The Kindness of Other Creatures

Can a horse sense human pain? In the case of Miller, one of the equine citizens of Henry Cowell State Park, it seems the answer is yes.

by Lindsay Overton

Feb. 24, 2015—Visitors to Wild Things in Salinas are greeted by a sign upon entry: “You don’t protect what you don’t love and you don’t love what you don’t know.” I have this quote in the back of my head when I ride my horse on the trail and I welcome opportunities to share him with others. He seems to consider himself an ambassador for horse-kind and during our trail rides he uses his repertoire of tricks (bowing, kissing, nodding, waving and smiling) to entertain any unsuspecting hiker along the way. Most often they are charmed by his antics; I think he is one of the most photographed horses in Henry Cowell! Gales of laughter usually follow one of these interactions, but occasionally there is a different outcome.

One winter day after the first rains of the season, we were moseying along the River Trail. As we turned the corner by the Ranger house we noticed a young lady walking purposefully on the trail ahead of us. Normally my horse is somewhat lazy (and arrogant?) and prefers that his audience come to him. In this case, his ears perked forward and he hastened his step to overtake her. The lady was so lost in thought that we startled her. As she turned to face us, rather than launch into his usual vaudeville act, my horse simply lowered his head and breathed on her softly. I was a little worried that she might not welcome this level of intrusion, but instead of being afraid, she laughed a little and asked if this was typical behavior.

I began to explain the showman that is my horse but stopped short as I could see she had something important she wanted to say. She broke down in tears and said that she felt my horse could tell that she needed some gesture of love. Her newlywed husband had just died in an unfortunate car accident on the roads slick with rain in the mountains. His parents were staying with her but rather than providing comfort they were driving her crazy, as if all their grief together was greater than the separate parts. She had escaped the house to go to the park which was one of her husband’s favorite places. She wanted to feel close to him as she wrote him a letter to be burned into ashes. We were both sobbing as she finished her story. My horse lowered his head, I held her hand, she gave him a big hug and we parted company.

Lindsay Overton is an avid equestrian, skier and mountain biker. This story first appeared in the Santa Cruz County Horsemen's Association January 2014 newsletter.

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