The Thing About Horses and Healing: a Memoir.

VinniePasture1We see them from the road and use phones to take photos. We keep a legal distance but most of us have seen neglected horses and reported them to authorities… or been haunted, wishing we had.

The photos are long distance and slightly out of focus, just like this one. It’s easy to see ribs showing and they might be visually lame to the eye. You know the horse is in trouble.

So what’s with the pudgy bay in a fly mask? Consider it his photo from the Witness Protection Program.

If you don’t recognize him, this is Vinnie, from Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue, here for evaluation. I like this photo of him, blurriness and all, grazing with a fly mask with one ear torn off. It’s hard to see but there’s a bird perched on those pointy withers of his. Oh, and it’s hard to see his ribs now, too. This is his “after” picture; I first wrote about Vinnie (story here) and readers have asked for an update.

Vinnie’s swell. He is more socially interactive now. It took over a week, but he started lying down in the sun eventually. We weren’t sure he could. He’s up to date with vaccines and he’s received a series of Pentosan injections. He stands quietly while I give them; they’ve been nothing short of a miracle for Vinnie. Now he gallops for fun; he comes at a run when I call him in. His stride is wildly long and joyous.

When he arrived it was just the opposite. And we still doubt he will be ride-able with an old injury that means his hind end looks like an egg beater from time to time. But his heart is big and full, he loves being scratched, and it looks like he is headed to foster later this month and hopefully a forever home soon. Yay, Vinnie.

It’s good news, isn’t it? We love these stories and part of it is selfish. Vinnie heals us all a little bit when we hear about him. It’s the crazy thing about horses…

I’ve had a couple of occasions when it was my job to ask people for money for horse advocacy and rescue. I don’t play fair; I ask the tough question first:

“How many of you have been rescued by a horse?”

Then I watch. Invariably most hands quickly go up, with easy smiles and some laughter. Some of us were rescued from being cosmetic zombies, tech junkies, or victims of fashion. We’re saved from boredom and complacency. We use horses as an excuse to be outside in the sun instead of cleaning the house. Each of us has a way of describing that irresistible smell that’s part sweat, part fly spray, and part dream-come-true.

But as I look around the group, some jaws are set and their eyes seem distant, hidden under furrowed brows. They straighten their shoulders a bit but there is no smile. They raise their hands resolutely and hold them high and still–as if testifying, as if standing to be counted. For them, rescue is a life-and-death personal issue. I recognize these committed hands because I raise mine the exact same way. In that moment we lose our humor because the depth of gratitude we feel toward horses is immense. We literally owe our presence in the world to the memory of some old horse.

About then my voice seizes up. I don’t want this to be about me because there are so many others with the same experience. I’m common in this group. So I continue to ask for money and notice quite a few of us have something in our eye. We act like its dust because we’ve developed some pride, but we’re fooling no one.

And so, when we see a photo of Vinnie like this, we see ourselves, even as we celebrate him. That’s how rescue works–it’s contagious. It doesn’t matter who does it first, horse or human, but it starts in a small, seemingly insignificant way and eventually radiates out in all directions. In the beginning, it’s rough. Horses reflect our fear and hurt, but if we ride it out, smelling mane and trying to forge a language with a horse, until in the end, we reflect their confidence. We become good lead mares in our own lives.

Riding is a school of humility and selflessness, its practice if it is done well, tends to make better Human Beings –Nuno Oliveira

We started young. Lots of us came to positive horsemanship because of rough handling as children. We learned firsthand that violent dominance would never build trust, and lots of us escaped to the barn. Horses were the safe haven we found there. They spoke the language we hoped to hear in our homes.

There’s a barn joke that horses are cheaper than therapy. I have done the research and it isn’t actually true. But the more time we spend with horses, the more we heal. As we move forward with our horses, it gets easier to let go of fear in our human lives and forgive ourselves of our pasts. For some of us, being with a horse is our first taste of honesty. It works like church because even the angriest atheist can see the divinity in a horse. They’re undeniable miracles and some of it rubs off on us. Like salvation.

The thing about horses rescuing us is that it works impersonally, just like gravity, healing each of us whether we think we need it or not. We just say yes and whether we need a healing from helmet hair or total abandonment in the world, horses will carry us through it. When the day comes that we realize the debt we owe to horses, we work to do better for them. We learn to ride more kindly and communicate more clearly. We discover we have compassion to spare, so we give back by helping horses.

For some of us, horses are just a “hobby”, an overwhelming passion that drives our lifestyle, finances, and everyday choices and activities. It’s like having a combination gambling addiction and an obsessive-compulsive disorder, that we proudly brag about, while spending every spare moment, year after year, in the company of horses.

And then for a lot of us, it’s something bigger than that.

Stable_Relation_3D_Cover[1]Stable Relation: I’ve written a memoir about the farm I grew up on, the farm I have now, and the horse that carried me in between. I didn’t write it because I think I am so very unique or important; indeed my experience is more common than it should be. I wrote it for all of us who share the experience of being healed by the animals in our lives. Stable Relation is available now on Amazon (book link here) and soon everywhere else, in paperback and eBook. With a big gratitude-scratch to my Grandfather Horse, who gave me my voice.

 

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

19 thoughts on “The Thing About Horses and Healing: a Memoir.

  1. nina Black Reid

    Who rescues whom ? I just ordered my copy of your book ! I have rescued three horses . I live in Washington, DC. My horses are boarded an hour away. They are happy and safe. I promised them I would take care of them for the rest of their lives. At sixty I am the luckiest “Girl” in the World !!!!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. valerie

    Yay Vinnie!!! Wishing him a GOOD life. Have just ordered several copies of your book. Every one that I know that loves horses is getting one. And a few who don’t know they love them. Yet.

  3. Sue Blount

    The horses of Days End Farm Horse Rescue have given me much more that I have ever given them. And my school horses where I take lessons have hearts of gold.

  4. “It works like church because even the angriest atheist can see the divinity in a horse. They’re undeniable miracles and some of it rubs off on us. Like salvation.”

    Last weekend some of us were sitting around talking about our horses and the barn we board at. I own a long retired OTTB gelding, and board in a Standardbred harness racing barn. I am the “odd man out” in a way. However, we all love horses and need them in out lives.
    One older gentleman no longer owns horses, but hangs out there in the mornings. For him the barn is a social club of sorts. A place of peace before he goes back home to care for his wife. . whose Alzheimer’s is progressing.
    For one of the other trainers it’s a part of his life passed down from his father, when they used to use the horses in the fields and raced them at county race tracks as well. For his son, it’s a thing he has to connect with his father.
    For me, like the above son pointed out correctly. It’s my church. The barn. The horses. They are my peace. My “god” My heart and soul.

  5. Betty & Daisy

    Thank you anna; will order soon; so happy that you found the publisher; take care, stay in touch with us and your horses. daisy

  6. Thank you Anna for your stories. How you touch my heart so many times. Crying behind my computer. They are so magnificent, kind hearted, great animals the horses. Thank you again for putting it into words. Please continue….;-).

  7. When I was a child growing up where “dairy was king”, I was not allowed in the barns. That’s where the men worked. Women and girls belonged in the kitchen. When I bought a farm, my parents were apalled. Why would you want to have horses and be in that dirty barn? They never understood how I can just “be one” with my barn and horses. How just the smell of the old wood and ancient manure and leather can bring me to tears…
    Then again, I never understood their obsession with golf and golf courses. I just want to make them into cross country courses! 🙂
    Thanks Anna for the book.. I’ll be excited to read it. You are an excellent writer who can put our thoughts in words.

    1. Heheh… we could be related! I was on a dairy farm too, but I got sent to the barn where the men didn’t want me either. I got lots of free time that way… Thanks. I’ll be curious what you think.

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