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What animals know that we don't

Feb 2, 2017 By Betty Starks Case

In my experience, it's a considerable amount

Horses? I'm probably the last columnist in Wyoming you'd expect to be informed on the subject. But a recent news article about a mare named Valentine caught my attention when she became seriously ill on a pack trip.

When she could no longer navigate the high country on her own, Valentine was left behind, regretfully, by a mountain wilderness outfitter and his men.

Horses, like cats, may have more than one life.

With the name Valentine, I'm surprised the mare didn't hide out until Feb. 14. When the packing guide returned to the mountains to take her body out, he found her several miles down the mountain, alive and in good health. Her story writer seemed amazed that grizzlies hadn't devoured her.

Actually, grizzlies probably are hibernating. But who knows? My brother, who battled grizzly nightmares when he was a child, declares he learned to "make friends with the bears." I don't know how, but who's to say a horse named Valentine couldn't do the same?

A Jackson woman who has been around horses all her life, said, "I just despair at that animal being left out in the deep back country with all the risks that occur for people or for animals in one of the roughest winters we've had."

She seemed to be blaming the packers, but I wonder what she expected them to do? Carry a 1,500- to 2,000-pound horse out of the mountains? Shoot her to "end her misery" when she still had unknown life to live?

In the end, Valentine was rescued and didn't even need veterinary care. Did she make friends with the bears? Or might horses know some things we don't?

Valentine's story stirred memories of Pheasant Crest Farm, where Ned's and my horses taught us a few things that most city folks never experience with equine creatures.

We were both raised in the country, something we've long considered strengthening, both physically and morally. But farm horses were mostly work animals, not pets like our Brandy and Lady. Big and strong and shiny, Grandpa's team named Ol' Blue and Give a Damn clearly had personality. Always decked out in the best harness available, their attire far outshone that of their owners. But weren't they earning a family's living?

At Pheasant Crest Farm, Brandy, Ned's buckskin quarter-horse mare with black mane and tail, was high strung and smart as they come. She knew I was afraid of her and responded accordingly. Ned handled her just fine. Still, she could outfox him if she felt it necessary.

When Brandy's dun-colored colt, Mick, was born one chill April morning, it didn't take long for Brandy to realize her babe was bonding with Ned instead of her. When Mick emerged from inside his warm mother to the cold outdoors, Ned worked fast to dry him off lest he suffer a chill. Ned's coveralls now smelled strongly like Mick himself.

But Brandy wasn't going to wait until later to regain her graceful body. The response to birth, she knew, was to overcome all the stress as quickly as possible. With tired, limp belly muscles drooping after the long birthing, Brandy knew just what to do. She lay down and rolled from side to side for several minutes.

We couldn't believe our eyes. When she stood, all organs and muscles were in place, her body sleek and beautiful again.

"Why don't we human females know that?" I wondered aloud.

With all the confidence of new motherhood now, Brandy moved into the area of action, nuzzled Mick, and offered him fresh, warm milk, relaxing her hind leg to show him where his first meal waited and pulling him close with her nose.

Mick recognized this as the real thing. Ned could play with him later.

With the night turning cold and stormy, Ned, fearing he might lose the first colt he'd ever midwifed, put him in a small shed with sturdy wooden panels to protect him yet allow Mick and Brandy to see, smell, and touch one another.

Next morning, we found the panels intact. Mick was outside with his mother who had somehow lifted him several feet over panels where she could give him the care she knew he needed.

Then there's the story Ned loves to tell of my calm, dependable black Morgan horse, Lady. He and several other men took Lady to the mountains as a pack horse for one of their high-country fishing trips.

Heading home, they started down a trail they were sure they'd ascended. Lady rebelled. The fishermen thought she was suffering some sort of high-country confusion. But Lady kept returning to her chosen route, stubbornly objecting to any other. Finally, the men began to notice familiar signs they'd observed on the way up - clues only Lady recognized or remembered.

Like Valentine, Brandy and Lady had their own sense of survival. If theirs didn't coordinate with the human version, maybe the answer could be, so to speak, "make friends with the bears." Like teach them.

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