Are horses more responsive than people think? Helping Zimas help himself

Zimas last September. I wish my camera was good enough to capture all the colours of this amazing stallion. The dark part of his tail turns to deep red under bright sunlight.

Zimas last September. I wish my camera was good enough to capture all the colours of this amazing stallion. The dark part of his tail turns dark red under bright sunlight.

This is just one of the numerous other blogs I want to write to support the view that our equine friends are clever creatures, who don’t just respond to commands they have learned during their schooling. After my first horse riding lesson, I read some general things about horses and I remember a text saying that the equine brain has been found able to perform quite complex processes, even solving crosswords. Some people think it’s hilarious to treat a horse like a human and find the image of me interacting with a horse like that quite funny. But some notable experiences I have had prove that we have to look at horses’ intelligence much closer. You don’t have to be a whisperer to interact with a horse. All you have to do is give it some respect and some space, as if it was a human friend.

Today our protagonist is Zimas, a 15 year old, 800kg beast. Yannis, my first instructor and one of my best friends, bought Zimas to celebrate the birth of his son, Alexander, eight years ago. Zimas, having an absolutely lovely movement, has been declared four times as Crete’s most beautiful horse (and in fact he walks and behaves like a beauty contest diva or so, but this is another story). But his achievements do not stop here. When Alexander was still a young toddler (3,5 years I think), he won a race on his first horse and was recognized as the youngest racing champion in Greece at that time. On the other hand, Zimas has a major handicap; he likes crawling everywhere and on everything; pooh, mud, hay, sand and the list goes on. When I met him, he was covered in a thick paste made of pooh and soil.

On that Sunday last August, right after my alarm went off at 06:00, it seemed to me that everything could go wrong. That day a couple of tourists who had booked a trail never appeared, so Yannis and I spent the morning eating pancakes, drinking coffee, chatting and working at the stables (OK, I also had the chance to practice my trot). At noon we took Zimas from his stall and led him to a nearby field, where he would take some fresh air and eat something. Yannis would take the chance to show me how to safely tie a horse, as he was planning to find one for me by Christmas. You see, my decision about a second MA in England was not yet final and everybone hoped I would change my mind. So, he showed me how to tie a horse and then turned away, to do other chores. I stayed behind to understand the knot. Then Zimas had the great idea to crawl on the rich soil. As he was falling, I saw a sharp piece of wood standing right underneath, able to pierce his stomach! I told Zimas; “Zimas! Be careful! A piece of wood is underneath! You are going to get injured”! Zimas noticed where I was looking at and, although he could do nothing, he stop rolling and stayed with his back on the ground with the stick pressing the right side of his stomach. But the poor animal, being so huge, could not move without getting pierced! Then I told him; “Please don’t move at all! I’m going to ask Yannis for help!” Zimas then stayed still, keeping all his legs in the air and doing his best to keep them in that position. He was staring at me with the expression of a human who feels he’s in big trouble and is prepared to do anything he’s told to facilitate his saviour. I could see it! While I was running for Yannis I took a glance at Zimas. Zimas was lying still in the position I had left him, waiting for help!

Well, and, with this chance, Yannis taught me one more skill; how to help a horse when it falls, with a dangerous object right next to it. That was a very important lesson for equestrians living in Crete’s unfriendly environment! And of course, an indication that animals can cooperate with you like humans, should they feel they can trust you.

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