When someone questions if horses have emotions, I have to go back about thirty years to a small hobby farm on forty-nine acres of rolling green fields and thick forests. A small makeshift barn squatted in the corner of the fenced-in field where chickens, geese a few goats and a beautiful horse named Sherry resided.
Sherry, a beautiful chestnut quarter horse, was matriarch of the barnyard and watched over the animals. She let the master know if something was amiss in their small community. Sherry hovered over the birth of triplet baby goats, bringing it to the attention of her master. She also alerted him to the wounded goose that couldn’t climb back up from the ditch. Sherry guarded the younger animals, protecting them from the bullies of the barn yard (mean mother goat and a few cross chickens).
Winters were long and cold, sometimes reaching 40 degrees below zero. The smaller animals didn’t wander far from the barn, only Sherry ventured out for her daily visits with her master and his family.
Slowly the sun’s visits lasted longer and the snow melted. Patches of snow dotted the yard and frozen puddles sat in the dips of the land. Spring had arrived. The farm animals were frisky and eager to relieve their pent-up energy from the long winter.
Sherry laid herself on a patch of dry ground enjoying the warmth from the sun’s rays. She’d lay in the sun for hours. Baby goats climbed up on her side and stretched themselves along her stomach and neck. Sherry lay perfectly still, so not to disturb the young goats. Sometimes a leg or the hind end of the goat would slid off, and Sherry gently turned her head to boost the goats rear end back up or push the fallen leg over.
The heat from Sherry’s body warmed the goats. It was a sight to behold, a horse with three baby goats lying on top of her, dozing while basking in the warm spring sun. Sometimes the mother goat shoved one of her babies off so she could climb up on Sherry. But Sherry would have none of it. She’d push her off and if she became persistent Sherry would give her a swift kick.
The mother goat favored only two of her offspring, ignoring the runt, the weakest of the litter. She wouldn’t allow the runt to eat and chased her away from the grain trough; she bit and kicked the little one when it wanted to play with her. Sherry quickly intervened, protecting the runt from further abuse. She took special care of the rejected one. The mother goat couldn’t hurt her baby goat anymore.
And so it was, peace and order reigned on the small farm.
One day, the master wheeled his daughter who was quadriplegic, outdoors to enjoy the sun. She was frail, still recovering from a long serious operation. Curious, Sherry walked over to her. The nine-year old wasn’t frightened by the size of the horse. She felt an immediate connection with Sherry. Sherry bent her head and sniffed the child, from her feet up to her head. Her velvet nose brushed against the girl’s cheek, their breath mingled. The girl could see her reflection in the big luminous eyes; she saw the gentleness and love in Sherry’s heart. Sherry lifted her head high and rolled back her lips making a whinnying sound, then gently with her velvet mouth, Sherry gave the girl a kiss ever so lightly, on the cheek.
The neighbourhood children loved riding Sherry. Parents didn’t have to worry. Sherry took special care to walk at a slower pace with young riders. Her reputation was well-known in the village for her gentleness and cleverness, (she could unlock any gate and often let all the animals out of their stalls.) She had many visitors throughout the years.
The partially fenced in forty-seven acres was a wonderful playground for Sherry. When the master gave a shrill whistle, she’d gallop out of the forest, full tilt across the field. It was a sight of beauty. The free-spirited horse became one with the wind, her black mane and tail blowing carelessly behind her. Her hooves barely touched the ground as she raced towards the sound of her master.
Long gone are the farm animals. Through time the weathered barn sagged into the earth and tall weeds sprouted through the rotted boards. Sherry remained with her master and his family for twenty-five years. When the clouds hang low and the wind sweeps across the meadow, I believe her spirit still chases the wind with her mane and tail furling behind her in a show of glory.
The question is “Do horses have emotions?” Of course they have emotions, as I believe all animals have emotions. I’ll go one further and say they have heart. . .they have a soul.
I miss you Sherry.