Roy — giving up animals…thoughts about abuse and compassion

 

Roy was a beautiful Arabian gelding that I purchased as my first horse when he was only one. I had just gotten back into riding in my early 40’s and I had gotten my then 6 yr old daughter into riding as well. I think in my mind I thought we would grow into Roy. You don’t start training Arabs until they are 4 or more years old as they grow slowly. Roy was my step into being a “real” horse person. By the time Roy would be ready for real training I figured my daughter would be horse crazy and would love the challenge of training a green horse. In my mind I pictured her showing him and maybe even me as well if I had the courage.

It turns out I got somewhat impatient waiting for Roy to grow big enough for us to train and ride. I had been leasing an old mare named Shalimar and it was clear she would only take me so far as she was getting very arthritic and really didn’t enjoy much work under saddle. I know it can be good to ride an stiff horse but it became clear she would rather have not been ridden- so I gave up my lease on her and bought an Arab mare- Airy- that I thought would be a good project for me. It turns out Airy was more than I could handle. I was not confident enough to ride the sparky mare. She was quite touchy and spooky and I was always on pins and needles waiting for her to spook and take off with me. It did not help that I fell off her once – a soft fall- but still i fell off her and it didn’t help my confidence on her.

I had fallen for a gaited gelding – Harley- even before I bought Airy but it seemed like the 16 yr old girl who never came to ride him anymore would never give him up. I bought Airy for the wrong reasons – I wanted my own horse (and Harley wasn’t available) – but I didn’t really consider what I needed in a horse. I have learned a lot since those early years of my return to riding about what to look for when buying a horse. But I didn’t know that then so I forged ahead as I usually do dead set on getting what i wanted. And I bought her and she was too much for me.  But then my dream horse came available- Harley – the Gelding I fell for was up for sale and very cheap. I had NO business buying him – we did not need three horses. Harley was not a green horse- he was very rideable (though i had to learn to ride a gaited horse) and I just liked him…we clicked. So we bought him. (just an FYI – buying a horse is only the beginning of the costs associated with them- even a cheap horse is not really cheap – there is training, feed, hay, hoof care, and board if needed and vet care which can be $$$).

It turns out that Harley was the right horse for me. He is still with me and is a nice fun ride. So why is this story named Roy? Roy is the horse we had to give up. As it turns out my daughter decided she didn’t really want to ride anymore. We had begun Roys training and had been training him off and on for a number of years. He should have been further along but my daughters heart wasn’t in it anymore. She was off doing other things and I had Roy left with no time to train him. We had moved Airy and Harley to our farm and had left Roy at the farm where we had been boarding him for years. I did not know what to do with him. He had grown into a beautiful boy. He was smart and wanted to please. A real gem. He had the Arab hotness so he could be spooky but in the right hands he was going to be a fine horse. We needed to find him a home but selling a horse that isn’t trained is not easy.

Eventually I moved Roy to another farm so a friend of mine could train him. As his training progressed we realized that even trained we had too many horses and not enough riders. Keeping him was becoming very expensive – I could have brought him home to my farm though three horses on 4 acres is tight. I really didn’t want to bring him here bc I knew he was a wonderful horse that would just sit here and not be ridden(as was the case with Airy) – he needed more than that. So we decided to give him away. It broke my heart bc I loved him very much. He was probably the brightest of all my horses and the best among them but I had Harley and one was enough for me.

The owner of the farm where Roy was boarding found a new owner for Roy. He was moved again to a farm about a half hour from me. The new owner friended me on Facebook so I could see her posts about Roy. Early on when she got him I read some of the comments under some posts she had written. It became clear to me that people thought Roy was a “rescue” and they assumed he had been mistreated by his former owner. That hurt. Roy was very well cared for from his birth until we had to give him up. I was shocked that just bc he was free meant that he was a rescue. I began making a few comments on her Facebook about Roys past and how he had lived. I wanted to defend myself and prove I wasn’t an abuser.  It made me think about what I thought when I got my “rescue” dogs and what I thought when other people fell on hard times and had to give up their animals. Was I labeling my animals and judging the people who gave them up? Did I want to think of them as bad people?

I have learned from my own experience and the writings and experiences of others that we cannot be the ones to judge others. Author Jon Katz writes in detail about the label abuse that is so easily pasted onto homeless animals – it’s like a badge of honor we carry around for our pets – maybe bc it makes us feel good about ourselves to say we rescued a lost, abused, neglected dog. It doesn’t really say much about the animals as they are resilient – but it says much about ourselves. Jon Katz says that we should find compassion in people not hatred. Jon had a donkey who truly came from a situation of abuse/neglect. He went to meet the farmer who had caused the donkey so much suffering. In doing so Jon learned a lot about himself in the process. Compassion is not about forgiveness, and it isn’t about liking a fellow human, compassion is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” (dictionary.com)

“When the door opened, I looked into the eyes of the farmer who treated my donkey so horribly, and all I saw was my own reflection.” 

“I did not see a devil when the door was opened in the farmer’s house. I saw a tired and soft-spoken and hollow-eyed man, a man mired in hard times and dirty jeans and mud-caked boots. His soul was nearly dead from struggling, from poverty, from brutish work and no success.”

“The farmer was not asking for forgiveness or understanding, and clearly was not expecting either. Nor did I offer any.”

“We talked for an hour or so, and I saw there was nothing much else to say. He seemed battered to me. The light had gone out in his soul, a part of him was already gone, battered, I think, out of existence. He was neither a good man nor a bad one, just  a man struggling alone with a life that  was bigger than he was. He seemed to small to hate, too beleaguered. And he had a family to feed. There is no excuse for him, he said by his own admission, yet what is compassion for, if not for those we don’t like and aren’t strong?” — Jon Katz

I was not a neglectful owner, we had never caused Roy any harm or pain. But people thought I had just bc I needed to re-home him. I did it bc I loved him and saw what he could be and we could not get him to that point. We couldn’t afford it anymore either. We wanted the best life for him.

Roy’s story didn’t end there. He wasn’t able to stay with the nice person who took him. She became ill herself and needed to re-home him yet again. I am not going to lie – it hurt me when I found out he was someplace else. I suppose knowing where he was and having some contact with the person who took him was a comfort to me. In many ways he still feels like my horse. I know he isn’t but I really loved him- still love him and want to know he is ok. When he was moved the last time I didn’t have the contact with the farm he went but recently I found out where he is. And guess what? All the things I had wanted for him came true. He is riding in shows -he is loved by his owner and by all the people at then farm where he now lives. He was learning drill training! He was the horse I knew he could be.

The woman who could not keep him anymore was not an abuser, she gave him up because she cared about him. She wanted a great home for him and I am grateful to her that she found one for him. Neither she nor I were neglectful owners – and it hurt me when someone would even consider that of me. I learned from that experience we need to watch jumping to conclusions. And as Jon Katz came face to face with his donkey’s “abuser” he learned that we cannot always understand people but we can show them compassion.

Last year when my husband was attacked by a rescue dog that we had adopted and had for 4 days the rescue blamed us for the attack. They chose to accuse us of doing something wrong to provoke the dog into biting my husband multiple times on his hands and legs. My husband became very ill and the rescue found NO compassion for my husband at all. They took the dog back and chose to treat the dog as a victim all over their Facebook page but it was my husband who suffered. Somewhere along the line we have become mixed up. I am a HUGE love of animals but I don’t think they are more important than humans. I don’t think they should get equal rights with humans. I think they should be treated humanely and I think animals can be our partners in life in work and in connection.

Don’t get me wrong there are horrible incidences of people treating animals in horrendous ways and these people should be punished. But even that doesn’t excuse us from compassion.  But we cannot label every animal who ends up homeless as abused and we cannot accuse owners who find themselves needing to give up their animals as abusers. And even in the case where Jon Katz met his donkeys abuser he saw something different than the person he thought would open the door. Jon writes so well about compassion and I see by his writing that our world is missing this in a time where we could all use a little bit of compassion. I could go on but I wont- but it might be of interest if you read the plight of Joshua Rockwell who had water issues on his farm this winter and one day his stream froze and he was off the farm and someone called animal control. Some of his animals were seized and he is being charged with neglect. He is new to farming but loves his animals- was he neglectful? Or was he just a farmer trying to get through a horrendous winter? I wonder if someone would take my hens if they had frostbite on their combs? My farm had issues with mud this year – is there too much? Will someone take my horses because I didn’t heat their barn? Or if someone thought I might need help would they offer it instead of reporting me to animal control? A little compassion- it goes a long way.

Thanks for reading….

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Roy and I in 2009…

 

 

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