I had several opportunities to communicate with horses over the past year. Each encounter was with a different type of horse suited for a different lifestyle. Similar to people, they each had things they liked and things they did not like. The difference between them and humans is that they didn't have a choice.
People make many assumptions when it comes to animals. They assume that because they came from a certain breed or stock or line, they should excel at that particular task and even love it. That is not the case. A horse who was a descendant of a racehorse did not like racing. He enjoyed running but was not a fan of the vigorous training and pressure to win. Another horse who was bred to be a workhorse did not like to pull and carry heavy loads all the time, while their friend loved to work and found purpose in it. Every being is different.
Recently in the news, there was a story of a police horse who was sent to a Sanctuary for his retirement after 20 years of service. This horse was 21 years of age and in great shape. Some people were commenting how cruel it was that he was made to work for so long. My instinct was to agree, because of the nature of the job, the noise, and the danger involved. Also, this horse was so young when he started which meant training started early in his life. Police work was all he knew. Since I am learning to not assume things, or impose human beliefs (or my beliefs) onto the animals, I decided to check in with this beauty. Here is what he had to say.
This horse was very proud of his work. He felt important and very fulfilled. When I asked him how he was treated, he said he had no complaints. Food was plenty, he never went without; he said he had regular and frequent physical care including washing, brushing, hoof care, and medical care (brushing was his favorite but dental care, not so much! ) He showed me a special blanket placed on him with care, love, and affection (gentle talking close to his face with pets and kisses). He had other horse friends. His partner treated him well. What he didn't like were the noise and traffic. Though he was used to it, he never grew to like it. He also said the smells could be overwhelming and he sometimes couldn't wait to get back to his stall. There was a change in these things for a while. He wasn't needed as much and noise levels were down. It was during this time that he started to think about a different life. He was getting older and got a taste of a quieter life. However, he did add that most of his work was uneventful. He did have plenty of action moments, but more were not. One of his horse friends never liked the work, but this horse did.....most days. Like us, we also have days where we do not want to work and other days where we love it.
I asked him how he felt about retiring and about the sanctuary. True to his character, he said he couldn't speak about the sanctuary yet as he has to investigate it first. He did admit it smells delicious and he loves the freedom. It may take him some time to live without a schedule, but like all retirees, it is a welcomed change. He hopes his handler will come to visit him; they were partners for a long time.
After speaking with him, I felt confident that he was very well taken care of, and was suited for Police work. He is also in excellent condition, although he did mention some aches and pains in his legs. The grass/ground will be a welcome change, as will the fresh country air. The biggest concern he has is about his partner. He was bonded to him. He was not just a coworker, but a partner. Animals form bonds sometimes deeper than humans. My hope is that his partner visits him after an adjustment period. I also hope that this beautiful boy adjusts easily to retirement. It can be a difficult transition for many of us.
I think many of us make assumptions about what animals like based on our experiences, wants, and needs. Wanting a life of no work or task can be just as detrimental as one of forced labor. (It is NEVER okay to be abusive and hurt an animal to coerce them to do anything. NEVER). Some animals need a purpose, thrive on structure and routine, and enjoy working. However, like us, they do not want to do it 24/7. Some days they just don't want to go to work. Or after years, they may grow tired of it and want something else. It is important to check in with them and get their feedback. Honor their wishes. It is THEIR life after all.
I am sending him Reiki and love and hope to visit him soon!
*The image below is a still shot from the video posted on the news. It shows him leaving the trailer and being greeted by some animal residents.