Horseman’s Handshake – Even toddlers can learn a respectful way to be with animals. Well supervised of course.
When my daughter was 1,5 year old, I met this glorious half Arabian mare named Bella. She was an 8 year old Arabian/Hackney Cross. She belonged to an elderly lady, that got Bella, and her dame years ago, for her son. The son had left home, and Bella, her dame, and her little brother was enjoying their days out in a pasture. They were fed, but not handled, for years. The owner started to look for homes for her beautiful horses, she physically couldn’t handle them herself. At the time I fostered several horses in need at my property, until they were physically and mentally ready for forever homes. Many of them came from abusive homes, or were owner surrendered because of problems caused by human stupidity. I had room for one more horse, but not all three.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I entered their pasture. They were on a 40 acres pasture, and the owner did not want to come with me into their pasture. Neither did her sister. I was warned that they might come running, and be pushy. The only interaction they had with humans were at feeding time. They did indeed come running. The older mare, Bella’s dame, stopped at a distance when she didn’t recognize the person in her pasture. Bella’s little brother came running at full speed. He wasn’t that little, around 15.5hh, a 4 year old unhandled Morab gelding. He was beautiful, despite his long hooves. He did not have any manners, and I had to drive him away from me, as he did not respect my space. He was not used to someone setting a boundary, not letting him come up. He quickly turned around, and returned to his mom. That left me with Bella. That I secretly was most interested in. She had been handled, and even ridden, by the son, five years earlier. She trotted up to me with dancing movement, but with soft eyes, in a respectful way. She stopped a few feet away, and asked to be invited to my space, begging for attention.
That was how our friendship started. It was a smooth journey. She wanted so badly to be friends. She never said no. Bella was not the least insecure, or scared of anything. She was very brave, just craved interaction. I visited her a couple more times, and brought her home a week later. My house was in the middle of the property, with a horse shoe shaped, 10 acres horse pasture around it. If I was in the house it did not matter what window I looked out through, Bella was there looking at me! She always knew where I was.
Bella immediately adopted my daughter as well. I could be busy doing chores, while my daughter would waddle out in her diapers, calling out Bella’s name, and Bella would come. Every time. They took walks together around the property. (Always within eyesight.) There was other horses in the pasture, but they knew better than coming close to Bella and my daughter. Bella was the alpha. Bella was a very special horse. She had the typical high leg movement of a Hackney Horse, was very beautiful, despite her stocky build, she looked light when she moved. By herself, she never just walked, or trotted, she danced like an Arabian. With my daughter she would walk extremely slow, usually with her head low, next to my daughter’s arm/shoulder. My daughter sadly don’t remember Bella at all. I am sure that her subconscious remember her clearly.
My daughter inviting Bella to come up to her.
My daughter standing still, waiting for Bella.
Horseman’s Handshake, a polite, respectful way to greet a horse. You let the horse approach you, and when he/she does, you offer the horse to smell the back of your hand. (There’s never treats involved in this.) Only if/when the horse wants. You respect the horse’s space, and the horse respects you. I think this is especially important to teach our children, since they are so small, and we don’t want them to get run over.
Many horses enjoy to smell their humans hair, as a part of the greeting process.
..and off they went, to explore together.
I often think of Bella. I did make sure that she got a good home. I truly believe she did. Even though she screamed the whole way leaving our home. I heard her screaming, until the sound of the horse trailer vanished in the distance. It was one of the most difficult good-byes I’ve ever had to say. The story I shared with my photos, was a typical day in the pasture with Bella and my daughter. What’s your story today?