Sometimes people tell me that I’m preaching to the choir with my blog. That it’s the other “really creepy horse people” who need to read my blog. But then sometimes the choir gets tired of my preaching, too.
I confess; I do preach. Twice a week for over eight years, my blog holds forth on equine topics large and small. I write like a clock ticks, to mixed reviews. I do a lot of horse reading myself, and I don’t like being bored, so I try to spice up my blog. Again, to mixed reviews. Sometimes I write love notes to horses and people cry. Sometimes I rant, and people get put-off. We aren’t short on opinion. I’m a weird combination of art and science; an equine professional and a horse-crazy girl. Mostly, I try to advocate for horses.
Does it ever feel to you like no matter how hard you try with your horse, you never quite get it right? I feel that way. Take boarding; I’m not thrilled with my horse’s turn out. And I own the barn.
Do you ever long for the old days before we knew about biomechanics and obscure equine health concerns and all the training debates? When we never worried about fear, or if a bit was harsh or if horses had feelings?
No. We never miss the “bad” old days; when we look back we wish we had done better. Even the past isn’t innocent. We still feel guilty for bouncing the reins like a cowboy when we were five. We feel guilt for what wasn’t diagnosable. And not invented. Guilt for training in that way we were all trained to train. Guilt for all the things we innocently perpetrated when we didn’t know better. We blame ourselves and we blame each other.
Because one day we found out, from a vet or a trainer or from reading too many books, that somehow our horse is our fault.
Say you have trouble with something under saddle and someone gives you a tip that works. In hindsight, you know you were the problem, but then, the solution as well. The worst part is that it’s usually our fault and the best part is that we can change and improve.
But somewhere in the process, we get familiar with a certain angst as horse people; it’s the flip side of the joy we feel around horses. It’s knowing that if something goes wrong, it’ll be on us. We feel responsible. And at the same time, life-long horse people learn something new every day. In other words, every day is a brand-new opportunity to get it wrong.
Yet here we are. We don’t always succeed but we aren’t quitters.
It’s true that my readers are the church choir. No one beats horses here; we’d be more likely to kill horses with kindness, and then feel guilty about that. We try too hard, spend too much, never give up, and then, if it all goes well and we end up with a thirty-year-old horse, we feel a failure that they got old.
Maybe a better question is what is it about horses that hook us so deeply? I’m not being rhetorical; since the beginning of time, when horses first started trying to domesticate us, we’ve painted them on cave walls, burst into tears watching them run, and for some of us, took the blame when we fell short.
At times like this, Edgar Rice Burro usually has a few words. Being a donkey, he’s blessed with a clarity that often escapes me. And no, he doesn’t dictate into an app or steal my computer to type, while Arthur, the goat, does the spell check. That would be silly. (Edgar Rice Burro uses mind control over my hands, sometimes for typing and sometimes for scratching his backside. I become robotic under his influence. But it’s probably still my fault.)
Edgar Rice Burro says:
“Oh, my. Leave it to a human to use their brain against themselves rather than looking for ways to open the gate into the spring pasture. That “self-aware” part of your mind gets you in way more trouble than a good sense of smell and a prehensile nose ever will. You’re too hard on yourself. It’s like Maya Angelou says, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Sure, there are bad humans; when they’re around, we pull ourselves deep inside. We volunteer for you soft ones. We know humans think too much; we worry about your worry. And we like your confident smiles as much as you like our ears. (Well, those of us who have ears worthy of praise.) Sometimes, it’s hard to breathe when humans are sad. We’re pragmatic; we think you should get over it. Your time is better spent scratching our backsides.
If you don’t believe me, see yourself through your dog’s eyes. What they lack in long-ear wisdom, they make up for with spit and wag. Rest assured; we’re smart, we read your intentions. Every time you march out before breakfast to throw our hay, we know you. You’re perfect.”
The trick is to feel compassion without an over-abundance of sentimentality. For horses and for ourselves, it’s about balance; trading guilt for forgiveness and positive confidence, despite our imperfections. The other word for that is humility. And did that donkey just quote Maya Angelou?
A call out to my fellow equine professionals. We’re livin’ the dream. We chose a career stomping around in people’s passion for horses. It’s dangerous ground but there we are, telling people it’s all their fault while trying to be as charming and positive as possible when delivering the news. All this, and a retirement plan that involves horse manure. With some donkey mixed in, if we’re lucky.