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.
When did you discover your horse obsession? For me, the age is unknown (I was wee), only the feeling. A feeling of utter awe and inexplicable understanding. A feeling right in the centre of me that knew that these powerful creatures would be my north star from this day forward.
Thousands of wheelbarrow loads of poop, rides, grooming sessions, hay bales, hoof pickings, dollars spent and bum rubs later, and the addiction does not appear to be fading. On the contrary, it seems to be picking up steam. It may have a little something to do with my mare Diva meandering her way into my life and heart almost exactly 13 years ago and flipping my world, quite literally, on it’s head. Perhaps?
Last February in Perth, Australia, at a workshop based on my book, Death Sucks: A Straight-Up Guide to Navigating Your Pet’s Final Transition, two amazing women arrived from Singapore to steal away all of our hearts. And in the process, we learned of Hope, a dog that had been a transformational whirlwind in their lives, the light of their life, the inspiration for their careers, and the focus of their last several years. Her care, her needs, and her very presence were all very big. Hope was, during our time together at the workshop, in the last months of her life before making her final transition. These two women had come to the workshop to be with their grief, to understand how to let go, and to prepare themselves for the inevitable. She had been on the verge of this final transition for quite some time, in the space I often refer to as the peaks and valleys. It wasn’t until several months after they returned home that she finally expressed her readiness to let her very well-used dog body go. With the help of a dear friend and veterinarian, these two women said goodbye to Hope in the most beautiful way imaginable, showering her in love and blessings, rose petals and prayer flags. Hope, a rescue that had seen the worst of the human race, parted this world knowing a depth of love that many of us only dream of.
I remember the moment as clear as day. It is that powerful a memory in a brain that doesn’t hold onto many (I always say my brain does regular clear outs of information it deems unimportant).
I’m fourteen or fifteen and I’m riding a lesson horse in a ring. We’re jumping, or we’re trying to. It’s not going well. My instructor is screaming at me. Screaming. My horse is, looking back in reflection (hindsight is indeed 20/20), terrified. He has refused a jump, more than likely because he’s scared of it. My instructor is screaming this at me over and over. “Get it done!” and “Don’t let him get away with it.” Eventually, with much kicking and whipping, he carried his terrified self and mine over the jump. Our heart rates were both racing. We were both scared, bordering on traumatized. Both in a place where we are unable to think or be effective in any way.