“Please–tame me!” he said.
“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied.
“But I have not much time.
I have friends to discover,
and a great many things to understand.”
“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the horse.
Men have no more time to understand anything.
They buy things all ready made at the shops.
But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship,
and so men have no friends any more.
If you want a friend, tame me . . .”
The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupery
Domo’s willingness to trust me was hampered because I did, and actually do, have in mind re-schooling and rehabilitating horses in need and sending them on to new owners. Teaching a horse the skills they need to survive in the human world does differ from developing a private and personal language between two beings of different species. I hesitate to initiate such an intimate connection with the horses I am retraining if I think that there is a chance that they will end up with someone else. Starting up such a bond and then disrespecting it by selling the horse just does not feel right to me.
I did not decide to make that lifetime commitment to Domo until I saw how he reacted when a friend active in the hunter/jumper and eventing circles came by. If I were to sell a horse like Domo, that would be the venue that would pay me for my time and appreciate his qualities. At the low end, prices for pleasure and back yard horses average the same as the price per pound at the slaughterhouse (click here), up to a couple of thousand dollars a horse. A big, athletic, good-looking, talented, young horse like Domo, with the right pedigree, could add another zero to that figure from someone interested in the show circuit. Some basic training and a decent show record could double or triple that amount. So, I was interested in what she thought about him.
I had been working with him in the round pen when my friend came by, so the horse had plenty of room to move around when she came up to the gate. I was expecting him to be anxious around a new person, and he did dance around a bit. What I was not expecting was his rearing, bucking, and lunging over the gate when I left him in the round pen and stood just outside chatting after I had had him show off his paces. He made his dislike and resentment of my welcoming someone who treated him as a commodity all too clear. After my visitor left and I went to put him in his own pen, he was back to being a barely biddable automaton, a totally shut down slave horse trudging resentfully along. He allowed me to catch him, lead him, and put him away, but my quirky pal with a mind of his own was not there. And I missed him.
I liked our opened ended, creative, and entertaining exchanges.
- I liked the horse that would nudge me over, give me a patient eyeball, and gently take the scrub brush out of my hand when I was cleaning his water bucket, so he could take it in his teeth and do the scrubbing for me.
I never got a picture of him shoving the scrub brush around the bottom of his water tub when I was trying to clean it, because the instant I focused on picture taking not bucket cleaning, his attention shifted too. He liked to be around to supervise manure clean up as well. It was usually an easy job because he was fastidious about where he left his piles. If I was so bold as to clean up without his presence and consent, he dropped piles everywhere. Then it would take a week or so of my cleaning up the piles around his feeder and the like without touching the rest of them for him to decide I’d gotten the message and stick to his chosen spots.
- I liked the horse who was so taken aback the first time I decided to do my Qi Gong exercises in his shed that he decided he had to go invisible and hide behind the stall partition. Eventually we learn to accommodate each other’s energy, but he was never shy about letting me know just exactly what kind of energy I was putting out there or how he felt about it.
His shed and turnout pen has an odd assortment of half and full walls, so he found the one full wall that he could stand behind and still get a peek at what I was doing. That section is only eight feet wide and he was a big guy, so he had to tuck his tail under and pull his head back to make sure nothing stuck out. When I was clearly concentrating on my movements, he would ever so slowly let his head drop and I’d see the tip of just one ear and the edge of one big brown eye peeking at me through the doorway, or a bit of tail and a hind hoof would start to stick out the other side of the panel. As so as he realized I’d noticed him he’d yank his head back, tuck his butt under, and stand perfectly still until I went back to work. Once I’d finished, he refused to come in until I left, then he checked the whole place over, sniffing every placed I’d stepped.
The next time I tried, he made sure he was on the other side of a half wall from me, where he could reach his neck out and see what I was up too, but I could not get to him without going outside and around. That time he was transfixed, with his nostrils flared and rigid and his ears and eyes missing nothing. He was especially fascinated with the crown of my head, my lower abdomen (dan tien), and my hands. His neck would stretch further and further over the wall, until I looked his way, and then he would jerk his head back and levitate to the far side of his half of the shed-row in a single four-legged bounce. Then he’d stand there and stare at me till I got back to business. Once I was focused ,he would creep back close to the half-wall and slowly stretch his neck out again.
He still was not willing to socialize afterwards and kept a wary eye on my every move, so I let him be. The third time, he came in the shed with me and stood over me, whuffling and snuffling from the crown of my head to my toes, following the energy as it moved. After few more sessions I could reach out and touch him occasionally, but I had to be extremely quiet and slow. If my hands moved too fast he would jump and spin, flying right along with the energy flow, and if the volume was too much he would shudder and flinch when my hands got close to his skin.
- Another of my favorite memories was the day when I had been preoccupied with some disturbing behavior on the human side of the equation, and suddenly found myself hopping about on one leg and hanging onto to Domo’s neck for balance. He been checking out my feet while I was distracted and once he got a good grip on the laces with his teeth, he would lift his head and my foot so my leg was horizontal, hold it there for a minute, and then let it down for just a second, rest, and repeat. He did it all with such a mischievous gleam in his eye, I could only laugh with him.
As for why he did it, I can only surmise that he learned it from me. Domo was stiff all through his neck and back when I got him. He also had a retained testicle and like many young colts, was a bit free with flinging his front feet around. Instead of punishing him when he raised his foreleg, I would take him up on his offer of a hoof, hold onto it, and do a series of stretches with him. He quickly got to where he seemed to enjoy the stretches, and did not flinch when I reached for his leg. He was also mouthy like a lot of colts, although in his case it was largely part of how he kept himself impeccably groomed. He is the only horse I have had who kept his own chestnuts and ergots trimmed. These calloused growths on the back of the horse’s fetlock and inside their legs just above the front knee and below the rear hocks can get impressively large if not tended to. Not only did Domo keep his own self well trimmed, he kept a close eye on me and removed anything he considered extraneous growths, which included clothing labels, Velcro tabs, buttons, and shoelaces. Apparently, he put all the pieces together while checking my personal grooming and emotional state and decided if I was tense, I obviously needed to stretch my legs as much as he needed to stretch his, and my lace-up shoes gave him just the right leverage to help me out.
What I knew was that I liked that horse, the one who took my well-being to heart and put his mind to figuring out how to help me. That makes for a very special kind of camaraderie under saddle and I knew a true friend of any species is a rare find. I was honored that Domo saw me as worthy of his friendship, respected his integrity in refusing to accept less than a full commitment from me, and decided to earn his trust, and keep him for myself.