Are horses capable of emotional attachment?

Now I’ve written previously about how some owners treat their horses like large stuff animals or large puppies and get all in their faces? They’ll get all in the horse’s face and wonder why the horse keeps pulling the head out of their hands. 

Well, duh, you stupid bimbo. Let me walk up to you and just start pulling on and rubbing my hands all over your face, kissing on your lips, and spraying stuff in your eyes. Would you enjoy the experience? No? Didn’t think so. You’d be pulling back annoyed as all heck, too. You know it really is a 1000 wonders that horses don’t bite the living shit out of us humans more than they do. We’re really creeps. 

Now I love the soft velvet feel of that muzzle as much as the next person-when the horse OFFERS it to me.  But I had to learn to wait until it was offered. Thing is, once I did it seems that it gets offered to me a lot more these days. Funny how that works. Respect earns trust. 

But can a horse form an emotional attachment? 

Oh, yes. Now that said, it can be with another horse, another animal, or a human. Horses are quite capable of just about any emotion-and, let me be the first to say, I know they can get angry and they can hold grudges for a very long time. (They may not hold a grudge as long as a mule or donkey will, but they will hold them. It is most certainly not wise to really piss one off. The memory of a horse should be as legendary as that of the elephant.) They do form the attachment that we call ‘love’-and they will fight for the object of that attachment.  History is full of stories in which this happened. 

The archetypal story in the book The Black Stallion is when the boy awakens on the beach to see a cobra rising above him ready to strike. Suddenly the black horse comes and tramples the snake, then disappears again-seemingly out of gratitude for rescuing him from the hold of the sinking ship. If you’ve watched the movie, the relationship develops on the island and you watch through a film sequence that has no dialogue at all for 15 minutes. It’s a horse lover’s dream. 

In The Lord of the Rings, the white stallion Shadowfax, king of the horses,  appears to carry Gandalf to summon help for the beleaguered forces of men during the war for Middle Earth. In symbolic cooperation of all races, Gandalf rides bridleless and saddleless upon his snowy back across the rugged landscape at full gallop.  Another white horse, Arya’s mare, carries her and Frodo across the river just out of reach of the Dead Kings into the Elven kingdom. Aragon’s warhorse picks him up after a bloody bruising battle with the wargs and trolls.  Even the pony that Frodo rides has a role in keeping the quest going. 

Gandalf the White on Shadowfax

In my own life, my stallion, Zhivago, was crossing a mountain creek with me when a flash flood hit. He stumbled into a hole in the bed and went under water and I came off.  He never flinched-he stayed right there. He blocked me from going downstream with his body with the water rising to up over the saddle. I didn’t dare try to remount, so I crossed the rest of the way with him walking beside me. I was terrified. Until you have felt the force of that much water pushing against you, you have no clue how strong it is. I will never, ever again downplay the courage of people who do rescue work during flooding.  That horse and I were bonded before-but after that, we were inseparable. 

Life sometimes gives you a heart horse. I’ve been blessed beyond measure. I’ve had more than my allotment. When a horse gives you their heart, you know it. Respect the gift and never abuse it. 

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