So often in my life with horses, it is the little gestures and body language that move me the most. Opposite of the obtuse flailings and loud outbursts of human communication, horses are aware of life and their environment on a deeply intuitive, even spiritual level. This was evident to me, yet again, the day I introduced Eli and Tango.
A good deal of thought went into the logistics of introducing a strange stallion to my generally non-confrontational gelding (who is also "my baby"). Eli is well socialized and has excellent manners but I was nervous. Horses--be they mares, stallions, or geldings--have their druthers and can take a violent disliking to eachother almost on sight. My property is small and modest. With no room for excessive boundaries, everyone is expected to coexist in relative peace around here.
Tango has met only two horses in seven years that he instantly, passionately, disliked. Unfortunately one of them happens to be Chance. Occasionally I am forced to put them together and a sad scenario inevitably follows. Chance puffs up, driving Tango continuously for no reason and biting him savagely if he doesn't move fast enough. Every inch of his 14 hands proves the point that it is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. Tango, a mischief maker who doesn't possess the heart for serious confrontation, withers under the bullying. If left in this situation he will go off his feed and retreat to a corner, head down, a little boy who has dropped his ice cream cone and finds there is no more to be had.
Eli had been on his own for two days when I decided to put Tango across the fenceline. Heart pounding, dressage whip in hand, I unsnapped Tango's lead shank and waited for the show down. The first sniff between the two made Eli squeal and rear. Tango, body tense, responded by striking at the fence. I hit the side of the barn with the whip to startle them. Eli, neck arched, showed off a nice passage, every inch the proud stallion. Tango, disgusted, ambled to a pile of hay and turned his rear end toward Eli.
This dance was repeated, two more times, then Tango parked himself more permanently by the hay and ignored Eli altogether. After a few minutes, however, Eli lowered his head to the ground, nosing under the fence in an equine gesture of invitation. It took less than a minute for Tango to RSVP. As Tango approached, Eli seemed to freeze in his head down position. Tango arched his neck over the fence and began sniffing at his neck. I tensed for the bellowing sure to come as a result of this dominant position. Instead of throwing his head up, Eli waited for 10-15 seconds, than slowly, swan-like and graceful, he brought his head up and parallel to Tango. Necks and jaw bones nearly touching, the two quietly sniffed eachother. I wish I videoed the scene, two creatures deeply inhaling the essense, personality, and intentions of the other. As if they were inspecting eachothers very soul.
When this was over, the two parted amiably and went about other horse business--eating, drinking, and itching at the gnats that are particularly bad this fall. Soon after, I put them together in a paddock where they continue to be best friends--lying side by side, sharing hay, and sleeping together.
Can one discern the depths of another in a sniff? If only it were that easy in humans.