I was recently asked to talk with a gelding jumper named Leo who had moved to the stables only a few weeks ago. He had apparently jumped out of his 12 X 12 barn stall…a feat considered impossible. Most jumping horses prefer a running start, not a standstill launch! Not only did Leo have to leap as though he had springs in his hind legs, he had to maneuver his huge body through a narrow opening in the stall gate. This happened during the evening while a barn-party (complete with a bonfire in one of the arenas) was taking place. One of the trainers looked up and realized that Leo was standing at the side of the barn, watching the festivities. When they took him back to his stall, the gate was locked. How in the world did he manage it?
When I went to talk with him, Leo was in a different stall in the barn and was eating lunch. He didn’t want to talk details. (Most animals don’t like to talk when they’re eating….interrupting their meal is not the time to ask them to engage in a lengthy conversation). All he said was “Yeah, there was a fire and I jumped out”. The images he used to convey this were of him hearing other horses say something about a fire, him seeing flames and deciding that he needed to get out quick.
I left him to finish his hay in peace and went to check out the stall where he’d been on the night of the party. At first I was piqued as to how he’d seen the bonfire…..that stall faced away from the arena and there was no way he could have seen any flames. That is until I looked up and realized that directly across from it and up the hill was a tack shed with windows facing the arena. He’d seen the flames reflected in the glass! The combination of other horses talking about the fire (although they weren’t alarmed by it since most of them had lived there much longer and knew there wasn’t a threat) and Leo’s acute sense of smell caused his flight response to kick in. When I went back to talk with Leo after his lunch, he told me all about how it took great calculation on his part to gauge the distance as well as the athleticism it would require for him to exit his stall.
What is perhaps more fascinating is that once he was out, he chose to go check out the situation. More curious than afraid, after he realized there was a party and the vibe was one of fun, not fear, he hung around to enjoy himself!
Animals never cease to amaze me. They give us never-ending possibilities to believe in the impossible; to know that miracles are just every day occurrences and that life is not a series of challenges, but an offering of opportunities to go look for joy.