Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Saccharin for the Mind

The old mare and me


Just got done watching an old movie - a gooey saccharin horse story.

You know the kind - Wild Black Stallion can only be ridden by Sweet Young (virgin) Girl. Family farm under attack by the Evil Business Man who will cheat to win.

Yawn.

I've been around horses all my life. Had my first pony at four and still have horses five decades later. In five freaking decades, the story's plot hasn't changed. The tropes are ALWAYS the same.

Wild Horse, Evil Man wants to Break the Wild Horse. Only the Virgin can Tame the Wild horse. In many, many ways this is the Tale of the Unicorn. You know, where the Wild Unicorn can only be Tamed by the Virgin.

I wrote 'Impressive Bravado' because I was sick of the Myth of the (Magick) Horse Whisperer. Well, I'm just about as sick of the Magick Horse, too.

Pop culture has reduced the relationship between human and horse to Magick, where the horse is a Unicorn in disguise. Humans have become so detached from nature, in my lifetime, and horses so Disneyfied, that a true relationship between our species is nearly impossible. (I will stop there with the Disney Rant, I promise.)

The average person can't comprehend the complexity of equine/human relationships.

They are a prey animal. We are a predator. In order to have a relationship, there has to be trust. In order to have trust, there has to be communication.

Words are great, when the horse is trained to recognize words. Most horses don't even know their own names. What horses understand is body language.

They read us, like we read books...or computer screens.

A horsewoman, who has passed now, used to call it "Black Stallion Syndrome" which references a series of books by Walter Farley about a boy shipwrecked with a 'wild' black stallion. The boy 'tames' the stallion - they get off the island and they have an unbelievable racing career that isn't possible for a 'wild' horse.

The only horses who race in Thoroughbred races are...guess hard now...Thoroughbreds.

Oops.

Later in the series, it's revealed that this 'wild' stallion is actually a registered Thoroughbred, the pampered pet of a Sheik.

Okay...all better now.

My point, and I always have one, is that by passing horses off as 'Magick' creatures we sell them far, far short...and set humans up to get hurt mentally and physically when we interact with this powerful, complex and fundimentally gentle species.

Here's something I wrote after an encounter with a "PETA" person.

A Real Horse Story – What PETA Doesn’t Know


4/26/01

I was reading a PETA pamphlet about horses in a store the other day. A nice young woman came up to me, seeing the pamphlet, started to talk. She echoed the pamphlet's wrath about the treatment of horses by humans. There were a few issues that I agreed with her. But then she said something I found really foolish:
          “Horses are so beautiful, they should be allowed to run free, without humans bothering them. Humans are so cruel. Riding horses is torture! Did you know that they actually pound nails into a horse’s foot? How horrible! Horses are such timid animals, they never would harm a human.”
          I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing.
Horses were timid?
They should run free?
Being ridden was torture?
Horses never hurt humans?
I was nursing a couple of small bruises on my thighs where my mare Oppie had tried to buck me off. I’d been thrown into the kneepads of my saddle. I considered myself lucky, the last time she had managed to dump me, I’d gotten a concussion and broken two teeth.
There was a rope burn on my hand where her year old 500 lb., baby Tanamara had tried to drag me down the pasture instead of following me like a lady. I also had a bruise on my leg where my gentle old gelding Ned had objected to the way I tightened the girth around his belly so he had cow-kicked me in the leg.
          I was nice to this innocent person. I swallowed my laughter. “Have you ever owned a horse?” I asked her, already guessing what the answer would be. She was happy to bubble over with her experiences with horses.
         No, she hadn’t. Nor had she ever ridden a horse as an adult; but a pony ride as a child of five had made her fall in love with horses. I guessed it had been one of those carnivals where very, very gentle ponies were put in a walker to go around in a circle. But she had read a lot of books about horses.
In the face of such an expert, I was hesitant to open my mouth.
          At the same impressionable age, I had been given a small, untrained pony as my very own. It took all my eight cousins to train him to accept a rider. As the canny little beast tossed one of us, another had climbed aboard. It had been a rodeo on a very small scale. Only by sheer numbers and adult supervision had we been able to survive the carnage. After a week, the pony had learned to tolerate a rider, while most of my cousins were turned off horses for life.
         Then there was my herd of three registered Quarter Horses. If my horses had been "allowed to run free" they would die horribly.
Ned who stood 66 inches at the shoulder, ate 40 pounds of good hay, a gallon of sweet feed, all the grass he could chew, PLUS drank 10 gallons of water per day, would waste away to a skeleton in a week on a diet of just grass. Who would carefully tend his brittle hooves? He needed special plastic shoes, dietary supplements and twice-weekly treatments with expensive oils to stop his feet from cracking so badly he couldn't walk. Turned out on grass, without my care, he would die.
Oppie, fastidious as any Queen, would be highly insulted if I wasn't around to keep her bedded down properly in straw or shavings. She went so far as to do her "business" in her stall so her pasture wouldn't be dirty. Her kidneys would rupture if she hadn't had a place to potty in descent privacy!
As for our 500 pound yearling Tanamara, she was known to throw tantrums if not the center of attention. She would even try to chase off her "uncle" Ned, twice her height and weight in order to get a human to pet her. She could also be a terrorist; snaking her head and threatening to bite if she thought she would be shorted a treat.
Timid was not a word that I could use to describe any of my pampered herd. But the horse expert from PETA was still talking.
I wondered if she knew how many bales of hay a horse ate in a month or how much grain or how many loads of manure one produced. My herd ate 30 bales a month while on winter pasture, 300 pounds of grain, drank 900 gallons of water, they got their feet trimmed or shoes reset every 45 to 60 days. They also produced about 3 - 100-pound wheelbarrows of "compost" that forked out in 30-pound increments every week.
My life revolves around horse care, feeding schedules, shoes, and vaccinations then once every couple of weeks; I get to ride for an hour or two. I returned to college to get a better job so I could afford to keep my horses. I have worked as many as three jobs to support my horses.
I never told that young lady that I owned horses. It would have been a lie. I am their servant.

The truth is always much messier than fiction.

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