There are animals that we meet that are deemed special. For whatever reason you seem to have a connection or an understanding that others may not have. Often, for me, that seems to be the ones that no one else understands. Most people see them as misbehaved or difficult.
There have been several over the years that really stand out to me. Since this is a Tales From the Vet Truck, I will highlight one encountered in my large animal career.
I had the pleasure to serve as veterinarian to many talented horses and wonderful owners. One such horse was a Tennessee Walking horse named, Susie. She was a tall, elegant, athletic, and incredibly talented mare that was crowned World Grand Champion at the height of her career. She was retired to breed others like her. Having been turned out to pasture to be a horse and make babies she did not always look like the WGC she had been. Her mane often had knots and she had mud in places. Her usual demeanor to most people would have been described as grumpy and cantankerous.
She demanded your respect and would not tolerate you treating her like something to be subjugated. She got to choose. She needed to have the choice. She outweighed me by 1300lbs. If she was dead set on not doing something, there was no way I was going to bully her into it. She was big and she knew it. She was no dummy. Some horses can be convinced that they have no choice but to do as you say. Not Susie. She could be mean and vindictive if she wanted to be. As long you did not put her in the position to have to be that way, she would not. If she did not know you or did not trust you, you could forget it. You were wasting your time.
She also had anxiety and a few bad habits developed from boredom and stress during her show years. Those symptoms of her anxiety would reliably present in certain situations. When she was nervous or anxious, she would pop her lips. When she was suspicious or afraid of going somewhere, she would put on the brakes. If I needed her to trust me and come with me, I just lightened up on the halter or rope and asked her to come with me. Never demanded. Simply asked and give her time to decide. She would invariably concede and come with me. I knew she would, but it was all in how it was presented to her.
I knew Susie prior to her retirement and several years into her retirement. I helped Susie through 3 deliveries until her owners decided that she had enough of that as well. Then she was retired from breeding as well and fully retired to just be a horse. I felt that Susie and I had a connection. I felt that I understood her emotions. I could look in Susie’s eye and seem to feel what she was trying to say without physically hearing the words. In turn, I would ask Susie to do what I needed her to do. Again, not always with words but with body, actions, and tone of voice. She routinely came to my clinic to have her babies. Susie was watched via camera all the time and spent a good deal of her time in a large Mare & Foal stall during the last part of her pregnancy. She ALWAYS needed assistance and there were always post-delivery complications that needed medical attention. When she foaled, it was usually at night and often when it was just the two of us. I never needed help. She let me do what I needed to, and I never felt that I was in harm’s way. She seemed to know that’s what I was there for. In fact, I got the impression, that she would look at me and say, “Well go ahead and get this thing out of me.” We just seemed to have that connection.
Many factors have had a hand in the path me and my practice have taken. Since my decision to integrate small animal medicine into my practice and the decision no longer practice large animal medicine at all, Susie’s owners, and others like them have had to find veterinary services elsewhere. Because of this, I have not seen Susie in many years. In truth, I am not certain that she is still alive, but I can honestly say that I have missed her.
You do not get to experience this type of connection with every animal. Even people that work with animals daily, especially horses, cannot say that they have that level of understanding with each one. Some do not lend themselves to that connection and some simply do not care to. It is a special understanding that is unique to the person and the animal. I am sure that Susie’s owners also had a connection with her, but it was different than my connection to her. Not better, deeper, or more important…simply different. I have cherished those special connections and will continue to stop and take the time to find them where I can.