We fought a lot of battles these last few years, and we brought a lot of horses, donkeys and a mule or two back into a good life. We also made a lot of friends, shared a lot of tears and laughter and spent a lot of hours looking after those animals that we love. We investigated, taught, answered calls, drove endless miles, transported horses, adopted, fostered, inspected, testified, educated, demonstrated, held fundraisers, had meetings, rattled cages, spread the word, and underneath all that folks were keeping up with the paperwork, literally tons of it.
One thing I know for certain is that Habitat for Horses has matured a lot in the past few years. It wasn’t all that long ago that the bookkeeping department was the back seat of my pickup truck, thank you letters were nonexistent and accounts payable were paid if I could find the checkbook. Now we have an office with people at computers who won’t let me have the checkbook because everything has to go through the “system.” I once used to sit back and reminisce about, “…that old pony we took from some fella because his hooves were way too long.” If I mention it now, someone is pulling it up from the database and it’s identified as, “…05-723, a 1998 POA with microchip number QA78934….”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy to see us advance. We needed to, and with so many horses and so much detail, we absolutely must have databases, checks and balances, written operating procedures, the people that follow all the details and file all the paperwork so others can come behind them and find the information they need. Its been a long road from my old beat-up truck pulling an even older green two-horse trailer, rattling down the highway with Pete in the backend wondering what the heck he’s gotten himself into.
Which was my flow of thoughts when I was at the ranch today, scratching his lovely butt. The equine dentist was there working on a dozen horses that I didn’t know, so I wandered out to the pasture and found Pete standing under a tree. Once he saw me he immediately came over and turned his butt to me. His old habits are hard to break.
“It’s almost been twenty years, Pete, since I dragged you off the slaughter truck; you and Smokey, my first two horses. Twenty years ago I brought you home.”
“I guess that means I’m getting old?” he asked.
“Not old, son, just wiser. Been a lot of changes since then, most of them good, I suppose, but I miss being out here with you guys. It seemed so simple back then.”
“Not to disagree, Dad, but you were fussin’ way back then about how complicated everything was, remember? Always worryin’ about money and land and trailers and trucks and I wasn’t any big help because I was just a kid. Uh, while we’re talking, could you scratch right back…..ahhh, that’s it.”
Some folks might think it odd to see an old cowboy with his hand under a horse’s tail, but that’s my son and that’s where it itches and when you love someone, you just do what you gotta’ do.
Pete,” I continued, “life keeps changing every day.”
“Maybe for you humans, but not for us,” he said, his eyes closed and his head low to the ground. “You remember that song you used to sing? Something about the basics of love?”
The song instantly poured into my memory. “Luckenback. Willie and Waylon Jennings.”
He looked around. “Nobody’s lookin’. Sing it to me,” he asked.
So I stumbled over the words, trying to remember….“Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas with Waylon and Willie and the boys. This successful life we’re livin’ got us feuding like the Hatfield and McCoys. Between Hank Williams pain songs, Newberry’s train songs and blue eyes cryin’ in the rain; out in Luckenbach, Texas ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain.”
His head was up now, looking back at me. “There was one horse here that taught me pretty much everything I know. One thing Willie told me was that if I took everything easy, life would be easy. If I took it hard, life would be very hard. Willie was the best horse I’ve ever known, and the smartest. I want to be just like he was when I get old, and I enjoy taking it easy.”
I guess you could say that at that moment, twenty years of my life flashed through my head in a fraction of a second. There were a lot of memories, a lot of good times and a lot of tears, but it all is just really starting. Tomorrow doesn’t just start with just being another day, it starts the next twenty years. It’s the future of Habitat for Horses – 20, 30 years down the road. Instead of fighting it, we all need to take it easy and let it happen, and it will, because never before have so many dedicated and committed people come together to do what we are doing.
We’re changing the word “rescue.” We’re changing the laws and the way people look at horses and the way the laws are enforced, and our voice is being heard far and wide – and we’re just starting.
“Pete, you are one very wise horse,” I said as I hugged him. “I’m so very proud of you.”
“Thanks, Dad. So, you got a cookie?”
Thanks to all of you humans that have been a part of all this, from those that joined yesterday to you few who date back to Pete’s younger days. Sure we do a lot of fussin’, but we do a lot of work, too, and even better, we’re just warming up. You think this is something, wait till 2030 and see what we look like.
If you’re around then, maybe some summer’s eve in some yet unknown pasture you’ll see a misty looking old cowboy scratching an old horse’s rear end and hear the words from a long forgotten song…
Because in the hustle and bustle of doing what we do, occasionally, “…. it’s time to go back to the basics of love.”