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: 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.