To All Those Creatures Who Enriched My Life
Recently, I have been donating money monthly to a horse rescue (Colby’s Crew Rescue) that buys horses from a slaughter facility, rehabilitates them, and finds them good homes. These horses have been used and thrown away. Some are injured or diseased, or they are old, missing teeth, or emaciated. Some are in pain. They have served their owners, but no loyalty has been returned. I feel great sadness for the lives these beautiful animals have led and the horrible death that, without rescue, is waiting for them – a slaughterhouse is a place of horror and suffering.
I look at these horses, their gentle and tired faces, their broken bodies, and I want to cry for their betrayal, for this harsh world that can only be made better if each of us opens our own hearts and becomes our best selves.
I give these donations partly to make amends for my powerlessness and inability as a child, teenager, and young adult to keep safe the ponies and horses that I loved, that helped me grow up, that were my companions and friends.
Horse or Dishwasher?
I grew up in rural Pennsylvania in an area where animals were just that, animals, to be used or abused and discarded. One evening, our family had a conversation. Should we get a horse or a dishwasher? I guess we picked a horse, although we did eventually also get a dishwasher.
My Horse Family
Our first horse was Duke. Duke was a Morgan horse. He reared up once, knocking my mother in the face, and left her with a tooth that blackened and died. I do not know when we sold him or to whom. I suspect our neighbors took him to an auction to be sold for us.
Billy Boy was our first pony, and we got him not long after Duke. I was eight years old. Billy Boy was a small bay, a dark reddish brown with black stockings up to his knees and a black mane and tail. Billy Boy was a sweet boy, although he was prone to bucking, and I was bucked off numerous times. We once gave him some beer, which he greatly appreciated.
While we had Billy Boy, we got Cricket. Cricket was a large and plodding roan and was completely safe to ride. It was difficult even to get her to trot. She eventually had a baby, Jiminy, who had a bit of a deformed hoof with an extra piece on the side. I have no idea what happened to either of them.
Dusty may have been our next equine. Dusty was a dappled dark gray pony and nice to ride. She was bred to Silver, our neighbor’s pony, and one late fall, Nichol was born. I loved Nichol with all my heart and spent many of my after-school hours with him, training him and being with him. His tiny, fluffy gray body was like a little happy lump out in the field, always happy to greet me. My parents sold him one day when I was at school. I came home that day, and when I found out what had happened, that he had been taken away in a van and my parents had no address or phone number, I fell into a depression that lasted for years. Eventually, when I was much older, I was at a workshop, and the memory of that event re-emerged. I was flooded with grief and began to understand more about how I was raised and why I had issues with depression.
I’m not sure when we got Comanche. He had the scar of a pitchfork on his side where someone had stabbed him. A big pet, he would get his front feet in the manger and stand taller, his head and neck reaching over with friendly delight. Comanche would not stay in the fences. I once saw him leap the 5’ fence of the goat pasture from a standstill. That would be his downfall. My father did not have enough tolerance to keep a horse that kept running into the neighbor’s corn fields. We did not keep him very long despite his extremely sweet personality.
Windy came along sometime after that. She was ½ Arabian and ½ Standardbred and the most beautiful horse I had ever seen. But psychologically, something was wrong with her. Riding, she would sometimes take the bit in her mouth, turn her head to the side, and take off full speed, unable to see where she was going. She also reared up, a few times falling over on her back. I barely escaped being crushed more than once. Despite my attachment to her, she was too dangerous to keep.
We traded Windy plus some cash for Specks. Specks was mine, the object of my affection, my buddy and go-to. 13.2 hands, he was a Pony of America and was white covered in tiny brown specks. I loved Specks wildly. We won first and second-place ribbons in Poles and Barrels in many local competitions. When we got Specks, he was emaciated, with the auction sticker still glued to his rump. The people we got him from said that he was so skeletal when they purchased him that they kept him locked in their barn for fear someone would report them for animal cruelty. Specks obviously had a difficult past. He often put his ears back and acted as if he didn’t want to be bothered. But I poured love into him. I brushed him, trained him, hugged him, and brought him treats. I rode him everywhere. I remember riding bareback with no bridle. We bounded over ice-crusted snow as the world around us sparkled in the winter sun. These were moments of joy and peace for me as we adventured together. Specks was my main companion through my teenage years.
I believe we got Cola around the same time we got Specks. Cola was a palomino. She was a gorgeous golden with a white mane and tail. She was my sister Diana’s horse. They had a difficult relationship as Cola was stubborn and often would not listen to my sister’s requests. Cola was bred to an Arabian and had a foal that my sister named Chewbacca. My sister loved Chewby with all her heart. Chewby would nuzzle our hair and was always so happy to see us when we walked out into the pasture to say hi.
My father had an issue with supporting these animals, who were our playmates, friends, and companions. And for some reason or another, each would be sold. I don’t know what happened to Billy Boy or most of them. I know that Dusty was sold to a family nearby, and I often saw her alone grazing in their field when I drove by. I always felt bad that she did not have a friend.
I knew I could not let Specks go to an auction with an uncertain fate or be sold to someone who might not love him or feel a responsibility for his safety. When I went off to college, and my parents wanted to get rid of him, I refused to sell him. I would look for a good home and give him to somebody. My then-boyfriend helped me find him a temporary home. He was in a small pen with a goat. Eventually, we found a family with other horses who said they would take him and keep him for their kids. I remember leaving him there, in a big field with their other horses and kids who were excited to have him. I prayed it was a good home for him, and I believe it was.
My sister tried to find a good home for Chewby and sold her to someone she thought would love and take care of her. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a situation of neglect, and my sister, being a young adult without resources and living far away, did not know what to do. Chewby would be kept in a tiny stall that was never cleaned, and her hoofs, never trimmed, grew out into long arches, crippling her. Eventually, Chewby was rescued and was again treated with dignity and care and as the beautiful soul that she was.
And so, now, as our world unfolds, as I become more aware of my role and responsibilities, as I see how I was part of situations that were unkind, I am making amends. It wasn’t my fault that my father was twisted in this way, that he didn’t have the kind of empathy that I have. It wasn’t my fault how he perceived his reality and the beings that peopled it. It wasn’t my fault that I could not stop him and make him do what was right. It wasn’t my fault that he broke my heart countless times. But I was still a part of these situations. And even though all of these beings have long ago left this earth, I want to say both thank you, and I’m sorry to these beautiful souls who were part of my younger life, who I rode and spent time with. Who kept me from feeling so alone and who helped me feel a part of this world and enriched my life.