Thursday, March 26, 2015
Today was a sunny, crisp winter day and after months of lugging water buckets and chipping frozen manure I needed a reminder of why we do what we do. So I hopped on each buckskin for a few minutes bareback to remind myself of the joys of horses.
First was Miss Haley, our buckskin Morgan mare. She has turned into such a gentle and sweet mare, who is now my most trusted ride. Her smooth little trot is easy to sit to and I trust her not to throw any bucks while riding bareback. We ride around the paddock and she arches her neck and prances, her warm back beneath my legs bouncing up and down with each step. She carefully picks her way over the frozen rutted ground and never takes a wrong step. Though I have only had her for 4 years, we share a bond of "girl + Morgan" that is much deeper. Way, way, way back in her pedigree she is related to the soul-mate Morab of my childhood, Lady Byrd.
Next is Bucky. While I am riding Haley, my husband is brushing Bucky to keep him from being jealous. He has grown into an "in-your-pocket" little gelding who prefers the company of people to horses. He nickers as I approach with a halter, brush, or bridle, knowing that he is about to get some well deserved attention. He has a huge heart, but is frisky and as I climb onto his back sans saddle I question the intelligence of my decision. A few deep breaths later and we are connected, he settles in to a long swinging walk and enjoys a scratch of his withers. He snorts and raises his tail, but makes no wrong move as we enjoy a little jog. He has grown into a spunky, but obedient, little mount and is always trying to please.
Behind my barn, there are two large frozen mounds of soil that I ride over . . . one is covered in the frosty remains of fall grass and is only slightly raised above the surrounding ground. You have to know where to look to see it, but my eye is drawn to it every time I look out across the hay field. This is where Lady Byrd is buried. She was my soul-mate in equine form, my confidant, and best friend for almost 20 years. We battled Cushings, laminitis, heaves, and neurologic disease and with a breaking heart I had her euthanized at the age of 31.
Next to her is a newer mound of dirt, without grass on it and the dirt still maintains a different shade of brown from the surrounding ground. Here lies Bailey. A little grey Thoroughbred with a big stride and an enormous heart. He was in and out of my life for 14 years and finally came back "home" a few years ago. After years of unsoundness, and then melanomas and colic, I euthanized him as well while my best (human) friend was by his side.
This is never an easy decision. But I know in my head, as well as my heart, that there are far worse fates for a horse. You can see them everyday if you can bear to look. Horses, once loved, once cherished, dumped at auction or passed from trader to trader. Injured, in pain, shipped for days at a time without food or water. Or those who are left to starve or fend for themselves. Both of my current riding horses have known starvation and neglect. Bucky was only 2 years old when he was shipping to Canada, skinny and diseased. Being young and sound did not save him from this fate. Haley was found starving and pregnant in a herd of 30, her owner unable or unwilling to care for them any longer. A fancy color and pedigree did not save her from this fate.
Only we, as owners, can save them from this fate. And so, riding over these frozen mounds of dirt, on my beloved horses who put their trust me, I make them a promise.
I tell them: "Your bellies will always be full, hooves and teeth cared for. You will always have a safe enclosure and shelter from a storm." I whisper in their fuzzy ears, "You will be required to have manners, but will always be treated fairly and without anger." "And if you are ever suffering from a painful, debilitating illness and I cannot help you, I will euthanize you. I hope that we all grow old and grey together, but life is uncertain. This I know well. But I promise I will never send you, my beloved horse, out into the unknown without a safety net."