I would ask my horse, Sterling, "What brings you joy?" Joy is a special word. It connotes a state of mind and feeling that most humans don't experience too often. We use many words to express positive feelings, but you rarely hear people describe something in their lives as bringing them joy.
Sterling has a retired life with me as his novice rider. In our 4 years together he has proven to be "A Horse of a Lifetime" and has taught me to ride, and trust, and truly find joy in sharing time with him in the saddle and on the ground. I would love to hear from him what I could do to bring him the same joy he brings me each day.
The simple and loving greeting when I enter the barn, the "discussions" we have about life and our overall trust in each other has proven to bring me joy every day of the week. I would love to hear from him what brings him joy...in what I know would be his calm and loving voice.
Debra Ladley, Pennsylvania
My family doesn't live in a good place to have a horse, so of course I don't have one. If I did, though, I'd ask him if I was treating him well, if he was OK with it, and how I could do better. I live near a horse farm and so I watch how the owners treat the horses and work with them, so when I get a horse hopefully he'll have some good things to say.
Ashlyn Bair, Colorado
There is really only one question that actually matters and it's a quote from Pat Parelli: "Was it as good for you as it was for me?" The relationship with our horses must come first. Since horses can't speak we can read the answer to this question in the same way horses communicate with each other, in their body language.
Robin Dym, New Jersey
I would first ask if he hurts anywhere. Second, I'd ask what his favorite thing is that we do together and lastly, what is his least favorite thing we do together.
Amanda Wood, California
Our family had a horse from the time I was a preschooler until I attended graduate school. She was more of a pet than a horse?treated just like the dogs and cats in the yard. I would have asked her if we were doing everything we could to make her happy and keep her healthy. I would want to know if there was anything else she wanted from us. There were times when part of the fence would be down, but she didn't stray, so I would like to think she was happy with us.
Joan Weston Bellinger, Columbia
I would say...How are you doing Truman? Is there anything I can do for you to make your life better? How does the saddle feel, is it still fitting you ok even though you are older & changing shape??Speaking of shape, I?am sorry that I have gained a few pounds. I want you to know that I think you are the finest, most honest horse I have ever met, you are a real trooper and I really love you.
Dee Whitt, Arizona
My horse speaks to me all the time; a soft whickering when I come up, gentle look, a soft touch of a nose, a lick on my hands and occasionally my face. My horse can speak if I am truly listening. That being said I often ask him ?Where does it hurt?' He came to me without the ability to walk without great pain. I named him Champ because he takes everything like one and by asking him that one question and listening to his answers, he now walk, trots and canters when the weather allows. So, now I would ask him something ?New' and that is ?How can I make it better?'
Leslie McCormack, via email
I would ask him one simple question. Are you happy? I chose this question because I feel it covers everything. He could respond with his answer and elaborate if needed. I would not ask him a question so specific where it wouldn't satisfy my need to make sure he was completely content all of the time. Wanting to know and make sure your horse is happy is something every loving horse owner strives for.
Shaelyn Kelliher, New Hampshire
I am the Equine Program Coordinator at Green Chimneys, a New York State school for children who are socially, emotionally and behaviorally challenged. Much of our work is nature-based, so the equine program is scheduled into the students' regular school day. I posted your question on our bulletin board, making it an option for any student, staff or volunteer to respond. Here is what they said:
Do you like this place??Jamie
Would you like more water? How are people treating you? Do you like to be ridden? Is there anything we can do better??Shaq
Are you happy??Nick
Do you remember your childhood??Jenny
Do you have a crush on anybody? If you do, who is it??Summer
Do you like it when I ride you??Andrea
Do you like the food that you eat here? Is Christmas bran mash your favorite? How do you feel about people riding you? How do you feel about other animals being around you? What is your favorite type of weather??William
Buckley, why don't you like to steer??Xavier
Do you get jealous when I ride another horse??Paulina
What would you like from MacDonald's??Matt
Am I doing a good job taking care of you? Are you happy??Carol
Do you remember your mother? What memories do you have?Melissa
Do you enjoy being ridden or would you rather run wild?Joanne
What were some of the most enjoyable days of your life?Frank
Why do you crib?Joan (to her own horse)
Do you get tired of eating the same thing every day??Andrea (social worker)
What can I do to make you happier??Rachel (child care/dorm staff)
Carol Parker, New York
My first question to each of my three horses would be, "Are you happy?" If not, I'd want to know what I could do to make them happier? What can I do when riding that would benefit you and help bring out the very best in you? Does anything hurt? Do you like your stablemates? (That one would be asked individually as not to hurt anyone's feelings.)
Victoria, New Jersey
I have a 23-year-old Thoroughbred gelding I have ridden since he was 5. I'd like to know how he wants to spend his last years and if he understands how much I love him and how thankful I am for his generous heart. Before I bought him he had an incident where he almost drowned, and I'd want to hear that story from his perspective and why he will still jump through water like it's nothing. I'd want to know what the best time of his life was and what I can do to make him as comfortable as possible.
Lisa Johnson, Minnesota
Read more answers to this question in the May 2013 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.