The other day, my husband and I watched the Emmy Award winning movie about the famed animal behaviorist, Temple Grandin. I was particularly touched by the horse scene, in which Temple quietly enters a stall of a dangerously right-brained horse. Without fear, she approached the troubled horse respectfully but not tentatively. As she reached out to him, the horse transformed almost instantly from a rearing, striking, wild-eyed, frightened prey animal, into a trusting being seeking empathy and harmony, responding in kind as she extended her hand for him to touch. Temple then ran her hand over his withers and slowly down his shoulder, coming to rest over his heart, gently feeling the rhythm of his heartbeat. The horse’s eyes immediately softened and his head lowered with total acceptance and understanding. Temple Grandin says she thinks in pictures; I say she speaks the language of horse.
The sequence triggered a memory of a horse, Zachery, I came to know as a teenager. When I was 14 to 15 years old, I spent many hours after school at a riding stable within walking distance of our home, just outside the Baltimore city limits. I was told Zack was an Anglo Arab, but reflecting on his nature and physical presence, I’m convinced now that he was actually an Iberian Warmblood–half Lusitano–a big boned gray, with a thick, wavy white tail and long flowing mane set on a proud, cresting neck. Bold and beautiful, Zack frequently was misunderstood by his riders. Despite being fitted with a double bridle featuring a high port bit, curb chain, dropped nose ban and running martingale, few riders were able to control the horse if he took off. No amount of pulling or see-sawing on the reins could bring him in. Only “advanced” riders were permitted to take him out; nonetheless he returned to the stable riderless on more than one occasion.
In exchange for mucking out, watering, grooming and tacking up horses, I was occasionally permitted to ride out and round up riders who had lost their way and were late returning to the barn. On one such day, the only horse left in the barn was Zack. The barn manager asked me to tack him up and take him out to the riding ring where he could determine whether I could handle the horse. At a walk, he was fine, but shortly after asking him to move into a trot, he bolted, snapping the reins out of my hands and throwing me off balance. I grabbed mane to steady myself, and gathered up the reins, which were still too long to restrain him. So, holding the loose reins and mane in my right hand, I leaned forward and slid my free hand as far down his shoulder as possible and held it steady, softly murmuring, “Whoa there big boy, whoa.” He responded beautifully, slowing to an easy lope and coming to a stop at the gate. I’m not sure who was more surprised, the stable manager or myself, but the magic of first going with the horse and then reaching out and respectfully asking the horse to come back to me stayed with me from that day forward, and has served me well many times over.
Movie clip from the 2010 HBO Home Video, Temple Grandin
Temple Grandin says she thinks in pictures. Pictures speak louder than words.
In this scene Temple Grandin speaks the language of horse.