Happy Holidays to all of you in the equine community!
My wish for you this year is the same as my wish for all of our rescues. Peace.
When I first met Dark Night, he was a new arrival in a large herd, along with his buddy Raymond. While Raymond was reserved but curious, Dark Night appeared aloof, almost suspicious. With soft, jet black hair, large brown eyes, and impressive height, Dark Night surveyed all visitors from afar. He was approachable—certainly gentle—but he didn’t seek connection. Often I saw him grazing in the field or hanging out in the shed alone, watching as Raymond warmed up to the staff. I wondered about Dark Night, what story his visible ribcage and protruding hips were telling us. I wondered if and when I would see signs of peace in his appearance and in his demeanor.
Both Dark Night and Raymond had arrived in poor condition, so the 13 Hands staff moved the two to a smaller herd where their diets would be tailored toward weight gain. I’ve been visiting them regularly, and in the last few months, I’ve watched their bellies fill out. I’ve watched their winter coats come in and their eyes brighten, signifying improvement in their overall health. In addition, I’ve watched their friendship grow.
But over this time, I still had questions about Dark Night. In spite of his obvious trust in Raymond, he was persistently aloof, often choosing to graze alone when Raymond and the other horses were socializing over hay. Was this just his nature? Some horses are loners, for sure. Or was Dark Night disconnected in a way that was preventing him from experiencing the sense of peace he deserves?
Yesterday, the air was cold but still. I greeted the other horses in the herd, some of my favorites at 13 Hands, who are used to my presence. And then I spotted Dark Night all the way across the field, nibbling the short grass at the perimeter. I walked over slowly with a curry comb in my hand, wondering if he’d appreciate a little coat care. He barely acknowledged me.
I stood with him a while, containing my excitement when he lifted his nose to sniff my hand. Then he turned his head slightly so I could touch the side of his face. A light breeze picked up and I watched the hair on his chest—so black it’s almost blue—dance a little. And when I brought the curry comb up to his muddy back, Dark Night stood statue-still, his head low, his breathing calm. Was this resignation or peace? I wasn’t certain. But after a few minutes of grooming and quiet chatting, as I walked away, Dark Night stayed by my side until I said goodbye. Then he joined the others at the hay pile.
Rescues’ pasts are often so traumatizing that a lasting sense of peace might not be possible for a long, long time. That’s why we celebrate moments of peace—like when Flirt, the stunning palomino pinto, came in for a sniff for the first time since his arrival months ago. And when the donkeys, Flirt’s paddock mates, brayed their collective greeting even though there was no hay in sight. And when the handsome, stocky horse aptly named Kurt Russell sauntered over confidently for a first hello. These might not be signs of a permanent sense of peace, but they sure are signs that it’s possible.
My wish for you is the same as my wish for our equines. May the peaceful moments show us all what’s possible.