“Of all the communications I have ever received from a living being – human or otherwise – perhaps the most heartrending came from a horse named Star. His guardian asked me to look into a chronic stiffness Star had in his neck. As I began to stroke his neck and gently lay my hands on him, he radiated an energy so intense it was tangible, even catching the attention of the ranch hands working in the barn. I could feel his pulse throbbing as he told me, in a flood of emotion, how profoundly grateful he was to his new guardian, who he believed had saved his life. With his previous person, he had been a competition horse, a hard-driven jumper who had begun to lose his edge as his youth faded. He had heard his people say that if he didn’t fetch a decent price at auction, he would be sent to the slaughterhouse. As a result, he was terrified. Afraid to sleep, he stood listening, every day and night, to the sounds of trucks coming and going from the ranch, filled with dread that one of them would be coming to take him away. Overwhelmed with stress and fear, his neck had frozen up from the strain of listening. Still strong and vital, he wasn’t ready to die. By that point in the story, a few of the ranch hands stopped working altogether and came over, drawn by the strong feeling of longing emanating from the horse.
Star said that in his new life he was being retrained for dressage, balletic exhibition riding in which a horse and a person closely synchronized their movements to execute an elegant dance. The work was challenging but mentally satisfying and, above all, he loved being so attuned to a human being that they could move together as one. He had never felt such kinship, such union. He wanted the woman to know how much he loved her, both for giving him the chance to live and for the tremendous gift of the closeness and affection he had come to feel with her. But even in his new environment, he could not sleep. Star feared that his new guardian had no idea of the depth of his gratitude and love for her and that one day she, too, would choose to let him go.
I couldn’t help but weep at his heartfelt declaration, and I could see tears in the eyes of the ranch hands looking on. Not wanting to break the connection, I signaled to one of them to get his guardian. She hadn’t known what was on Star’s mind, she said, but she had noticed that he seemed distracted. I asked her to close her eyes, take some deep breaths, and allow him to connect with her. When she did, she was almost bowled over by the depth of his emotion, his overwhelming devotion and gratitude. Stroking him, she promised that he would never again wait in terror, listening for the dreaded trucks. She assured him he had a permanent home under her protection and love.
I asked Star what else he needed. His answer was simple: “I want to go to sleep.” We accompanied him to his stall, ranch hands and all, and watched in amazement as he gently and peacefully lay down and slept, finally getting the rest he so desperately needed.”
An excerpt from The Language of Animals by Carol Gurney.
Is there a possibility that animals understand much more than we think?