What Does It Take To Feel At Home?

This evening, I leant on the wooden fence next to Ada as she ate, and watched my other horses organize themselves in their post feed routine. Elvis was still involved in snaffling up any possible left-over remnants that may have been discarded in various feed buckets, determined that even if they now resembled compost, to remove every visual trace.

Tango stood by the gate looking cross, giving Ada the evil eye through the space in the railings. He wanted her to know that should he have the opportunity, that delicious feed would be his, and the fact that it wasn’t was nothing more than luck with a good splash of favoritism on her part.

Merc was view-finding. He stood, surveying the distance, until one of the other two got restless and started herding his good-natured feet around. At one point, he started rolling in the dusty patch under the trees and I tried not to be offended, the part of myself in love with a clean horse silently weeping in the corner.

Ada and her different dietary needs have proved to be a blessing in disguise. Every night, we greet each other, have a conversation and a smooch, and then she waits patiently while I put her halter on and weave our way through the obstacle course to the yards. First there is a hot tape gate to get through; she has to lead, turn and wait for me to hook up the slightly awkward handle on the post, a good exercise in baby agility and patience.

Then we go through the big metal gate into the yards, where the piles of yet-to-be spread gravel wait for her to explore, and she once again is forced to stand momentarily to have her halter off and for me to get her feed. This little productive and purposeful routine has allowed me to teach her the basics of leading, and we end our feed time with picking out all four feet, a routine exam she passes with flying colours, the reward being one of general adoration from the gallery (that’s me).

Tonight, I looked at her and wondered how she was feeling. As far as horsey landing pads go, hers is a good one. She has a big pasture with lots of friends, and all her basic needs are attended to. But a question that has always fascinated me is how long does it truly take for a horse to feel at home? The question gets wider and deeper the more I think about it.

When I think of it from a nervous system perspective, our fundamental aim is to be adaptive to our environment. We are all originally born of hunter gather stock, traversing the landscapes, working, and moving with them in a reciprocal relationship of exchange. In this way, everyone- and everything- profits.

I wonder, if during these times that our definition of home might be different to what we traditionally consider it now. What does it take to feel at home? What even IS home? Is it a place, a feeling, people, a relationship? Is it all of those things?

Can our feelings of home shape-shift with our situation? When we say we are homesick, what exactly is that for?

When it comes to considering how long it takes for something or someone to feel at home, I guess that depends on how we define home in the first place.

If I consider the times I have felt homesick in the past, it’s often been for people, or horses or landscapes, but equally so it’s been for comfort and safety; the feeling of knowing somewhere, of how you fit into the ecosystem of a place and your role within the community and relationships you are a part of.

Homesickness can just as much be for a sense of certainty, safety, and predictability as much as anything else. And perhaps when we have those things fulfilled sooner, we feel at home sooner as well.

I know there have been numerous horses I’ve been blessed to join my family who appeared relatively settled on arrival only for me to realise a year or so later (sometimes more) how many behavioral “issues” or quirks had resolved once they’d settled in. And equally so, how many had arrived “highly strung” only, again, for me to realise their base nature was anything but that once they felt “at home”.

It’s often a source of befuddlement to me reading stories of people with newly purchased horses with complaints about this, that and the other, when to my mind, the much lamented horse has have barely had a chance to get their feet on the ground. Us humans, we are definitely doing better, but I think we vastly underestimate the emotional world of the horse and just how upsetting and unsettling it can be to be moved from one living situation to another.

It’s a lot.

I might never have a firm answer about how Ada is feeling or what she has had to process in her move. But like any good friend, I’ll keep showing up, keep doing what I can to make her feel safe and loved and hopefully, eventually to feel at home.

❤️ Jane