Eve Marx on a horse

The Human/Animal Connection

Editor’s note: There’s evidence that owning a pet has several health benefits: lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, increasing exercise and social interaction. And while we may think of pets as primarily dogs and cats, the connection between humans and horses is just as strong. Here, Eve Marx (shown with her horse, Buttons) demonstrates the strength and the benefits of that connection.

By Eve Marx

It’s taken me an entire year to write this story, not that I haven’t tried. It was one year ago that I had to say goodbye to Buttons, my beloved Appaloosa pony. I should explain when I say I said goodbye, it’s not because Buttons passed over the Rainbow Bridge. Buttons is far from dead, although he is 30-something–for a horse, ancient.

What happened is my husband took a new job and we moved across the country. After agonizing whether or not to bring him (I was advised he would never survive the trip), I made the decision to retire Buttons at the wonderful and caring place where he’s lived the past six years. So we won’t be riding together anymore, and because of the great distance, I can’t really see or visit him regularly. For me it’s been heartbreaking and a hardship; for fifteen incredible years, Buttons has been my boon companion and, even beyond my husband, my most intimate relationship.

I understand many people don’t comprehend the close connection between humans and their horses. Even people who ride often have difficulty understanding equine expression or know how to “read” a horse. Subtle changes in posture, movement, and expression provide important clues to what a horse is thinking. It can take a long time to bond with these magical creatures. (Because they are essentially herd animals, their primary interest is other horses.)

Buttons and I met at a horse dealer’s place in Connecticut. The seller told me since he’d acquired him, the pony had been purchased and returned twice. Nobody could catch him in the paddock, and he was very, very naughty. I had the feeling the pony’s next stop was a trailer ride to a Canadian slaughterhouse, which sadly is the case for many horses. Perhaps intuiting I was his last chance, Buttons decided he would behave.

I felt he wanted to believe that humans could be nice to be with again. I plied him with treats. I noticed his favorite horse cookies were molasses flavored; he’s never cared much for peppermint. I started baking horse cookies especially for him. He also responded well to my singing to him, very low and quietly. He flicked his ears happily right away to “I’m an old cowhand,” the Roy Rogers version. I sang the second stanza:

I’m an old cowhand from the Rio Grande,

and I come to town just to hear the band.

I know all the songs that the cowboys know,

’bout the big corral where the doagies go,

’cause I learned them all on the radio.

Yippy I O Ki Ay, Yippy I O Ki Ay.

For over a dozen years we participated in a number of events; we won lots of ribbons; once I rode him in a St. Patrick’s Day parade. He was terrific! Alone or in the company of other horses, we went out on advanced trail rides several times a week.

He didn’t care for riding in a ring, and I didn’t force it. I guessed he’d worked for years carrying children and earning them ribbons. I realized, though, that he knew gymkhana (an event involving timed competitions). One day, just for laughs, I set up a mock barrel racing course and he merrily shuttled me around those barrels (in actuality large garbage cans) like a pro. When we weren’t riding, I spent a lot of time in his stall, grooming him, picking out his feet. Pretty much never a day went by when I didn’t spend at least an hour with him.

The first months after we left were very, very hard. I couldn’t stop crying, to the point where my husband asked me if I was going to survive. Gradually I got my crying down to a few minutes every day. Meanwhile, my friends at the barn were sending me plenty of pictures and reports. Buttons, they said, was doing fine. He had been given a job as the babysitter and pasture buddy for a much younger but neurotic horse. It also turned out he was good company for several mares in their last stages of gestation. “He’s doing great,” everyone, including the barn manager, assured me, which provided some measure of relief.

Five months into our new lives, I flew back east to see my pony. I was concerned how he would react because a friend who works at the farm told me that for months he looked for me. Gradually he quit doing that, which I thought was a good thing for him. So I was very happy when I arrived at the barn and called out his name even before I saw him. He whinnied loudly from his stall in greeting.

Our reunion was sweet. He immediately began nuzzling me and pushing his head into my chest. For six days I spent most of my daylight hours with him. I carried his bridle with me across the country and borrowed a saddle so we could ride out on the trails. He acted like I’d been gone a week, not months. It felt totally natural. When it was time for me to fly back to my husband and my dogs, I stood in Buttons’ stall again and cried my heart out.

Writing this even now fills my heart with pain. I still receive the pictures and the reports, fond reports, of what a scamp he is. In his retirement, he’s become quite devilish. Nothing really bad, more like being impertinent. When I asked his farrier recently how he thought the pony was doing, he said, “That pony is old, but he will never die. One day you’ll just have to kill him.”

A friend who visited the barn recently told me she spent some time with Buttons. “I hope you’re not insulted,” she said. “But I don’t think he misses you.”

I told her I was glad to hear it. I wouldn’t wish my yearning and heartache on him, not a bit. Then she said, “It’s more like he senses you are with him. It sounds strange, but I really felt that.”

I am a Reiki Master and I do attempt to communicate with the pony almost every day. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, I put myself in a Reiki trance state and reach out to him energetically. A few years ago he had a medical situation. There was blood in his urine. The barn manager wanted to call the vet, but I had to say no because I couldn’t afford a vet visit. The winter before he’d had a medical colic and while it didn’t include surgery, it was still expensive. So when I received the call about the urine, I came right over to the barn and stood in his stall and gave him Reiki.

“If it doesn’t work, tomorrow might be too late to fix this,” the barn manager said warningly. We like each other a lot, and I know she has more faith in vets than she does in Reiki. I said, “He’s 30-something years old; if it doesn’t work, I’ll have to take that as a message.” But it did work, and within a few hours the blood was gone and he was urinating normally. That experience bolstered my confidence that Reiki could heal many things.

It felt very good to hear my friend say she sensed that Buttons knows I am with him. Because I will always be with him, whether or not we are physically present. I tell him almost daily to be healthy and be strong and to continue to be entertaining because at heart, he is a fun-loving pony. And in a few months, I’ll be getting on a plane to see him. Our connection is eternal, but I still can’t wait to see him.

Eve Marx is a Reiki Master, a bi-coastal journalist and a book author. She lives in the Pacific Northwest.