The Intelligence of Horses by Caroline Baldock

I was born with horses on my mind. I learned to say, ‘horse’ before I said ‘Mummy’.

The clip-clop of horses hooves was my spiritual music. No other sound came to mean so much to me. I have followed horses, across cities, oceans, forest and deserts. At the age of 55 I am only just understanding why. My first riding lessons were taken up on St Anne’s Hill in Surrey. There my sister and I were given two saddles and bridles and taken to a field and there we were left to catch, tack-up and mount two little grey ponies called Silver and Bamby.

Those ponies knew everything there was to know about the universe and the people in it. We were totally ignorant. Sometimes we rode sometimes we just followed the ponies round the field helplessly swinging our empty bridles. It never put me off. My entire pocket money was spent on that Saturday afternoons’ adventure. My childhood was spent going to the stables or coming from them.

As soon as I could I left home, left a marriage and ran away to work with point-to-pointers in East Sussex. Even being run away with by a half-sister to Arkle the great racehorse of the 60’s in the forestry commission woods of Peasmarsh did not deter me.

Finally I found employment in a race yard after many encounters with horses in many different places. It was there that I made the acquaintance of Singing Saint. He was by Welsh Saint out of Singapation by Sing Sing and came from Major Nelson’s yard in Lambourne.

Saint was a small bright bay gelding who had fetched quite a bit as a yearling and was now on the ‘not so good’ list and down the handicap. He was to be my charge. It was love at first sight. The first thing I discovered was that if he didn’t go out first lot he would lie down and go to sleep. This charade of tiredness was a game he loved to play with me. I could sit on him as he lay down and pull his ears and rub his tummy, but would he get up? No! He loved cow parsley and would go to great pains to communicate his desire. His behaviour when I walked over to where it grew in tall stems was extremely endearing. On the gallops he loved to squeal and I matched him by replying, until the trainer Anne Finch, pleaded with me not to be so noisy. I truly loved Saint.

He wormed his way into my soul and was stuck there. We were allowed off together alone to canter round distant fields. I will never forget the fun we had. When we galloped with the string his great joy was to drop a shoulder and spin, gently tossing me to the ground and then stand over me with a broad grin. His juvenile behaviour was never interpreted by me as anything more than high jinks. It never occurred to me that he was trying to tell me something. Thirty years later the penny dropped.

One day we were at Wincanton and Saint was speeding on over the second last in front for a change. I was so excited and all looked promising. Saint suddenly looked up and realising that he was alone without his usual pack around him put the breaks on and as a result ploughed into the top of the last fence, leaving the jockey and bridle on the other side. Now free of incumbents he galloped on behind the rest of the field. I ran down to the collection gate and called to him. He pricked his ears and shot across the racecourse right in front of the other horses who were by this time turning round to come back. I collected him at the gate and putting my arm round his neck led him back to the stable. On the way I met Anne Finch. She looked furious. “You can’t lead a horse like that!” she flustered.

“Oh he’ll be alright.” I said, “he’ll follow me anywhere.”

“Not on a racecourse!” muttered Anne under her breath.

My memory serves me roughly, but this was the gist.

Saint knew everything. He tried very hard to tell me that I was just a kid and had a lot to learn, but I never heard him. He tried to tell me that he was in control and I was just around because he chose me to be. I didn’t understand. He would allow me to catch him but hated Martin Baybutt. Martin recalls to this day dislike he had for this particular horse. Saint called back to me because this was the only level on which I could understand that we could communicate. I now know differently. He often asked me to spend quality time with him in the stable. He liked me and because of that he never did anything to harm me. He tried very hard to tell me that there were people he didn’t like who had no sensitivity for his spirit. He singled those people out.

He refused to walk through puddles with Anne on board. His time with me was one of mutual affection. He remembered me when I returned several years later and bounded across the field to greet me. He tried so very hard to explain to me that horses are highly sophisticated spiritual beings with a vast vocabulary that we humans if we only took the time could learn. How many of us have taken the time?

They need us to listen to them. “I may just be an animal, but I never make the same two series of gestures twice yet you as humans spend your lives repeating the same bullshit over and over again and you think we are stupid! I can tell you that the bridge is unsafe, I can smell it. I can show you how to find your way home because my sense of direction is perfect. I know what I need for my soul, I need your respect and if I don’t get it I will extract it, and we don’t like it when horses extract respect, as they barge and push us and stand on our feet.’ When a horse barges us it is saying so clearly, “I really don’t have any reason to respect or love people. So as far as I am concerned you are not there.” No horse who is loved and respected will ever not pick his feet up for you, or move over when you ask, or stand while you mount. It is their way of saying I will carry you. I respect you.

I recall a stable lad the other day who was watching me ride a racehorse who shied at a piece of flapping plastic. I patted him and congratulated him for keeping me safe from whatever the perceived danger. “Good boy!” I confirmed. The lad looked at me. I explained. The horse has wonderful eyesight that magnifies everything nearly 50 times. As his eyesight is what initially alerts him to danger, it is his primary sense. His millions of years developing as a specie has allowed him to adapt to great efficiency. One aspect of that is if he sees anything that alarms him he must get as far from it as possible.

To whip a horse for shying (or indeed for anything) is an act of profound stupidity and convinces the horse that we are indeed an unintelligent race. Not only will he feel confused that we have just acted like a predator obviously we are working with this alarming creature that has just fluttered or terrified him and we and this creature (bag in the hedge) are out to kill him. So the human on his back is obviously not a member of his herd and therefore should be got rid of as quickly as possible. This may cause the horse to spin, shake us or even drop his head and try to dump us. Now do you understand a scenario we are creating when we whip a horse that is busy protecting us from some obvious danger. How is it that we could be so stupid?

Now I am riding a horse who not only likes me, but wants to protect me in every way he can. He may dance and jump about when ignited by a desire to gallop, but he will not go out of his way to harm me or try to dislodge me, after all I am part of his herd. That was what Saint was trying to tell me all those years ago. He was trying to teach me how to ride. He was desperately trying to show me what he wanted me to do. He failed because I was just too dumb to believe that horses are smart.

When the mare I worked with in California, Ms Jones told me one day quite clearly that she did not want to be ridden anymore, as she was pregnant and lay down indicating with her head that she had something in her stomach, I panicked. I ran off and got the stud groom. By the time we returned to the paddock she was standing and eating and looked at me as if to say, “Gosh humans are so stupid.” I had to email my friend Lynette DesMaris, author of The Spiritual Life of Horses,” with the whole scenario. She confirmed Ms Jones’s message. Then I understood that the voice I heard saying that she didn’t want me to ride her anymore though she was happy to help me in anything I wanted to achieve; was her voice, inside my head. Her voice clear as crystal saying, “I love you, but leave me alone.”

Ms Jones, never made the same gestures twice. She never did the same thing twice. She once walked through a half open gate just to amuse herself about my reaction to her being free. She laughed and cried with me. She told me her story. She listened to mine. She helped me to help people. But then she one day said. “Enough.”

I had the most incredible respect for her intelligence. All horses are intelligent. Treat them like idiots and they may turn nasty. Well wouldn’t you? Horse have a deep spiritual sense, far superior than we could imagine. They want to tell us how to live and how to grow into more spiritual beings. They can show us the way but we have to be willing to take that first very important step which is to recognise that they are intelligent and that we must learn to be worthy of them. Those who are worthy will be taken into the herd. I know people who are under the protection of horses. It is a wonderful and magic place to be.

Caroline Baldock © 2002