Maggie Changes HFH’s Direction A couple of weeks ago I attended a Horse Abuse Investigator’s Workshop, held by the Humane Society of the United States. The workshop was held at HSUS’s Wildlife Landtrust at Meadowcreek, Arkansas, far back in the Ozark Mountains. Covering everything from crime scene investigation to barn management, the four days provided an in-depth education in a number of areas directly related to the scope of Habitat’s business.
Most of the teachers at the course were people I’ve known before, people that devote their life to aiding horses. David Garcia, Director of the Houston SPCA, is a man I greatly admire not only for his knowledge but also for his tireless energy and wonderful sense of humor. Ellen Buck, DVM, the Director of Equine Protection for the HSUS, has a seemingly endless knowledge of the inner working of horses. There were nine instructors at the workshop, all willing to give us what they knew and all devoted to the welfare of animals.
My single greatest teacher at the workshop wasn’t on the program list. Maggie is the seven year-old daughter of one of the caretakers. Raven haired and barefoot, she came to me one evening after supper, ready to talk about her greatest love – and her greatest fear. Looking back, I would have given anything for a tape recorder, for the hour of our conversation convinced me that this little girl had a bigger heart and more common sense than most people I’ve known.
She knew about Habitat for Horses, she said, because her mom showed her our website last year. She said she was thrilled when she learned that we would be at the workshop, that she loved what we are doing and wanted to talk with me about horses. The first part of the conversation centered around the rhetorical “Why do people abuse horses?” She knows there isn’t an answer to that question, knows about abuse, knows the horrors that equine abuse investigators face almost everyday.
“How can anyone who even looks at a horse not see their soul? I think the people who abuse horses lost their souls long ago. They’re dead inside.”
Then she started talking about her love of horses. “Whenever I want, I know I can go out to the barn and see my friends. They’re more than friends. They love me as much as I love them and sometimes it feels that there is no end to the amount of love they give me. I don’t think there is anything greater than just looking into their eyes, just feeling that I’m part of them and feeling the love they feel for me.”
“I read the stories on your website,” she continued. “I read about how hard you work to keep the horses alive and about the sanctuary and how you are full now and don’t have anymore room.”
“Not until we build more barns, ” I answered. “That takes a lot of money on top of the money we spend on feed and everyday upkeep.”
“Why do you keep all of them?” she asked.
I gave her my stock answer, about how we didn’t want these horses to face another abusive situation and that the only way to prevent that was to give them a forever home.
What she said next bore into me like few words ever have. “You need to not do that. You might end up with a whole lot of horses but you aren’t giving any of them a chance to really love one person, not like my horses love me. And you know what else? When you are full and can’t take in any more horses, what happens to all those horses that need you? They die, don’t they?”
I’ve been tossing this issue back and forth since the day we started – whether or not to adopt. As long as we had room, it was an acceptable policy to not adopt our horses out. Now that we are full, it becomes a real problem. This past month we’ve had twenty horses that we had to turn down, twenty horses left to a very uncertain future. Sure, ours are safe, but what about those we didn’t bring in?
Later that evening I had the opportunity to discuss the adoption vs. sanctuary issue with a number of the instructors. Not one of them agreed with me. Instead they all voiced the same opinion as Maggie – we need to bring the horses back up to as near perfect health as we can, then let them move on to someone who will give them the love and respect they deserve.
I saw Maggie the next morning out at her barn. Two giant Belgiums and two Quarterhorses were completely devoted to her, followed her around like playmates. Remember that Maggie is seven years old. She’s almost as big as the leg of one of the Belgiums, yet her father had nothing to worry about with her walking around them. The love they felt for her, and her love for them, was obvious to everyone there.
What I saw that morning was a beautiful little girl that had a great start in life because of her horses. She was confidant, assured, and knew that she was loved and lovable – her horses told her that. I also knew that by denying little girls like Maggie the ability to adopt our horses, I was hurting their chance to experience what Maggie was feeling.
We are changing our policy. There are a number of horses that are ready to be adopted and some that we will never let go because of various degrees of illness. Perhaps “Sanctuary” should be their place, but a private home should be the place for those who have many years of love to give to little girls and boys.
The words heard by an old man set in his ways from a little girl in the Ozark Mountains will have a rippling effect on the lives of many people and horses. Thank you for sharing your feelings, Maggie. And thank you for reminding me about what the love of horses can do for little girls.