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It was a gorgeous autumn day when our friend Betsy was finally able to meet Bud, Pepper and the Herd of Oldsters. She’s been a faithful reader and fan of our two old sweeties, so it was really good to get her out there.
She didn’t come empty handed either.
See the bag of carrots she’s holding?
Made for some happy horses.
Pepper wasn’t impressed, but then she’s a little picky when it comes to what goes in her mouth. She’s never had a taste for carrots.
Or peppermints. That was a real disaster.
In stark contrast, Bud was overjoyed!
Like he is about anything related to food.
Never met something to eat that he didn’t like.
Animal-lovers seem to speak the same language – love me, love my animals.
It always is heartening to share your babies with a kindred soul.
Thanks Betsy for making the time, and of course, for bringing the carrots!
Bud, Pepper and the Herd of Oldsters
Oh, and Jean and Rick
As they munched, I felt Bud lean into me. It was just a little pressure, but enough to make contact- to feel comforting to both of us.
Spending my days with the horses has been transformative.
As I soaked up the warmth of Bud’s Appaloosa body that chilly afternoon and waited for both horses to finish eating, I reflected on what contributes to the magic for me.
At the top of the list is the relationship I’ve built with the horses.
They know me and I know them.
Our daily contact has allowed me to observe them in a variety of situations. I can see when they are calm and content. I can also see when they are not. I’ve been privy to all sorts of horse politics and games. I’ve seen affectionate nuzzles and bared teeth and sharp kicks.
I’ve learned what food they like, and don’t like.
I know how they like to be approached. How they like to be brushed.
In other words our time together has afforded me the chance to map out their territory.
I’ve also made friends with other horses in the pasture. Certainly Amigo, Red and Chickadee know me and have allowed me into their confidence.
Then there’s Old Joe, who often stops by to say hello when we’re out feeding.
And Mama and Brio.
And a few of the barn horses that spend their days turned out in a paddock adjacent to the gate where we feed, recognize me as I do them. We’ve formed a relationship.
All this got me thinking about how important it is to be seen.
To be known.
Invisiblity is a terrible fate.
Certain cultures use shunning as a punishment. I imagine it’s quite effective, because as human beings we need to connect. We thrive when we feel seen, valued, appreciated, known, and accepted as who we are.
In this fast-paced world in which most of us live, it’s easy not to see people at that deep level.
We can ignore them and justify to ourselves that we’re simply too busy to take the time to connect.
“Tomorrow, or next week, or another time,” we tell ourselves.
A favorite author of mine, Patti Digh, writes a thank-you note to someone every day.
Every single day. She says it has changed her life. Her blog, 37 Days is about learning to live like you’re dying, because, as she says, we are. Every day is precious, as are the people who inhabit our lives. 37 Days is the amount of time her stepfather lived after receiving a cancer diagnosis. It prompted her to ask, “What would I do if I knew I only had thirty seven days to live?”
It’s not a new question, but one that I’m glad to remember. For me, my answer in part is to connect more with my people. To let them know they matter. To truly see them.
What about you?
Is there someone in your life yearning to be seen?
Time for a little inspiration.
This woman, Stacy Westfall is one of the most amazing trainers (and riders) I’ve ever seen.
And the horse she’s riding – Roxy – gives me chills.
Take a peek at this clip from the Ellen Show.
I’m betting you’ll feel the same. I can’t hold back the tears. Every darn time I watch Stacy and Roxy, I tear up.
In case you can’t tell from the video, she’s riding bareback and Roxy has no bridle . The bond between these two is thrilling.
A true example of the human-animal bond.
I’ve just learned that Roxy died on February 8, 2012.
Rest in peace sweet horse. You will be missed.
It happens to me quite often.
My mother used to tell me that I wear my heart on my sleeve. I think she worried that if I allowed myself to be vulnerable, I’d spend my life getting hurt.
And I guess she was right to some degree.
I’ve had my share of hurts.
But my emotional vulnerability has also opened me up and allowed me to experience wonderful, amazing, deep and rich feelings. Feelings that I never would want to miss out on.
So how does this relate to a blanket for Red?
Well, a storm was predicted yesterday. They were calling for heavy, wet snow and a lot of it. When I was out feeding our two old sweeties, I saw that many of the horses had blankets wrapped around them.
But the one that punched me in the emotional gut was Red, the rough and ready Mustang. In the years we’ve known him, he’s never worn a blanket. But he’s getting up there in years, and like Bud and Pepper, the winters are starting to be hard on him.
So when I saw him in this obviously old, well-used, torn blanket that is a bit too small, my heart just sprang open. I felt a rush of love for this sweet old boy and his people who clearly wanted to offer him some protection from the storm.
For just a moment, I felt all gushy. I commented to Red about his blanket and he seemed okay with it, even though it was tight and not all that stylish. Perhaps just the thing for a formerly wild horse of the plains.
These horses have become my family, and to some extent, I hope yours as well.
Doesn’t it feel reassuring to know they’re taken care of?
This human-animal bond is something else, isn’t it?
P.S. We got the snow!
often always listen to NPR when I’m in the car. And boy oh boy do I learn some interesting things. Take this story about Jim Sautner and his pet buffalo Bailey. I mean seriously, who in their right mind would even think of trying to turn a buffalo into an animal companion?
Canadian Jim Sautner would. He’s on his second round of domesticating a buffalo. And from the account in the story – you can read it here – it’s going quite well.
Maybe I was just in a tender mood, but the story put a lump in my throat.
If nothing else, it reinforced my belief in the power of the human-animal bond.
Take a peek at the video and see for yourself.
Wednesdays with Mija
You’ve heard the word jailbird, but how about “jailcat?” The Indiana State Prison has an innovative program where they allow inmates to keep and care for cats. It’s a double dipper addressing the issues of feral cats around the prison, and the inmates’ need for connection to other living beings.
Apparently the program started with cats wandering onto the prison grounds and depositing litters of kittens. And the men serving time in this maximum security prison welcomed them with open hearts.
Leave it to a cat to break in to a prison!
The program has grown into what it is today. Each inmate takes one hundred percent responsibility for his cat, earning money to pay for food, litter and vet bills. As long as the man’s behavior is good, the cat stays. Diana Partington wrote a great article about this program on her blog Cat Odyssey. You can read it here if you’d like to whole story.
To me, it speaks volumes about the healing power of the human animal bond. And the fact that people are complex – not a one of us is all good or all bad. Ms. Partington’s article is filled with heartwarming accounts of hardened criminals being reduced to mush when it comes to the animals they love. It seems like a win for humans and cats.
Other prisons have programs where inmates work with guide dogs or train wild mustangs. Earning the right to work with an animal in one of these programs works better than punishment when it comes to managing inmate behavior.
Most of us who’ve been parents know this. Rewards – yes. Punishment – no.
As for Mija, she supports the work her feline colleagues are doing in Indiana, but she’s content to be right where she is. And that currently is on her heated bed soaking up every possible drop of warmth.
We are deeply into autumn.
Several days last week when Rick and I went to feed our two old sweeties in the evening, as we’ve done all summer, it grew dark before we finished.
Kind of dark, anyway.
Dark enough to make it hard to see.
And it was much cooler.
Both of which signal to me it’s time to move into the winter feeding schedule. I’m switching to DFT – Daylight Feeding Time. I know it’s another month until the official end of Daylight Savings Time, but for me, the important time change is now.
I’ll head to the pasture somewhere between noon and two – when it’s bright and sunny and warm.
(Check back with me around February on the warm part. I’ll probably be saying something quite different!)
It will take a few days for Bud and Pepper to adjust to the time change, but they’re smart enough to figure it out pretty quickly.
Especially when it comes to food.
And I’ll get into the routine as well.
I’ve enjoyed sharing this time with my husband and now I must re-orient myself to going by myself during the week. It’s not a bad thing – only an adjustment.
For years I didn’t trust myself to handle the horses alone. I thought I needed Rick because the horses were too much for me.
But then an amazing thing happened.
When Rick broke his leg a few years ago, it fell to me to take care of the horses.
Just me, myself and I.
I had a few challenging times, like the snowy January afternoon when several enterprising horses saw an opening as I was putting our guys back. They staged a mini jailbreak. I was freezing cold, a little scared and plenty mad. But eventually I got everyone back into the pasture.
Bud and Pepper were no help, I must say.
In hindsight, I realize it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime. I had to step up and take care of our old sweeties, and in the process, I gained confidence that I’ve applied to many areas of my life.
I’m no longer as afraid as I was when Pepper and I first became friends. I’ve learned about horses and perhaps more important, I’ve learned about me. It has been intense on-the-job-training, which I think may be the best way to learn most things.
What about you? Has life offered you an experience that’s helped you grow in ways you couldn’t even imagine? I’d love to hear about it.
“Be the person your dog thinks you are.”
I drove past this message posted on the signboard of a local church for several weeks, as I was going to and from my house. It caused me to think about the meaning, which was of course their plan all along.
From my view, one of the reasons we have animals in our lives is to help us be better human beings. The sign could have easily replaced the word cat, or horse, or gerbil for dog. Animals are fabulous teachers, if we’re open to learning what they have to teach us.
For me it’s been a list of core values – big ones really.
zest for life.
On Friday I wrote about how I overcame my aversion to needles (albeit perhaps temporarily) in order to give Pepper the medication she needed. The bond I have with her and my commitment to her helped me be much more courageous than I would otherwise have been. There’s no way I would have decided one day to face my fear of needles, just for the heck of it. I don’t think most of us would.
But when it comes to rising to the occasion.
When the need is there.
When it makes a difference.
When they are counting on us.
We do it.
We show up.
Face our fears.
We grow into the person our animals think we are.
And it’s a wonderful thing.
As I write this I realize I’ve neglected to add children to this equation. Children and animals make us better human beings. That is if we’re willing.
So tell me, how have your animals or your children helped you grow as a person? Have I left out values or attributes you’d like to add to the discussion?
At various times in my life I’ve been told the following:
You are too sensitive.
You wear your heart on your sleeve.
You’re too nice.
You’re too emotional.
You get the idea. It’s true that I’m a person who feels things deeply. I’ve never been good at hiding my feelings. It’s just who I am.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how much I love all of the horses in our merry little band.
Of course I have big love for Bud and Pepper. They are tucked into a very special place in my heart, and that will never change.
And, I also love Amigo, Red, Baby and Miss H. and look forward to seeing them every day, as if they were my own horses.
Reality check: In case you were starting to worry about me, I do know they aren’t my horses!
But the truth is, I’ve become attached.
I’ve taken the time to know each of them, and I’m enchanted.
For years (except for Baby) I’ve seen these horses every day.
I keep a close eye on how they’re doing, noting any health issues or other problems. I take time with them. I sometimes make up stories about their lives. I sing to them. I talk with them. I see them.
They know me.
They trust me.
And I know and trust them.
There is something quite magical about getting to know any living being at a deep level. The process creates an intimate bond that isn’t easily broken.
It’s how I feel about our little herd.
Every now and then I get a pang of worry.
Am I overstepping?
I wonder what their owners would think, if they knew.
So on this last Friday of August, I’m asking you to chime in.
Is it wrong to love other people’s animals?
What do you think?