Standing quietly near the barn, Jeb looked half asleep. With the sun hiding behind the thick clouds, today must have seemed ideal for taking naps. He deserved it, deserved the quiet time, for his thin and aging body has a lot of rebuilding to do. Even though we feed him four times a day, he stays hungry. More than hunger, he wants friendship, the human kind. Jeb is simply in love with people, which offers a clue to his history. Someone, somewhere, loved this horse a lot.
A few feet away stood a yearling named Macy. She’s only been here a few months, part of a seizure we did in the Waco area. When she arrived both she and her mom were not willing to let people touch them. That attitude doesn’t last long around the ranch, what with volunteers carrying brushes and snacks. Macy is a pocket pony now, ready for belly scratches and kisses from complete strangers.
As I watched, Macy walked up close to Jeb, watched him for a moment, then closed her eyes. Jeb looked at her, then resumed his sleepy stance. The little girl and grandpa, in whatever horse world they lived, were taking a nap together. I was captured by the agelessness of it all – the new and the old, the first and last years of life, the beginning and the end.
In the intake pen stood a new horse, one “given” to us as the result of an investigation. We did our best to work with the owner, but the followup last evening found the horse with a rope around his neck tied to a tree, no hay, no water, and the wife saying, “He’s in jail. You want the horse, just take it.”
This morning a gentleman drove up from Corpus Christi and delivered a Thoroughbred. After hearing the story, we simply couldn’t say no to this guy, although we must say no to most of the others. This TB is the last of a herd of 12 owned by a person that did his best to provide for them. He did his best, but his death led to 12 horses without homes. A close friend found places for 11 of them. The last one, an older gelding, had no place to go.
Not that it made any difference in our decision, but this horse performed in the 1998 Olympics in Atlanta. From the looks of him, these last few months have been rough, for he’s easily 300 pounds underweight.
I stood in the hallway of the barn, witnessing the concern of the volunteers over these and the other horses and felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility, for here stood the lives of one of God’s most magnificent creatures, held in our symbolic arms and totally dependent on us for all of their needs. Here stood the horse in its ultimate relationship with man, bound by fences and controlled by commands. Here we play gods, deciding on their futures, on who will go where. Our decisions will affect their lives long into the future, especially the babies. What will the next twenty to thirty years hold for horses like Macy?
We do our best to measure the hearts of those asking to adopt these horses. Most of the time the decisions are good. There have been times, sadly, when we’ve completely failed in our mission, when the adopter who once promised to love and provide proves no better than the abuser from whom we took the horse.
I’m not good at making those decisions, probably because I’ve seen too much of the harm done by people who “love horses.”
Statistics tell too much about what happens to horses in our society. The average length of time for a horse to stay in one home is a little over three years. That’s mind boggling to me because these animals are like children in my world, not something to dispose of when I want something else. Macy, the yearling, will depend on us to find her a true forever home and I want, more than anything, to know that thirty years from now the adopters’ children will be bringing an old but very healthy Macy into the barn and that she will have never known anything but love.
If we knew that all the horses would have that type of family, I’d be at peace. We judge upon the meeting, look at the applications, probe for character, search their eyes for dishonesty, but we’ll never know for certain.
Even Jeb will leave someday, off to his own family, his own future. I don’t want him to come back as old and crippled, destroyed by the hands of non-caring humans.
This is a way station, a rest stop on the highway of their lives. What happens here will change their lives forever. Most will go on to good homes, to be loved for the rest of their lives. Some will never leave. This is the final stop, this the end of years of offering themselves to humans. No one will ever know their story, will ever understand all they have gone through, of their loves and pains, of the little children that rode them and the grownups that beat and starved them.
Some will get lost; will eventually be sold by adopters who say they will never sell. They will be sold again, hurt, abused, injured and end up either at the slaughterhouse or at another rescue, if they’re lucky. As much as we fear that end, there is nothing we can do to prevent it.
Some will indeed find that perfect home, ending up in the arms of those souls that are pure of heart, who promised to love and protect and who will fulfill that commitment not out of a sense of duty but because they know, they understand what it truly means to love and protect.
The overwhelming sense of responsibility also comes from looking at the gate, for standing on the other side are hundreds, thousands, waiting for a vacancy, waiting for help before it’s too late for them. We’re not the only place, but we’re one of the few, and it’s our chosen job. It’s what we said we would do, and that’s why we need your help.
This isn’t about the glory of the name, or the triumph of being noticed. It’s about starving, close to death, forgotten horses that are dying by the thousands. I need your hands to help us when we hold the head of a bone thin horse and try to bring it back to life I need your tears of joy when we succeed, your sorrow and your broken, shattered heart when we fail. I need you to stand beside us, to be pure of heart, to know the purpose, to understand the problems and to help us provide the answers.
“Rescue me,” they cry.
We must. For their sake, for their life, we must honor our values, put aside our differences, our egos, our sense of self-importance. We must gather around them as a family, hold them, bring them, if we can, back from the brink of darkness, and make them whole again. We must find them a home of their own, one of love and respect, and then…
and then we must go back out, open the gate and do it all over again.
Life and love in the world of horses – Jerry Finch
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