Free Translation Widget
Yesterday, I was schooling a novice horse, on near perfect footing, in falling rain, when he snorted at me. We had each other’s attention…I continued to listen and heard his ‘oil can’ precursor of schwung, and soon, the softly emphatic rhythm 1-2-1-2-1-2-… of cadenced working trot. We made much of this ….

Then, cleaning tack, I thought to revisit d’Endrody, and to republish this essay of yore:

“Well, Some of Them DO Talk”

Several years ago, I began handling and then stabilizing a former flat racer for I knew not then what other sports.  I noticed the very first day I put my hands on The Saint that he reacted to many of my motions, and often to my voice, with a snort. These snorts were not the snorts of a horse startled from grazing by a child passing in the lane on a bicycle, or the defiant snorts of a herd leader to the newcomer, or the snort of a fit horse who, upon being turned out on a chipper morning, throws up his head and exclaims before moving off to inspect the far of the field. These were low, soft, kindly snorts.

At the time I thought that the horse was telling me of his curiosity, surprise, bemusement, or disdain. But then horses don’t talk to people, only to each other, right? As his new surroundings, my motions, his tack, and clothing became familiar and then routine, the snorts subsided, and I forgot them.

As he progressed to lungeing on voice commands in the indoor hall, and I realized that, as he would go to the limits of the line to loosen up before I attached long reins, he was snorting again.  These were not look over the shoulder, snort, buck up and snort sort of snorts that celebrated a modicum of freedom, or the kick out and snort sort of snorts of a prankster. This horse would walk calmly away from the chambriere, increase the diameter of his path, bend his neck inward, make eye contact with me, and snort a few or several times while remaining entirely calm at walk and trot.

With the indoor hall otherwise silent, I would hear him snorting while he watched me prepare a grid for free jumping.  Of course I thought he was just blowing dust out his nasal passages, or that he had a minor allergy to winter mold.  Or… was this horse saying “Ah, time to get on with playing our games, eh?”  It did seem so, but then horses only talk to each other, not to people, right?

Soon I noticed that upon my first carrying tack to his stall front racks, but before I opened his stall door, The Saint would leave his hay, turn about his hindquarters toward me, lower his head, and snort.  sometimes he did this before I said anything to him, and sometimes soon after I greeted him with, “Hi, Snort!”

So, I was in my library one evening, ruminating about all this snorting. I was fascinated. Knowing that they would at least not laugh (out loud) at me if this was beyond the cutting edge, I considered faxing Equus to ask whether they knew of research on horses trying to talk to people (without being prompted by a pin prick.)

But I became distracted by the need to complete an assignment. So I looked over drawings on the drafting table, and then reached for A.L. d’Endrody’s Give Your Horse A Chance to verify the formula for the distance between two elements with ditches in a combination on a cross-country course to be ridden at preliminary speed. Opening to the index to find that table, my eyes became riveted upon “Snorting…147”.   SNORTING!  What was  d’ Endrody’s concern with snorting? Could I resist?

Actually beginning on page 146. I read:

“Creating of suppleness in the horses behaviour

The secret or producing suppleness is to obtain the horse’s understanding and willingness to obey, since the state of its body depends mainly upon the quality of its mental apprehensions.  The more successfully the suppleness of the animal’s mentality is attained, the more readily does it offer the suppleness of its body.

There is an interesting and convincing proof offered by the horse itself of the validity of this statement.  Horses often give an audible sign when they are changing from opposition into submission by starting to snort kindly.  The rider can best recognize this phenomenon during loosening exercises or regulating procedures at the moment when the change in the horse’s general behaviour [sic] sets in.  It is evident that this ‘talking’ is the expression of a mental function, thus the relaxation of the body, which the rider can perceive simultaneously with the snorting, must also be a direct result of the animal’s mental function.”

Of course I read further and with heightened respect for this authority who wrote about horses ‘talking’ in 1959.

Next day, I arrived at The Saint’s stall as he was sipping his water bucket.  Without waiting for him to finish his drink, I greeted him with “Hi, Snort!”  Then before my very eyes, he raised his chin from the lip of the goblet, stepped (or maybe only leaned) back, flexed his poll, and snorted. Upon my saying softly to him “Well aren’t you somebody?” he resumed drinking.  He snorted to me a few more times while we prepared to go to the indoor to play our games.

I don’t know whether this horse was really talking to me, d’Endrody wrote that some of them do. But I’m sure going to keep talking to horses… and listening.