A question posed by a group member during an Equine Therapy session.
By: Ann M. Taylor, Equine Specialist at The Meadows
We hear all sorts of questions at Equine; some of them make you stop and think. Either you simply don’t know the answer or because you want to be sure that you’re giving the most accurate information. This question however never required a second thought.
"Of course they can!"
The first time we had the privilege of working with RC was eye opening. As I led him out of the stall I was told by a fellow Equine staff that "RC really loves deeply". Looking at him I tried to see what she saw. In the breeze way stood this older, rough looking horse that seemed to me to have seen his best days and none of them were this year, or the year before. Branded on his left rear quarter a large letter R and on the right a large letter C. Hence the name "RC".
RC has a disease called Cushing's that affects his pituitary gland. A symptom of Cushing's is that he can't shed his winter coat. So, being summer, he was sporting a body clip. It was similar to something you may see after your youngest gets hold of dads beard trimmer. His eyes looked dead tired and I was not even sure he would make it down the hill to the round pen.
He sighed heavy as we walked down the hill and he managed three breaks before we were at the round pen gate. He eased his way through the gate and closing it behind him I was genuinely concerned that RC may not be the horse for the job. Although the activity was pretty easy for a horse I doubted that he had enough life in him to really be effective during a session.
The group arrived and checked in. The whole time RC stood with his nose against the fence dozing in the shade occasionally his tail would toss to one side or the other. He reminded me of an old weathered frame of a house gently blowing back and forth in the soft breeze, and I wondered if he may decide to just collapse under his own weight right there.
When the group was ready we opened the round pen gate and they went inside. Lazy eyes opened and considered the group from across the pen. Idle brown ears now perked up and watched the group with intent. He turned to face them completely and there was LIFE! What was a geriatric case of a horse shifted into a curiously intent and animated creature. He rubbed up against the members of the group and took time to explore each person.
The entire session his eyes only asked one question "What do you need?". He stood closely behind a group member in strong silent support as they shared around a difficult topic. He pressed his head gently into another Participant who struggled with intimacy. I watched this horse decide what each person needed and then be that for them. There was no doubt that RC LOVED the people in that group, and every group for the rest of the week. Over and over we were amazed at how he could identify just exactly what someone needed in the moment.
When the group would end RC would watch them leave through the gate. That big brown head would drop back down and there was that old house frame blowing in the wind again. At the end of the first day there were smiles, laughter, Ah Ha moments and some tears. It was a good day. When everyone was gone I slipped the halter over his graying muzzle and scratched his neck. Once again I was worried that the walk up the hill to the barn might be too much for him. Opening the gate I could hear his old hips pop as he moved that heavy frame out of the round pen.
Suddenly there was an unexpected tension on the rope. Spinning around, I found myself staring at RC's rump as HE led ME up the hill! I could have skied behind him! That was the best laugh of the week.
So can a horse love? I don't think there is anyone better who can teach us about love than an old brown horse.
Special thanks to Philly and Cindy at Remuda Equine for your willingness to share the gifts that you call horses.