I was hoping to have reached some conclusion to my existential musings by now, but this past week has only served up more questions. So this post is dedicated to my wonderful horse of the past decade, Babaki Bear.
Tomorrow, my best friend, confidant and sports partner dies. And the worst thing is, I had to make that decision. This is the heavy weight that all horse owners must carry. At some point, whether we like to admit it or not, we are in final control of the lives of the animals over whom we have taken custody…Animal rights activists decry the name “owner” and many animal lovers feel much more comfortable with the word “guardian”. But in the end, are our animals really more than slaves, more than possessions – are they in any way in control of their own lives?
This is a bitter pill to swallow for those of us who truly believe that we love our animals. We have genetically modified them to be dependent on us through many years of selecting traits that were desirable for our own purposes, but did not serve them. This same feeling of connection that was probably at the root of domestication, has in the end taken away any form of authority animals have over their own lives.
I would like to believe that my knowledge about horse behaviour is rather more than average. I have put in the work and made a conscious effort to continually broaden my knowledge on the subject, and still, it seems, it was not enough.
I have fallen off Babaki Bear a few times, but she has only once bucked me off on purpose. That was the day I thought she might understand my “go” cues better if I wore spurs. The message was loud and clear: “NO, get off”. This incident has always convinced me that she would tell me clearly every time and anytime something was not right. I could not have been more wrong. About a week ago, I learned that my horse has very severe kissing spines. I came as an absolute shock to me – I honestly had no idea! I had been riding her only a few days earlier, and she didn’t try to buck me off her sore back?
The condition is so bad that the vet doesn’t have hope that even the most aggressive form of treatment would be a solution. This must have been going on for years. How could I not notice? I did know that something was not right and I did look for answers, but never in the right places. She has always been “grumpy” to tack up, or even to rug, but I thought was “just a personality quirk”, she is after all a very sensitive, ticklish mare. Another incident springs to mind. That day she was extra grumpy when I tightened her girth…and very nearly bit me for real instead of just pulling her usual faces. I got off, after a wonderful ride, only to discover rather a large thorn between her girth and skin…she did not buck or indicate that she was in pain…not once…
She has been suffering in silence for so many years now. In retrospect, there are many things I should have seen. Now that I look back, they all make sense. But I didn’t see and I didn’t know. I am not sure that that is an excuse for effectively abusing my horse for years, but it is all I have to offer. My heart is shattered. The heartache is only intensified by an immense sense of guilt. And I only hope that reading this, will inspire others to look closer, to listen harder and pay more attention to the subtle cues these magnificently magnanimous creatures give us. Because what we are doing is never enough. We have taken their freedom and therefore it is up to us to make sure that their voices are heard! We need to try harder!
The kids went to say goodbye last Sunday. You were as gentle as ever with them. We have shared many adventures, made many memories. You have helped me realise dreams and reach goals. You have taught me more than I can ever learn from books. You have been my partner and my friend, I have sobbed in your mane many times, and experienced true “togetherness” on your back.
I am so sorry, my girl. I am sorry for all the pain you have been put through. I am sorry I didn’t do anything sooner. I wish I had known and I wish you had shouted louder, because I didn’t listen carefully enough. I can only hope that you are now set free and will not suffer anymore. I will miss you for the rest of forever…