Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Happy Birthday to the Best Horse in the World!
THIS IS MY ENTRY INTO THE CARNIVAL OF HORSES BEING HOSTED BY LYNDA POLK AT HOOFBEATS
Yesterday was Silk’s birthday, and I forgot to celebrate it. I have excuses, like it was pouring rain and I had a writing deadline to meet. So, today, despite the continuing gloomy, wet weather, I prepared to have our annual party.
Every year, I make a special “fruit salad” for the birthday girl with carrots and apples and some chopped up horse cookies. For Silk’s people, I bake a carrot cake from scratch with cream cheese frosting. My daughter always invites some of her friends to help us celebrate.
One year, when we were in Virginia, she asked the little boy who lived next door to come with us. He had just gotten in trouble with his mom and was grounded. His mother called me to say that she had temporarily lifted the punishment. “How many other times in his life will he have the chance to go to a horse’s birthday party?” she explained. Two of the children at that party told me, “I’ve never been anywhere that didn’t have sidewalks.” They had a fabulous time, grooming Silk and Siete, playing with a litter of puppies and some mini-horses that were on the farm. The horses really enjoyed the attention.
If this is “spoiling” my horse, I don’t intend to change it. When I bought Silk, she hated to be touched. She was born in Oklahoma, descending from a lineage of superstar Quarter Horses. Two of the finest Western Pleasure and Trail trainers beautifully taught her everything a show horse needs to know. The expectation was that she was going to excel in the ring, but she didn’t. She won quite a few points, but sadly ended up in the hands of a man who abused her. A well-known Quarter Horse breeder saw him ripping on Silk’s mouth at a show and offered to buy her. After over a year of “rehab”, she was sold to a teen-ager and forced to go back into the ring. Silk hated it, and her young owner lost interest. When I came along, the breeder saw a soft-hearted first-time owner who was dying to buy a horse and convinced me that this hot, flashy red mare was what I needed. I wanted a gentle old gelding, but seeing Silk trapped in that small box stall broke my heart.
Soon after I officially became a horse owner, I was getting ready to ride when I noticed that Silk had pulled one of her back shoes partially off. I asked one of the trainers in the barn if she could help me remove it. I later learned that this trainer had been violently thrown by a horse and was plagued by nightmares. She approached Silk with a big metal tool and without greeting the horse or touching her, grabbed Silk’s back leg. My horse jerked her leg out to get away from her. The trainer kicked Silk in the belly with the toe of her pointed cowboy boot so hard that she lifted the horse off the ground. I freaked out.
I started yelling at the trainer and at the breeder who had made this “match” for me with my horse. I insisted that no one was ever allowed to mistreat Silk. The “experts” yelled back at me. I was told that a horse is not a big dog and that Silk could kill me. I must dominate this horse. I was warned that I was ruining her and all the effort they had put into re-training was going to be wasted. Rather than back down, I surprised myself by fighting back. I knew that I was right. No one, animal or human, should be kicked or abused. I don’t think I had ever stood up to anyone with that kind of fierce intensity.
I went back to Silk’s corral, still steamed. As I watched this elegant horse, her red coat shining in the sun, I thought about what had happened. She paid no attention to me. I started to consider the way Silk had been treated throughout her life, and I began to better understand why she behaved the way she did. Until I moved her outside to a corral, she had been confined to a 12x12 box stall for almost ten years. If she was lucky, she was turned out 20 minutes a day in the round pen. As a show horse, she was treated like an object. Her mane was pulled out strand by strand if it didn’t grow neatly. She was groomed and saddled without any regard for whether it felt uncomfortable. On both her back legs, there are still scars about six inches long caused by a trailer accident.
As I was considering Silk’s history, the woman who had been giving me riding lessons walked by. She asked me how I was enjoying owning Silk. I told her what I had been thinking. She pointed out that after all the horse had been through, Silk was exceptional in her ability to still be basically well-behaved. Despite everything, she had kept her spirit intact. Suddenly, I knew why I had bought this horse. We shared the same spirit. She reminded me of myself, and in defending her and being kind to her, I was allowing that spirit to live and flourish.
In our backyard, the sun burst through the clouds this afternoon when it was time for Silkie to eat her birthday treats. I rubbed her belly and her favorite itchy spots. She loved it when all the kids hugged her around the neck. Later, as I closed her stall door, I said what I say every night, “Silkie, you’re the best horse in the world.” We’ve come a long way in the last eleven years.