I have always loved animals for as long as I can remember. We had so many pets when I was growing up in Bacolod — from our German Shepherd, Whiskey, to our Dachshund, Inky, to my very own cat, Abner, to our pet bull, Donald (who was bottle-fed from birth), to our horse, Pinta, among others.
It was not until I was in my 50s, however, that I truly bonded with another creature — our Great Dane, Buckley, probably the largest dog in all of Singapore — whom we all considered a beloved member of the family.
Buckley slept on a mattress on the floor beside our bed, played football with me on our balcony, and spent countless hours on long walks with me in Singapore. I discovered then just how very, very much I could love animals!
During this quarantine period under COVID-19, I realized that I could connect with just about any animal if I was willing to devote time to bonding with them. Given the time and opportunity to get to know our miniature horses better on our farm in Laguna, I decided to see if I could befriend them as much as I wanted.
When Lito left me and our daughter, Bea, for a few days on our farm last May 2020, I started giving them corncobs, which I discovered, to my delight, they enjoyed far more than the pandan leaves I used to give them. Gradually, I added bananas, peeled mabolos and papayas to the mix.
By the time Lito arrived less than a week later, I had already become quite close to the youngest in the group, a colt named Hobart, whom I lovingly called “Hobie.”
At the farm, I was reminded of The Little Prince, who was told by the Fox: ‘You are responsible for what you have tamed.‘
It all started when he came close to me while I was sitting in the garden one morning, and I gave him a good scratching. He loved it so much that he stayed still for 30 minutes, enjoying it like one would enjoy a spa massage. This eventually became a ritual for us.
Pretty soon, I had gotten so close to him that he even allowed me to carry him. He had so much trust in me that he never struggled when I did it. He just relaxed in my arms and let me swing him as I sang a lullaby. It felt amazing! I thought to myself: No wonder pet sales jumped 350 percent in Switzerland during COVID. (They rose just about everywhere else, too, especially in Japan.)
At a time when I could not show my affection to relatives and friends, it felt amazing to be able to kiss and hug my miniature horses. Little by little, I got to know the other minis. The other foal, Adelaide, craved the treats but refused to let me touch her head for almost a month. She would come up to get fed by hand but would pull away when I tried to pet her on the head.
After a while, though, she got so used to being fed by me that she allowed me to touch, stroke, and vigorously scratch her. One time, she was so eager to grab some bites from me while I was in the pool that, in the hustle with the other miniatures, she fell in! She was terrified when she sank to the bottom with water over her head but, 10 minutes after she got out with my help, she was poolside again, shuffling her way to me. Absolutely fascinating!
After a month or so, Hobie even learned to drink from my cupped hands when I was in the pool. It was so beautiful to hear his cute sucking sound as he drank — pure music to my ears.
After about two months, the miniatures started the day by waiting outside our bedroom for the treats. When I opened the screen door, they came in. When I opened the screen windows, they stuck their heads in. All this for treats!
Lito and Bea said that I trained our miniature horses to be like dogs and respond to their names. I could call Hobie and Adelaide, and they would stop in their tracks and come to me, which was unusual for horses.
Among the miniatures, there was a big boss, whose name was Aloha. She was the heavily pregnant mare who commanded respect and was feared by all. She shooed away the others who tried to get a share of the treats and did not tolerate competition. Those who did not immediately move away when she came would get chased and bitten or kicked.
I had to teach her to share by stopping the feeding whenever she chased the others away. This tactic proved successful and taught her not to be so nasty and aggressive towards the others.
Folly, another pregnant mare and the mother of Adelaide, was always ready for a treat but cautiously deferred to the queen. She was sweet and well behaved and wisely waited for her turn to get a snack.
For a long time, Dakota, Hobie’s mom, never came to me for treats, even when all the others did. She just ignored me and kept on grazing. When she finally came over to try a tidbit, she realized what she had been missing all along and, from then on, eagerly rushed to me. I guess my face spelled “F-O-O-D.”
When I saw how much she had warmed up to and trusted me, I was reminded of The Little Prince, who was told by the Fox, “You are responsible for what you have tamed.” Suddenly, I became very protective of her.
Truth be told, I had the time of my life when I was interacting with my minis. I enjoyed showering them with affection and talking to them. Having them voluntarily come to me was delightful!
Before I left the farm, I was blessed also to befriend our female donkey, Fajita. She was so tame and lovable that she endeared herself to me in a very short time. Aloha did not want her with the group knowing that she was not of their kind, and chased her away whenever she tried to go near any of them. She looked so lonely and despondent, following me around like a lost puppy. My maternal instincts kicked in, and I learned to love her, too, like I loved Hobie and the others.
Pretty soon,, I enjoyed my time with my minis and Fajita so much that I did not want to return to our home in Makati. I much preferred my happy days on the farm with the animals I love.