When I gazed into the calm, round eyes of the auburn-coloured quarter-horse, I thought of all the people who ask me, “Do animals have souls?’ Miss Tanya snuffled as I rubbed the underside of her head, and I imagined her saying, “This human is okay. By the way, do you have an apple for me?” The racehorse’s owners wanted my friend Brian, an animal acupuncturist, to treat Miss Tanya’s skittishness, and Brian had asked me to accompany him, so I could link with this beautiful horse’s soul and try to find out why Miss Tanya was so frenzied whenever she stepped onto a race track.
Carlotta, one of the horse’s owners, cocked a skeptical eyebrow when Brian asked about bringing me, but she shrugged and said she’d try anything. Horse racing is an expensive sport, and after spending thousands of dollars on training and upkeep, Miss Tanya wasn’t living up to her potential
Brian and I arrived at the stables to find six horses in or around their stalls. A young stable hand was combing the silvery mane of a palomino. Two horses were being led around the ring for exercise. Brian pointed out his favorite mare, Saladin, a jet-black Arabian that looked like he spent his life posing for statues. His neck was the size of an armload of baseball bats.
In her stall, calmly munching hay was Miss Tanya. She stood 15 hands high, and her well defined muscles stood out beneath her sleek brown coat. When we approached her, she raised her head and snorted, then chuffed twice and dipped her head into her water trough.
Carlotta regarded me with a smile. She gestured with her chin at Miss Tanya and said, “She’s just letting you know who’s boss.”
“Yes, ma’m,” I told the horse, then gently stroked her head. I love horses. They’re such wonderful, loving, wise animals, and so attuned to their emotions. Miss Tanya looked at me and blinked twice. I felt a twinge of sadness. Miss Tanya seemed to nod, then nuzzled my hand. I wished I had a fistful of oats to give her.
Keeping my eyes locked on the horse, I said, “She doesn’t feel like she’s being listened to.”
Carlotta snickered as she pulled back her thick dark hair and tied it into a ponytail. “She’s not the only one. Honestly, sometimes, I think none of these horses give a fig about anything I do for them.”
How do you feel? I silently asked Miss Tanya.
I’m bored, seemed to be the reply. I want to run around outside.
I don’t know how much time passed, but as I got a feel that Miss Tanya liked running, but didn’t like racing. Whenever she lined up at the starting gates, all the other horses were either in bad moods, or hell-bent on competing. They were so focused on winning, they unnerved her. As a result, she wanted them to hurry up and get out of her space. Which explained why she usually came in last.
You like running, I mentally told Miss Tanya. Think of a race as just another way of running. Ignore the other horses. Just have fun going fast.
Miss Tanya snorted once – if she’d been human, she might’ve gone “Hmph!” – then stepped away from me.
By this time, Brian and Carlotta were in another stall, tending to Bucky, a Bergeron with a limp. It was odd seeing the huge horse standing still, seeming to enjoy acupuncture with several thin needles in its flank.
“If you want to help Miss Tanya,” I said, “put blinders on her eyes before the next race. Seeing the other horses freaks her out.”
Carlotta nodded, considering the idea.
Over the next few hours, Brian and I spent time with the other horses. Cinnamon told me she was pregnant, and was excited about getting ready to foal. Rockefeller loved Carlotta for taking care of him when he was sick, and thought of his owner as “Mom.” And Bucky wished people would brush him more often. Carlotta seemed intrigued when I told her my impressions.
Two Sundays later, I watched Miss Tanya race at Woodbine and the poor girl came in sixth out of seven. From the stands, I noticed she was not wearing blinders. Oh, well…
I spoke with Brian last night, who told me Carlotta had admitted that after my visit, her horses seemed to be listening to her more. But she still couldn’t understand why Miss Tanya ran so well when she was all by herself.