A Horse With No Name

July 14, 2016
“What’s the real reason?”

Ranch In the course I teach on equine cruelty investigations, one of the first lessons, and for any number of reasons probably the hardest lesson for students to learn, is that people lie.

“Never believe the first excuse,” I tell them. “Dig deeper, probe, ask and ask again. The real reason is there and the job of the good investigator is to dig it out and get the owner to confront his own reality.” 

“The horse is just old.”

“The horse just won’t eat.”

“I asked my son/daughter/neighbor to feed it. I didn’t realize it was in such bad shape.”

Excuses – they are good at protecting fragile egos. Blame it on someone or something else and never take personal responsibility. That’s one of the tragedies of being human. If ever a person is to change, be it with alcohol or drug abuse, spousal abuse or starving a horse, realization has to happen; the realization that the blame is inside the person, not because of external forces.

I stood by a thin horse a few weeks ago and watched him fade into a forever sleep as the drugs did as they were designed to do. A volunteer was watching me, then burst into tears. Later she asked me, “How can you do what you do?”

I have stock answers for that question. Those stock answers supply everything that people really want to hear. Few want to know the true inner turmoil that is felt by those of us in the animal rescue business. Besides, few of us really want to delve into it. The job needs to be done. That’s the bottom line. While we tell others to stop coming up with excuses, we don’t really want to know face the motivational reality within ourselves.

I’m saying all that because during the last few days I was forced to look inward, and the search for answers cut to the core of everything I believe about life. This blog is not for throwing a pity party. I truly dislike those who write long, involved stories about how hard life is for them. It is for most everyone. Life can be very cruel and while some of the stories should be told, chances are someone else will raise their hand and say, “You think that’s bad? Listen to what happened to me!”

What this job does do at times is to throw the battle between life and death smack dab if front of my face and, without any hesitation, tells me to deal with it. Most of the time I can, same as the other folks at the ranch. There are occasions when…well, it becomes a little too much. 

Case in point – A call from a neighboring town, a horse is down, two other horses are on the property, very thin. Could we help?

Of course we responded, bringing a full crew and two trailers. It didn’t take long to grasp the situation: No feed, a bale of rotten hay, a dirt pasture and a bone thin horse laying on the ground while two other horses stood to the side. What didn’t connect was an old woman fumbling around the downed horse with a water hose.

We obtained the warrant for seizure, got instructions for immediate medications from the vet, loaded the downed horse on one trailer to rush to the clinic and put the other two on a different trailer. In the meantime, through an interpreter, I’m questioning the old lady. She states that she knows the only thing wrong with the horse is that it’s stopped up, and the cure is to put a water hose up its butt and turn the water on.

“It cleans them out,” she said in Spanish.

The horse passed away at the clinic. Her intestines had ruptured from the blast of water.

A death completely devoid of any logic. It is truly impossible to wrap the mind around her thinking. Trying to find a thread of logic in her statement is like throwing a cotton ball at a madman. There’s just nothing there.

Another case – a mare tied to a tree for 6 years, never once being set free to graze. She delivered a foal while standing tied. With the aid of law enforcement, we took the foal and the mare from the owner. They are now at the ranch where she’s learning how to be a mother. Six years. Think of that. Imagine yourself experiencing that life, having a baby. 

I love cases where I can talk with the owner, where I can explain the need for dental care, talk about parasite loads, the quality of feed and hay, where I can visit with people who never had someone explain to them the details of animal care. I love watching the lights go on as they understand why the horse is skinny. Suddenly they want to change … and they do. 

The others? Even in the furtherest stretches of the imagination, there is no logic. 

But it doesn’t end there. The illogical life extends to Orlando, with so many innocent lives lost. It goes to France, where insanity destroyed 87 innocent lives. Time after time, without reason, without even the slightest understandable motivation, the death toll rises. What we don’t want is to come home after a long, stressful day only to view more insanity on the news.

I wish I were a wise elder and could mumble words of wisdom but, like so many others, I stand in a state of shock and feel the sting of tears. Trying to offer solace in a time of insanity seems like a waste of effort.

What’s the purpose?

Perhaps the answer came in the form of a completely emaciated horse that the Sheriff’s Office dropped off the other evening. He was too weak to stand so we placed him on the glide and slowly pulled him into the stall. Doc started IV’s, we dosed him with several medications and he spent the night under the watchful eyes of the ranch staff. I have no way of telling how many hands touched him that night, or how many prayers were said. I know he felt safe, at last, and perhaps that’s all it took for him to know that it was okay to pass on. He closed his eyes in the morning and went gently into a forever sleep.

photo-8
A horse with no name

We gave him that one night. All the trucks and barns and feed bills and payroll and insurance and paperwork – it was all for him that night. He was the sole reason for us being there. He, at last, felt safe enough to let go.

Does it make up for the loss of so many others? No, those losses will be felt forever. Does it balance out? No. There is no balance to unadulterated cruelty. It doesn’t weigh against the insanity. It simply gives a reason for us to be here, even if that reason doesn’t make sense. In reality, none of it makes sense. There is no “real reason.” It happens, and we deal with it as best we can.

To all those horses and donkeys before him, and to a horse with no name – may God hold them gently and give them eternal peace. 

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Author: Jerry Finch

President and Head Stall Cleaner of Habitat for Horses, a non-profit equine sanctuary

7 thoughts on “A Horse With No Name”

  1. Your post was very well written. Thank you for all you do to offer solace to animals in their times of need. This world is falling into chaos and we can only hope and pray that we receive the same peace and comfort in our times of need.

  2. Jerry I was able to subscribe BC it looks like no charge . I have two rescues that take any extra and more that I have .

    no charge , right ? if there is a charge I have to withdraw just trying 2 get clear on it thank you Pat

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