There are times when I have to restrain myself, when it takes everything I have to stay within the limits of the law.
Pulling up to a pasture this morning, we saw four horribly skinny horses. A walk through the mud led us to a three year-old in the final stages of starvation, unable to lift his head. A few hours later the warrant was signed, the seizure completed and our part was finished. I shook hands with the officers, our friends at the SPCA, and drove off through the fog and drizzle.
It was those few hours between the first walk and the loading of the horses that got to me. Kneeling in the rain, trying to wash thick mud off the face of a dying horse, praying for his life, I tried to ignore the owners. Listening to them talk about how much they care for the horses was upsetting enough. Seeing the results of their lies, which they refused to see, is what angers me.
These horses had no grass in the pasture. None. There was a round bale of moldy cow hay, not a bit of feed anywhere. When I asked them about feeding, he said he was scared to feed them because, “They always run toward me so fast.”
He had put a dog collar on the horse that was down, tied a rope to it, tied the other end to his new pickup and pulled the horse a good 10 yards, “To see if I could get him up.”
The horse was packed in mud. Unlike them, who slept in a warm bed and had a good breakfast, they left the horse out there for days.
The excuses went on and on. I looked at their new pickup, their cell phone, their nice clothes and looked back at the dying horse that weighed half of what it should. Two bags of feed a week and a round bale of hay would have kept this horse alive and the other four halfway healthy. Less than $80 a month. His truck payments must have been five times that.
“How can people do that?” is a question I am often asked. “Why do they even bother to get a horse if they don’t care?” The questions are rhetorical, of course. There are a million answers but there are no real answers, none that would ever make sense to those of us who love these horses.
The man who taught me about the legal aspects of seizures once told me, “Don’t ever show emotion on the scene. You have a job to do, just get in there and do it. If you need to bang on the dashboard when you drive off, fine, but the crime scene is not the place to explode.”
This evening, as I’m writing this, I can’t remember what the faces of the owners looked like but I’ll never forget the face of that horse, the mud packed eyes, the skin stretched tight over the bones. That’s what nightmares are made of.
I see people at the vet’s office with their sick horse, willing to spend thousands and to do whatever it takes to bring their loved one back to health. I’ve seen a tough old cowboy break down in tears when his horse hurt her leg. We have volunteers who think nothing of walking a horse with colic at three AM, in the cold and rain, sloshing through mud. They all treat a horse like they would their own child.
Then there are the others.
A wise man once said that you have to know your enemy before you can change him. Tomorrow I might feel differently, but tonight I have no desire to know the enemy. I could not fathom that type of mind, nor do I even want to try. And I’m not going to bang on the dashboard.
Instead I’m going to go out to the barn, find the closest horse and give him a hug. I won’t tell him anything about seeing one of his kind die today or anything about one of my kind causing the death. Such things happen many times over in our world. The horse doesn’t understand why, and I certainly don’t. I will tell him that I love him, and then I’ll look into his eyes.
In that moment there is no anger. There is only deep, forgiving love. It’s there for anyone, for each of us, at any time. It comes not only from horses, but from dogs, cats, little children, big adults, all sorts of living things. But you have to care to feel it.
You have to care enough not to starve your horse to death.
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Habitat for Horses is always on the lookout for a few great people at our ranches. The work is unique, the animals are special and we want folks who both know and understand the special connection our animals need.