Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Head, Hands, Heart, Health

My mother caught wind of another animal-related tragedy and bravely set her intention. Leaving our ranch early one morning hauling a single-slot horse trailer, she told me she’d be home late that night with, “A surprise.” Unbeknownst to me, she’d set out on a ten-hour drive to retrieve an unwanted gelding, a neutered male horse.
Chesapeake Bay’s owner retired the bay gelding from the thoroughbred horse racing industry, deeming him “useless” at the tender age of four. My heroic mother had an enormous heart for neglected animals. With my nose pressed against the living room window, I finally saw Mom’s headlights coming down our long driveway, hauling a horse trailer filled with warmth, hope and love.
I charged out the front door to meet her and “the surprise” in the barn. With a pounding heart, I helped open the back door to the trailer. My large blue eyes grew wide as saucers in mesmerizing anticipation. My newly-rescued horse gingerly backed out of the trailer to find an extremely eager nine-year-old girl.
Being raised on a ranch, the familiar smell of a farm animal’s coat is comforting, whether it be a goat, sheep, cow, pig or horse. Their natural aroma is heaven scent and the smell of my gelding was instantly soothing. Slowly, I placed a hand on either side of his soft nose. We breathed into each other’s nostrils, beginning the bond of eternal trust. He closed his eyes and gently lowered his head into my awaiting arms. Resting my cheek against his forehead, I whispered, “Horsie, I will love you forever.”
            My mother suggested I join 4-H, the nation’s largest youth development organization. Their oath states, “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.”  Knowing I wouldn’t raise a farm animal, which goes to market per the 4-H teachings, I said I would show horses instead.
Cindy Smith, the 18-year-old 4-H leader up the road, trained Horsie and me for competition. Horsie and I entered every racing event available. From Washington poll bending to barrel racing, Horsie and I took home first place trophies and blue ribbons. He and I were very close, even sharing chocolate pudding. Fascinated with the racing numbers tattooed into his upper lip, I’d tickle his upper lip with a piece of straw and then take a peek.
After a year of showing Horsie, my mother suggested we go to the auction and rescue another horse for me to show. Soon, we brought home a quarter horse mare I named Brownie. Horsie and Brownie became instant friends. A year later, Cindy offered her 28-year-old bay mare for me to show. She led Shanty, her older mare, out of her barn and I rode her home. My three horses and I took first place in every event we entered. Truly, I found my childhood niche’.
            By age 11, I was showing three horses who would have gone to dog food, glue and gelatin. Back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, this is what happened to neglected, unwanted and older horses. Horses found at the auction were either purchased by people such as my animal-loving mother or by “killer buyers” for profit.
            Today, America’s unwanted horses are either taken in by loving people for companion animals, rescued by horse associations, or exported to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, “While the HSUS and horse rescue organizations across the country work tirelessly to give every horse a second chance, thousands of American horses are still shipped across our borders each week for slaughter because the horse slaughter industry can outbid them. Ask your U.S. Representative and Senators to support The Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act (H.R. 503/S.727).”
To this day, I’m against the horse racing industry. Although it’s been 40 years since I last rode Horsie, Brownie and Shanty, their fond memories remain. As a middle-age woman, I’m maintaining the 4-H pledge to engage my Head, Hands, Heart and  Health in all life’s precious endeavors.
Debbie & Horsie
Tehama Totem Fair, 1971