Talking Animals at Midnight

Just in from the night feed. It’s longjohn weather, my head bandaged with layers of hats and a muffler, thick boots, a winter barn coat that makes me look like one of those inflatable lawn ornaments folks have in town. It’s ten degrees on a particularly black night when the stars are the starkest white. There’s a silent dusting of snow.

The night is so quiet that animals aren’t hunkered down in their stalls. Instead, they are standing in friendly groups, playing nose games. When they hear the backyard gate, there is a round of nickers, each voice recognizable. Edgar Rice Burro takes a few wheezing gasps warming up for his full-out bray.

Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. I love this night for its supernatural quality. You can half-see every horse you ever loved in the periphery, never really gone at all. Throw some extra hay for the long darkness tonight. Extra hay for the horses who have walked on, for those yet to arrive, and for those who have none. Throw extra hay as an affirmation that it’ll all be okay.

European countries have traditional stories about animals magically talking at midnight. Some say it starts with the Feast of Santa Lucia, others say Solstice or others, Christmas Eve. It’s oxen and donkeys mainly. One fable says oxen knelt and welcomed the baby Jesus verbally. Like many folktales, some have pagan roots as well. In those stories, animals talk at midnight, but not always kindly. Some animals take revenge and owners get their due for poor care or over-work. Which does sound like something to celebrate.

Annual PSA: For all the talk about the “War on Christmas,” kindly remember that some of us feel that Christmas declares war on us every year. It would be Christian to remember that not all of us are Christians. Not everyone has a family. Some of us have lost loved ones. Some of us feel excluded or judged unfairly or are just licking our wounds from a hard-fought year. Not everyone can keep up. Santa brings some kids computers or real ponies, while some kids get socks. Even Santa isn’t fair. (Every year, I meet more people who choose to not celebrate the holiday. It gives me hope.)

So, I drag my feet, considering the variations on this folktale, as I finish in the barn, nod to the ghosts, and start back to the house. On a sacred night like this, I hear voices. Oh, that’s a lie. I always hear voices. Animals are chatterboxes if you listen to their body-voice and even the most stoic horse over-talks when he thinks he’s being heard.

What do animals say? No shortage of opinions there. I must hear my father’s voice loudest, also a ghost now, but still insisting that dumb animals, beasts of burden, can’t think or feel. A traditional majority agrees with him. Science says differently and more of us are curious. That’s a partial win.

The other extreme? A touchy subject. I’ll call them Romanticizers. They love horses so much that they have a barn full of skinny rescues with long hooves. Some rally behind the term NO KILL and sometimes that means suffering. Some believe horses are divine spiritual teachers. They put human words into equine mouths to support their goals or politics, and then feel superiorly-humble about it. It’s okay. Horses don’t seem to take that seriously.

I have my own opinions, not any more popular. I don’t think horses consider us the center of their lives, no matter how much we wish they did. They have full sentient lives, more connected with the herd than the humans who visit a few hours a day. Some of us are pretty interesting to them, but we are other.

I’m interested in those of us in the middle of these two thought extremes, trying to listen and be perceptive, while not over-humanizing horses. It’s challenging because we only have our human experience to compare with theirs. Kind of a dilemma, if you follow. It means pushing our love and passion aside, using our human language to describe them, while respecting their equine nature and instinct primarily.

All that said… on this magic night, what might horses say?

Some say humans are a warlike species, angry and cruel, to be avoided and never trusted. Other equines wonder if humans might be a sentient species. Some think we seem to read their minds from time to time. Other times humans are flighty and spook easily. They wonder if humans are capable of communication, so they come close and try to listen. Beyond the din of our words, they notice that many humans give conflicting messages. Many are timid or ill-tempered.

So, they give us calming signals to let us know that they are no threat. That we don’t have to be so loud in our love or hate; that we don’t have to try so hard. They share breath with us, suggesting peace as an alternative to our incomprehensible mental chatter. Some horses think humans might even have souls.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
Currently planning summer clinics in Scotland and the UK.
2018 is filling quickly; please contact me here if you would like to host a clinic or attend one. Check out our entire clinic schedule here. 

 

63 comments

  1. Warlike … I’m hung up in that unhappy place right now. But I hear your voice, sometimes, and it helps.

  2. Thanks for that little aside about the “war on Christmas”.

    The offense taken at those of us trying to be inclusive by wishing happy holidays, by acknowledging that not everyone worships (or doesn’t) the way we choose to – in a nation founded on separation of church and state by folks fleeing religious persecution… the hypocrisy floors me.

    I love my midnight visits to the barn this time of year. I dearly hope that the animal chitchat reflects kindly on me… that’s the goal anyway.

    Cheers to the returning of the light! Peace on earth – goodwill to all.

  3. Kind of comforting to hear someone else vocalize my feelings about Christmas! Used to love it as a kid – but watching the horrible commercializing of this time of year just turns me off. People spending money they don’t have – for what? It never used to be about what you GOT!
    And the number of families & children all over the world doing without anything? The animals that are just tossed away, because they got old or hurt? Nope not feeling warm & cuddly at all!
    And yeah, MaxieJane, Anna’s voice does help!

  4. I too eschew the chaos that consumes the final month of the year. I try to balance my aversion to what Christmas has become with not being perceived as a total scrooge.
    Do I justify not donating to the annual office holiday fund raiser by revealing that I choose instead to make my holiday donations to animals? No. I remain silent and get my rewards from a silent minority, literally dying to be heard.

    • Have to say I agree wholeheartedly! Not gainfully employed since 4 years ago, so don’t have to justify anything! I just donate small amounts to the same rescues all year long. One of mine is Chilly Pepper-Miracle Mustang. The couple that run it spent lots of last winter in the Dakotas at the former ISPMB sanctuary – loading more than 800 formerly wild horses & trailering them to Colorado & Nevada with other organizations after ISPMB became overwhelmed.
      There are so many organizations that need help now – especially with the current push to once again bring back horse slaughter in OUR country.
      And then there is this blog which always makes me feel at home once again – even though its been 15 years since my horse was put down. This is like coming (not home) but back to the barn!

      • Happy to have you here with us… and I agree about donating. Our rescue always takes in horses this time of year, it feels good to spend the spare dollars on animals.

  5. I know my horse like I know myself. I remember when we left our “home barn” just how upset he was. And we were gone for a long 7 yrs. But we came back a few years ago.

    I was there the afternoon an old friend, the man that taught me so much about caring for my OTTBs racing jewelry. And fed my boy every morning when he arrived to begin his day… came into the barn. I had seen him earlier after I had gotten my boy off the trailer and turned him out. But my horse had not. His reaction upon seeing our friend was nothing short of sentient. He recognized him. And was both vocal, and physical in his recognition and excitement. He made so much noise. His lips, eyes, ears, feet, and tail were all moving. His happiness upon getting off the trailer and looking around was nothing compared to his happiness at seeing our friend. And that is just one time that he has “talked” We have daily moments where we are in such sync with each other, that it becomes other worldly. Even walking to the pasture gate.
    Maybe it comes from seeing him twice a day, for 15 years. Getting him through hoof abscesses, and dealing with “the knee” Hand walking him for hours, and just hanging out on the infield grass. Grooming him til he shines like he did when he was racing. And listening to him when he tells me “Enough. I just want to eat” And backing off. 🙂

    As my daughter said when she was 4 or 5. “All animals talk. We just have to listen”

  6. Lovely Anna. As usual you are right on. To be a child again. To hear all animals talking. To feel the magic in Christmas. I hate how commercial Christmas has become. I prefer the simple, the sacred. I’ll limp out on my post surgical foot in it’s boot to spend quiet time with my friends. The horses, heifers and cats. Out in the barn is the most sacred place. People more this year than ever I my recollection are not “Christmasy” at all. No one speaking Merry Christmas at stores. Not even a politically correct Happy Holidays to be heard. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and do get a cursory greeting back but not before being met by a strange look like I was speaking an alien tongue. Strange I think. Sad I am. At least the animals have it right!

  7. Excellent blog!
    I am a scrooge about Christmas also. I agree with Saspinks and Maggie.
    And I believe that if you look on the calendar of annual “holidays” Christmas is most certainly included.
    Thanks again Anna! 🙂

  8. I know horses have souls, so do dogs and cats and goats and all the other animals. I keep hoping we humans will wise up and try harder to be worthy of the animals thinking we might have souls too.
    I have to agree, the Christmas season is deeply disappointing. It doesn’t seem to matter too much that so many make such a mess of the holiday season (regardless of faith/religion). I’d rather spend this time of year in a barn with horses and dogs, they know far more than we humans want to credit them with.

  9. Another good one, Anna, but I could make that comment every time you write. I’m not Christian either but I do love Christmas so I hope you don’t mind that I wish you a merry one.

  10. For me Christmas works best when I have no expectations from it, but just accept what it brings. If it brings family and friends, fine. If I spend it alone, fine. I accept what the day brings or turns into. And no judgement. If people want to be materialistic, decorate every inch of their house, let them. It’s their choice. Why judge? If people don’t celebrate or don’t want to celebrate, let them. No judgement. I don’t believe animals care that it’s Christmas or not. They pretty much accept the day, whatever it brings.

  11. So much to be grateful for and this is a wonderful season to reflect on the past year. As I do that, Anna, thank you. For your heart, your ability to share thoughts many of us can’t find the words for, to make confusing clear. You are a treasure, and I consider myself very fortunate to have found you. In a world that sometimes seems off kilter, your voice is grounding. Thank you.
    Jo Ann

    • Thank you for the kind words…That ‘time to reflect’ is about my favorite part of this season. What a year, off-kilter is right. Wishing you the best in the New Year, Jo Ann.

  12. Thank you Anna. I had wonderful Christmases as a child and young adult. But in later years not so much. I have become depressed with the shorter days. But I love the winter night sky. This winter I have no horses to stand and gaze at it with, but I am still drawn to the barn and I will still be out there looking up. Maybe I will be blessed to have visitors from the past. No expectation of that, but I will be there. The star light is helpful. I am looking forward to the new year. The possibilities are endless. I pray that I can provide what is needed.

    • My experience is the opposite. My childhood/early adult holidays were horrible. The last years, here on the farm, have been the best. No “celebration” just quiet time. I started writing Stable Relation on a Christmas Eve. Best of all possibilities in the New Year, For each of us.Thanks for your comments here, Judy.

  13. A neighbor friend of mine for the past four years starts her Christmas party with a live nativity reenactment at her barn, complete with horses, donkeys, and other surrounding barn animals. Her family and friends take on the parts of the original “characters” of Mary, Joseph, the 3 Wise Men, and angels. Babies have played the part of Jesus nestled in a manger.
    Interestingly,for me, despite the number of humans gathered around, just being in a barn with animals is so calming and feels so right.
    I, too, would like to echo the sentiments of learningtolovehorses…it makes so much sense! Thanks to you, Anna, and all of you on this blog.

  14. I love Christmas and I love celebrating it. It gives me great joy to celebrate the birth of Jesus, even if we don’t actually know when he was born. Just having a day to do it and be close to family and friends, doing all the decorations, wishing others “Merry Christmas,” brings me joy. I just lost my mom and I feel sadness at not having her this Christmas, but joy in the knowledge that I will see her again in Heaven. No, Christians are not declaring war on anyone who does not know Christ by wishing them Merry Christmas. There would be no such thing as Christmas without Jesus and since people tend to be a little kinder to each other at this time of year, I think it’s a wonderful thing. Merry Christmas to you, Anna. I do love your blog.

    • Thanks for your comment, Gail. For the record, I didn’t accuse Christians of a war… I think it matters less what faith we are, and more if our faith holds us when we need it. Our country was founded on religious freedom and I hope it stays that way. Happy holidays to you and yours.

  15. While I don’t think the intent of this post was to attack Christmas in any way I do have to say that I celebrate Christmas as the birth of the Savior and try to keep my focus on that gift. I learned long ago how to shop affordably and manage my time and comittments so I can enjoy the season. Sharing our opinions respectfully is rewarding and enriching, I’ve enjoyed the comments here!

    I do appreciate your thoughts on the solstice and the animals communicating as only they can do – a beautiful thought to reflect on during the days to come. I tend to think of my dogs as more than dogs, but balance that with listening to them and putting myself in their place, thinking as they do in order to think of them as the beings they are. The cats, however, tend to be affectionate, but keep their thoughts bottled up – unless the food bowl is empty :). Peace be with you!

  16. Wonderful blog – thank you =) Here in New Zealand, Christmas is in summer! Therefore it has a totally different “feel” to it – barbecues outside, very casual. There are still a LOT of frazzled people who say they hate Christmas because it is so stressful, but I love it! Shorts and bare feet at a great friend’s house, people dropping in and having a drink, and best of all …. no presents! Our dog comes with us because we always stay overnight, and my horse and mule get the run of our property for 24 hours so they can explore all the places they don’t often get to. I believe commercialism has “killed” Christmas.

    • That does sound like a quite nice time… too many of us “frazzle.” Maybe we need more dogs in Christmas? Thanks for the great comment, Kim.

  17. A little late but do want to respond and say I do love the season even though I am agnostic. I love the decorations, the pretty packages, the music and the food. My dear husband really benefits from the cheerful lights in the neighborhood and home since he deals with mild depression this time of year. We also enjoy the silly Christmas movies together. This year, We both suffered from the flu on Christmas Eve and day but still had much to be grateful for. And one thing I am definitely grateful for is your wisdom. Such a gift in my journey with a young Arabian mare. Thank you for your wonderful gift of insight into my Mona’s exquisite mind.

  18. Anna, Just began rcvg your blog entries. This one, Talking Animals at Midnight, really impressed me. I have read it several times, intending to leave you a reply a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t get to it. Of course, us humans are a subject of conversation for our four-legged friends. We all know it when our friends are talking to us, it’s just that some of us are more interested in listening than others, I guess. They are really much more intelligent than most riders know. It’s heartening to hear some of your experiences and thoughts, from a horsewoman who strives to understand how horses relate to us, and also enjoys practicing the art of riding. All the best in 2018.

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