Sunday, November 6, 2011

That little black horse and thoughts for today

Originally posted here:

So Meagan mentioned in the "Who we are" that I kind of like horses. So even though we are in Honduras, and this is a blog about photography, I wanted to share a little personal story.

The Dutch girl we're living with, Manon, and I went out for a bit last night and ended up talking for a few hours. By the time we drove home it was around midnight. I had told her briefly earlier about being a horse person, but I find that is a difficult concept to express. On the drive home there was a decrepit black gelding, with no halter or rope of any kind, walking down the sidewalk dead lame and my heart just about broke into two. I couldn't help myself, and without really asking Manon I pulled over, got out of the car, put my hazards on a began to try and connect with the horse.

After a few minutes, and after moving the car forward twice, I was about ten yards away from this gelding when a motorcycle flew by scaring him to trot on three legs to the other side of the street and start moving down a side road. Luckily this ended up being just what I needed. I asked Manon if she minded if we pull down that street, which happens to be in a better neighborhood and was totally empty. I don't know what it was I was hoping to achieve, but something in me needed to spend a little time with this horse. I pulled the car over, gave her instructions on how to drive the car, and I set off to connect with this lovely black gelding.

I used the skills I have learned over the years that help "round pen" a horse, except that I was in a sort-of-sketchy Honduran neighborhood at midnight, and I had already been chasing the gelding (sort of, in a car) for about half a mile. At that moment I would have LOVED to have the luxury of a roundpen to work with. Instead, I had to simply read his body language and act accordingly hoping that I could convince him that I wouldn't pose a threat. Since he could get away from me in whatever manner he wanted, and at whatever speed, I moved slowly and deliberately. Within 3-4 minutes though, the gelding stopped and began considering the question I was asking. He began to shift his weight, but stand still, and flick his ears back at me. Finally convinced I wasn't looking to hurt him, he took a deep breath and let me make contact.

The process of gaining this horse's trust was different than any other horse I have ever worked with in that I had nothing to rely on other than body language. No physical barriers to help me out, no knowledge of the horse or his personality, and likely not much foundation of trust of people. I realize that the horse has likely had plenty of experience with people, but a wild guess tells me that wasn't something that would work in my favor. 

I stood by his shoulder and neck for a few minutes and breathed in the scent of horses that I have missed so much. His shaggy mane hung all the way down his thin neck, but by then it was his eye that I had focused on. There is an old saying that talks about the eye being the window to the soul, but even beyond that it can tell a story without needing words. He had major scarring across his nose and a weathered yet wary look in his eye. Looking at his teeth I'd guess he was somewhere in the late teens, and his body told a similar story. His spine protruded about 2 inches out of his hindquarters and over his back, and he didn't look like he had any weigh to lose. As I ran my hands over him it didn't take long to figure out why he was dead lame in that back left. The structural deformities were magnified in his petite 14.1h frame, and he was severely bow legged, but only in his back left. He has likely worked hard his whole life, yet he doesn't have the conformation to stay sound. His feet likely haven't been done in months, if ever, and it was fascinating to see the difference in the wear and tear on the feet of the three semi-normal limbs versus that back left.

By the end of my short time with him, as I gave him a few more scratchies and just a little more love, he started to lick his lips and chew. Now, I have always found that to be rewarding, in that its an indication of the connection being forged, but this time it felt different. It felt like these few minutes were the one small favor I could do for a horse who had worked hard for all his years and hadn't been given much of anything in return.

Now I know that there is really nothing I can do for this horse, and although he had no rope on him, he may very well be someone's livelihood. I can't put him in our backyard and let him live there indefinitely and don't have the resources to retire a horse in Honduras. I feel bad because I think by showing this horse kindness, he may trust easier next time and be betrayed. By reading this little gelding's body; from the scarring and white hairs grown in on his face and withers, to his long back left toe, high heels and protruding spine, life hasn't been kind to him and his humans likely haven't been kind either. The 10 minutes I was able to share with him, of loving rubs and nose kisses, may be the only he experiences in his sad life.

As I walked away, he turned, pricked his ears and looked on with interest, a complete turn around from our first encounter. Walking away was just as painful as I knew it would be when I walked up, but I think thats part of who I am. I may be able to ignore the stray dogs and cats on the street (and I do love all animals), but somehow I think horses will always be different for me. In a country where the children are treated the same or worse as the stray animals, I think it's nearly impossible to try and open the heart to both the children and the animals, especially when it seems there is no light at the end of either tunnel.

At the end of it it was really cool to see Manon totally fascinated by my ability to not only get the horse to respond and connect, but to let me touch him all over and pick up his feet. I didn't think that part of it was such a big deal, but she was blown away. She also watched him hobble off nervously during my first few attempts on the busy road, and didn't think I'd eventually be able to walk up to him. Its fun to share the brilliance of the horse with those who have never experienced it. The language of these animals transcends country boundaries, language, and breed. Fundamentally speaking, a horse is a horse.

With everything that has been going on this week, I think that in that moment I needed that little black horse as much as he may have needed me. And if only for a few minutes, we at least were able to share in that.

Thought for the day:

"It's not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or when the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worth cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."  Theodore Roosevelt