The second senior horse I took in, Thunder, did not want to be touched or groomed when he first came. He had just retired from eight years as a therapy horse, and I think he was done with being touched.
Once a week I brushed him just to check his coat. Other than that, I didn’t touch him. To the naked eye, you would think that I didn’t love Thunder. But the opposite was true. I cared so much about his long-term well-being that I respected his current need not to be touched. I figured eventually he would touch me, rather than me touch him.
One morning after I had finished feeding all the horses, I realized I was tired and really wanted to take a nap. I was about to drive home to do that when I remembered I had a foam camping mat in the trunk of my car. It was a beautiful day, and I saw Thunder taking a nap under the trees. I got my foam mat, and headed to the same grove of trees.
So as not to inadvertently put any pressure on Thunder, I kept my distance and ignored him as I walked by to find a tree off the beaten path for my nap. As I set up my mat, Thunder left his own napping spot and started walking toward me. I continued to ignore him, curious to see what he had in mind without any interference from me. To my surprise, he stopped 15 feet away (10-15 feet is a horse’s sense of personal space). Facing me, he cocked a hind leg in relaxation and took a nap.
I was honored.
He didn’t want to be touched, but he did want connection. For months he taught me about all the communication that goes on among horses before they ever physically touch each other. It was a whole new experience. Then it dawned on me, this horse that didn’t want to be touched was sharing something far more important with me: his experience of his world.