Shetlands get a bad rap. I’ll admit to weak moments myself, and the utterance of strings of profanities that would make a sailor blush, when faced with the sheer brilliance and equal stubbornness of the Shetland pony in my care. He escapes from everything, destroys lovely expensive muzzles like a man with a plan, moves his current roundpen home mind-blowing distances daily with his neck and sheer determination, constantly finds the most trouble possible, breaks latches, pees on his hay and generally is one or two steps ahead of his person and I. In the same paragraph as I admit frustration, I’ll also admit mad respect. This pony is undeniably committed and he’s got the smarts to back it up. His main commitment? Read on to find out!
I keep telling myself that I wrote a book on this stuff and I should be more sorted. Ironically though, in my book, I write about the importance letting yourself blubbery, snotty mess. About taking the time you need to let things move and sort and digest and release. I write a lot about self-care and about our own unique process (and how it looks different from everyone else’s). This week I took my own advice.
Let me tell you about it, this surreal week of mine. I feel like I’ve had about 16 baths (it was probably closer to 6 but they’ve been really really long, so long my hands and feet turn into raisins). I just want warmth. And Netflix. Both of those things. Kia and I have been doing some good cuddling. I have been hiking with Reilly. I have been dancing most mornings, in my kitchen, to my besties excellent Spotify playlists. I have been still and quiet. I crave manure to pick (come on ponies produce!). I have eaten my weight in chocolate and twist of lime tortilla chips (damn, they are good). I have been counting Kia’s breaths per minute several times a day and mildly obsessive about her breathing the remainder of the day. I have been dreaming up article titles like this one. Riding Diva bareback. Talking to girlfriends over hot chocolate. Crying. Planning where she will be buried and her ceremony, complete with which bulbs I need to plant (this redhead is very specific). Crying some more. Opening up space for people Kia and I haven’t seen in a while to come visit. I allowed myself to be whatever and wherever I needed to be, in preparation for all of it. In preparation for being the best steward for her that I possibly could be. As it turns out, and as I suspected, my self care is entwined with my ability to care for her – the paradoxical, beautiful truth.
As I write her story, or my version of her story, my red-headed firecracker of a pomeranian cross Kia struggles to catch her breath. Despite her stubbornness and her unwillingness to accept what is, her heart is failing and it is deteriorating daily. This morning she came close to fainting, her body collapsing, her breath gurgling, her eyes glazing. She struggles and yet, she fights, or she does one better, she lives fully and with abandon, just as she’s always done.
When Kia came into my life she was just six months old, tenacious, territorial, and, quite frankly, a bit of a shit. She had been rescued by a friend and client, and bore the marks of crate bars on her nose, which she still carries today. To say she was poorly socialized in her first six months would be an understatement, and to this day, I thank the lord she is less than twenty pounds and adorable (there’s a reason one of her nicknames is ankle biter). But, like her adopted mother Elaine, her heart was as big as the sun and her love ran deep and strong.
You may have witnessed me waxing poetic about my lofty goal of transforming the perceived experience of sharing space with an animal from owner to steward or caregiver or person or, really, anything other than owner. That word gets under my skin. Owner. It’s like that zit that won’t give me the satisfaction of popping, it just brews and stews and generally acts like, well, terrible. So you might say, the term holds a little charge, and with good reason. Under that title, animals have been neglected and abused and oppressed and, in general, treated like lesser beings for thousands of years.
Owner denotes power, dominance, replaceability, repression and oppression. It speaks of a living breathing feeling being as a piece of property. It screams inequality. You bet your bottom dollar this word and all it represents gets under my skin (and yes, I am a big fan of musicals, but I have a feeling you’re not the least bit surprised).
Yesterday, I had the chance to work with an amazing mare. Ever since beginning of my career as an equine sport therapist in 2003, each horse I meet builds on my knowledge and understanding, and over the almost 14 years since it’s become increasingly obvious that each horse is a unique individual, with their own preferences, quirks, conditioning and genetic legacy. Every day, at the risk of sounding cheesy, I am humbled to be allowed to work with them and by their generosity in sharing wisdom and understandings that, I hope, contribute to me being a better human being. My love of horses is a deep, deep well, a constant filling of my cup.
Alright, enough of the sappyness and back to my story. I relate this particular story partially because of the rising awareness around touch and consent in human beings and where the line is, and partially because very little has been said about this subject when it comes to animals, particularly horses.