half-ton creature would willingly – and oftentimes even lovingly – do the things its person asks of it? How strange our requests must seem: pick up each foot while I clean them of debris and perhaps insert some nails for a shoe, move this way or that, jump over this randomly placed obstacle, carry me upon your back.
Some trainers teach people to “talk horse”… but not everything we do with horses has a counterpart in their herds. And even if it did, why would they listen to us two-legged strangers in the first place? Much less follow us into scary places like horse trailers, roads with traffic, wooden bridges, and anywhere else the trail takes us.
This goes beyond training and conditioning. You can train a horse in an hour to not be afraid of wearing a saddle, but you could probably get any animal to accept such artificial situations once. It takes a special quality for them to them to stand quietly and allow us to repeat this day after day. Even when the saddle is a poor fit, the rider or pack weighs too much, or other painful issues.
But it is the trust that they place in us that really blows my mind. These last few weeks, for example, Apollo faced oncoming semi-trucks at 10 feet distance, metal rattling sidewalk grates and wooden bridges, a shooting range, trains, buses, shopping carts, flapping banners and flags (the worst!), motorcycles, angry dogs, bicycles, trailers (passing by and riding in them), llamas, cows (the white ones are the most frightening, by the way), paper bags (one almost ate him, it was a close call), honking drivers, and puddles (aka watery black holes).
Through all of this, he’s mostly stayed calm or at least reasonably ok. The worst was a highway underpass but we got past it without a disaster. And his biggest “regular” fright, the semi-truck, is becoming less frightening every day.
But to get back to my constant awe, he keeps following me all day every day, through/over/under/around/past things that scare him. When I turn him loose at night, he’ll follow me without the lead rope. When we’re walking quietly down the road side by side, resting his back and my legs at the end of a long day, he puts his nose against my palm – just for the comfort of touch - and we walk along like lovers holding hands.