Years ago, I read this book called “The Other,” by Thomas Tryon. It was a strange story about this boy that had put a pitchfork into the hay pile that he and his identical twin used to jump out of the hay loft into. The twin brother died in that fatal jump that day, but you don’t know that until the end of the book. It’s a sucker-punch, compounded by the boys’ grandmother that teaches him to concentrate on and become a butterfly or a flower or a bird. I often wonder if that boy hadn’t been so mentally ill if he wouldn’t have grown into someone that was compassionate, empathetic and understanding.
A few days ago, I talked about anthropomorphizing, giving human traits to animals in order to increase our understanding of them, and in so doing, are more likely to be compassionate, empathetic and understanding to others as well as to animals. This is not to say that in order to understand the world through animals' eyes ignores the fact that they are what they are. You certainly don’t want to forget that a dog may be wagging its tail off its back end while all the while growling and snarling and that those teeth are sharp, no matter what message the dog is trying to send to you. And, no matter how close you feel to your horse, that’s not to say that horse will stop being a horse and mow you down if something startles it enough.
But, those animals, those dogs, cats, horses, learn about us all the time we are learning about them as we interact. In fact, a horse will learn something 5 times faster than a human does. They don’t have the brain chatter going on that gets in the way of learning like we do. So, that’s what it takes for us to “hear” the animal as they try to figure out how, in their limited way, they can get you to understand what they are trying to communicate.
Let me give you an example…
Yesterday was so nice out, that I had the windows and doors open in the house. I had my laptop on the kitchen table, right by the open sliding glass door and was doing whatever it is that I do on my laptop while enjoying the fresh air and warm breeze at the same time. It didn’t take long for Odin to figure out where I was and stick his head in the door.
When he figured out I wasn’t going to give him my undivided attention, he started grabbing things, anything within reach. Just like a kid. I grabbed his halter and rope and held it out to him and asked, “Do you want to play?” (I figure if I say “play” instead of “work,” he’d be more apt to comply. Heh.) I slipped on my shoes and still with the rope in my hand, he stayed right where he was with both ears up. That’s his way of saying “Yep, let’s do it.”
On goes the halter and I grabbed up the lounge whip, more as a dog deterrent than what Odin needs to lounge, and off we went to a place that is flat. I set him into a circle, and he laid his ears back. He plodded along at the slowest walk a horse can do and still be walking, and it took quite a few laps around to get him to trot. Oh, if looks could kill!
Once his attitude improved greatly, I stopped him and set him in the other direction. Same plodding walk, but this time, he trotted a lot quicker, and of course his attitude improved quicker to, and I stopped him again. I made my point, and he learned it. Then, I moved onto other things, anything, and that’s when he became all ears, wondering what I was going to ask him to do next.
He’s never been one to side step easily, and it took awhile to get him to do it crossing over both his front and back legs. When I got two perfect steps sideways, the best he’s ever done, he earned a big, big hug and many kisses from me. Down goes his head and he buried it in my chest, thoroughly happy that I was happy with him.
Is that anthropomorphizing? No. There’s no doubt in my mind what he was communicating to me. Even if I’m wrong, even if I am projecting onto him what I believe I or a little kid would be feeling at that moment, nothing can deny the fact that a sullen, unwilling horse turned into a very willing, attentive horse with all the praise I was laying on him. When he tries, I reward those tries, and when he doesn’t get it, I slow down how I ask until he gets it and gives me a try. That is communication.
And, he communicates, even from far away. In the photo, he was running and playing, and that is one of the last photos I took of him galloping around with the dogs. He had one ear and one eye on me, and the look in his eye is soft and relaxed. A few feet later, he stopped and walked up to me for pets and scratches.
We humans are the smart ones, yet we refuse to “hear” others that are different, whether it is because of different colored skin or a different number of legs. Imagine how much us “smart” humans are missing!
All it takes is just a little conscious effort. Listen close, and you will hear.