In recent years I have learned that horses remember their relatives and friends for long periods of time. Sometimes humans disregard these attachments and most horses change owners multiple times during their lives. They have developed strong relationships with pasture mates, only to be sold once again. Foals have grown up to know their mothers, only to be separated for life. Some people sell horses without thinking about the horses’ emotions; it is just business.
Some people will laugh with cynicism and say that horses do not have the emotional capacity to grieve or miss lost friends. I was one of those people until recently when I witnessed for myself, the true bond that horses have. These bonds last a lifetime; the horses do not forget each other.
Mustangs are a great example of this. They remember their mother, their siblings and their sire. They rarely inbreed and often maintain relationships with friends and family, even after separation into different bands. When wild horses are rounded up, many of these family units are destroyed, never to be reunited.
My own experience is one of a happier situation. My mare Derby had her foal Sunshine in 2004. They had been together since birth until Sunshine was 9 years old. Then Sunshine left to become a therapy horse in Mancos Colorado. Two years later Sunshine was moved to Durango Colorado. Derby was recruited for being a therapy horse in Durango also. When I hauled Derby up to join Sunshine, I had planned to haul Sunshine and another horse out for a trail ride That never happened.
I unloaded Derby, and from a quarter mile away I heard Sunshine’s shrill whinny. Derby immediately screamed back, Is that really you? The intense reunion drama ensued from then on. The whinnying and shrill calls kept on until we made it to Sunshine’s pen. Sunshine immediately reinstated their bond by attempting to nurse. The emotions of the horses were overwhelming. If horses could cry, there would have been tears of joy. Sunshine and Derby are both fine with being independent, but on this day, they could not be separated. I loaded them both up for my ride, mother and daughter, in blissful happiness. I will never separate them long term again.
The important lesson from this is to think long and hard before entering into horse ownership, as it is a long-term commitment. Horses should not suffer loss of herd mates due to a passing phase or fancy. Humans aren’t alone in their emotions. Cheers to happy memories and the love we have for horses.
Happy trails from southwest Colorado.
Photo: Derby, age 21 and her daughter Sunshine, age 11 are lifetime buddies who thoroughly enjoy each other’s company.