The 33-year old horse who boards with us is quite the character.  And my Yankee-Irish horse whispering boyfriend has become even more attached to him since I broke my back, and he single-handedly assumed all the barn chores.  (I’m better now, but I still can’t lift a water bucket, much less a muck bucket).

Like any good horseman, my boyfriend has a very good eye.  He observes. And he files those observations away for future reference.

Like me, he thinks that horses understand what we say.  Not just our intent and our thoughts, but our words as well.

Recently, he observed our 33-year old retiree having a bit more difficulty getting up after rolling in the paddock.  We discussed the matter, and our decision to call the horse’s owner to discuss our concerns, all within earshot of the horses in turnout.

Within days, our retiree had developed a new habit.  Every night after his dinner of mash, he would roll.  He made sure to drop to his knees while my boyfriend was still in the stall, picking manure apples out of the straw.  My boyfriend would have to stop, move aside and observe, while our retiree flung his body against the fluffy banks.

My boyfriend told me about this new activity (so I, too, could observe and file away).  The horse seemed free of discomfort.  Nothing even vaguely resembled colic.  It was just a new and unusual habit.

His owner decided to put him on Cosequin ASU for a month, and see if it helped lubricate his movement.  Actually, he looks pretty amazing, especially when he does a medium trot or half-pass of his own accord.

Still, he enjoyed a dinner roll every night.  That is, until last week, when he suddenly stopped.  Why?  Who knows, but my boyfriend has a theory.  He thought back to when the habit began, when our retiree overheard us discussing our concerns about him being able to get up after rolling in the less accommodating footing this winter.  My boyfriend hypothesized that our retiree’s nightly dinner roll was a demonstration that not only could he still roll, he could get up every time.

So my boyfriend decided to say something about it.  Last Tuesday, during dinner with the horse, he said, “Zack, you don’t need to show me that you can still roll and get up.  It’s all right.  I know you can.”

Perhaps it was simply serendipity, the curious phenomenon that Arthur Koestler discusses in his marvelous book, The Roots of Coincidence.  Or perhaps horses really do speak English.  At least, it seems, our 33-year old retiree does.  Because he no longer finds the necessity of adding a dinner roll to his nightly diet.

Do you think your horse understands every word you say?  Or simply your intent?  Do you think a horse has a limited vocabulary?  Or do you suspect that, as it was with elephants, our limited estimation of their communication skills has more to do with our own limitations than it does with theirs?