The short answer is YES.
The other day, my horse, Chaco, got a scrape on his lower leg and back of his hoof. It was superficial, but it did bleed. So I cleaned it up, and as I was doing so, I noticed that the back of the hoof by the frog had some superficial abrasions. I wasn’t sure how to be sure it was cleaned out, so I decided to give it an Epsom salt soak in a boot.
Chaco was loose and let me put the boot on, and then he just stood there for some time while I did some chores. After a while I went over to where he was standing and asked him to pick his leg up so I could take the boot off. His response was to just stand there and not pick up his foot. I asked two more times, but to no avail. It was then I realized he was trying to tell me something.
I let go of my agenda of taking the boot off. I stood up, looked at him and said, “Let me know when you want me to take it off.” (I assumed he would “tell” me, but I didn’t know what that would look like. I was also curious to know what he would come up with when he did want me to take the boot off).
I walked away and went back to doing chores. Meanwhile, Chaco remained in his chosen place to stand, not moving an inch. Several minutes later as I finished picking up the last manure pile and was about to carry the bucket away, I heard the shifting of pea gravel in the paddock. I looked over in Chaco’s direction and noticed him starting to fidget.
“Oh, I think you want the boot off,” I thought to myself.
I wasn’t sure that was what he meant, but I knew if I asked for his foot and it came easily, then that was what he wanted.
Sure enough, when I walked over to him and bent down to pick up his foot, he picked it up freely of his own accord. I just went with his idea and removed the boot.
When this whole episode started, my concern was trying to make sure the little crevices that got scraped in the back of his foot got clean. The idea of an Epsom salt foot soak popped into my head. I wasn’t sure how long to soak, but that’s where Chaco came in with his own input. I didn’t have to figure it out on my own, he let me know.
I could have labeled Chaco stubborn when he wouldn’t pick his foot up initially for me to take the boot off. However, I would have completely missed what he was trying to communicate. Instead, when I went with what he was offering me, something much more meaningful happened. He had something relevant to say about the situation, and this human happened to figure it out.
It’s these simple two-way, cross-species communications that fascinate me. I’m always curious to know what will Chaco have to say next?