Saturday, June 13, 2009

horse forums, commitments to our horses, and taking JOY

There's a discussion in process on a horse forum I read having to do with the issue of making a lifetime commitment to the horses we own/ride. The original poster asked for thoughts on this, with her own perspective being that we owe it to our animals to provide that level of commitment. The question wasn't posed in a judgmental way. It was simply asking for discussion on the issue.

I'm sure you can guess where the discussion is going.

A number of folks feel that yes, making a lifetime commitment is a value they hold true. A few more agree, but make the concession that sometimes things happen and we can't live up to our commitments, so we do the best we can finding new, good homes for our horses.

There are a few who point out that horses need jobs and thus need to be sold/traded/given away in order to keep them "happy."

And a few others who feel the rider needs the freedom to own new horses more suited to the rider's increasing skill level and thus can't be expected to "collect" and pay for all the horses ridden and owned at the lower levels.

The most interesting part of the discussion to me (from a psychological point of view, mostly) is that the people responding most vehemently are those who have sold/given away/rehomed horses and feel they are being judged for that.

By my reading of the various comments, no one has judged them. I actually went so far in my own response to state that everyone has different values and perspectives and while I don't agree with the practice of trading horses regularly, I can't project my values onto everyone else.

Several people commented they would keep horses if they owned their own property. Since they don't, they can't. And I made the point that we BOUGHT our property BECAUSE of our feelings about the horses who share our lives. We could never afford to board them for the rest of their lives, so we chose to give up things like family vacations, new furniture, and expensive clothing and cars in order to create a situation that fits our values.

It's fascinating to me that when people are not secure in their own behaviors, and someone else discusses, in a neutral non-judgmental way, their differing practices, the insecure folks turn it into judgment.

Being a psychotherapist, I can't help but think: hey, wait a minute! You're the one judging your very own self! If you feel judged, maybe it's because your actions don't match up with your inner feelings.

Own that and move on.

It's difficult for me to read all the advertisements for "free to a good home" horses. If someone has fallen on hard times and are doing the best they can to relocate their horses, I feel badly for them. On the other hand, if someone has ridden a horse into the ground showing and competing and now the senior horse needs medication, special care, and they want someone else to do that for them, I get angry.

But I come from a viewpoint of seeing the horse as a partner, a family member, and a sentient being who deserves my lifetime commitment.

It's completely alien to me to view a horse as a vehicle for sport or even pleasure, but certainly if used to that end, I'd feel I owed them a loving retirement home, with me. If the horse was such a wonderful partner, how could I part with him?

My husband tells me I should just stay off the forums.

I get some good information on various forums. I also get reminded of how complex and sometimes downright irrational we humans can be.


And then, I get a comment from Sheaffer on my "june" post, that prompts me to go back through my own archives for a quote:

Just for fun, my family invented a religion like the Shakers we called Stillwater. I'm eldress, and we have a big celebration on Midsummer's Eve. It's really a state of mind. Stillwater connotes something very peaceful, you see, life without stress. Nowadays, people are so jeezled up. If they took some chamomile tea and spent more time rocking on the porch in the evening listening to the song of the hermit thrush, they might enjoy life more.

Stillwater believers are very hedonistic. Life is to be enjoyed, not saddled with. Do you know that lovely quotation from Fra Giovanni? He was an old monk from away back who wrote to his patron, 'The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy.' That's the first commandment of the Stillwater religion. Joy is there for the taking.

-Tasha Tudor, from The Private World of Tasha Tudor

I think that's my solution to reading the forums. :)

Take Joy!


the7msn said...

Your husband is a very wise man.

But were I to participate in that forum discussion, I would have been right there echoing your views...but not nearly as eloquently or as non-judgmentally. I made a commitment to Hank when I bought him and to Lyle before he was even born. They will be with me for the rest of their lives, no matter what.

billie said...

Linda, I posted this here because I know the level of commitment of the horse folks who visit is serious and based on not just love for the animals, but respect for how much they give us.

I'm glad to read your echo and I'm glad Hank and Lyle (and all the rest of your wonderful family on 7MSN) know they will be there for the duration.

And speaking of taking joy... thanks for sharing all the 7MSN adventures on your blog. It's certainly one of the joys of my days, seeing your wonderful photos and reading about the guys and gals. :)

Grey Horse Matters said...

I'm inclined to agree with Linda, I couldn't possibly visit any forums and be non-judgmental in my comments. Especially on this subject. We have also made a life time commitment to our horses and would never think of ditching them for something better. In fact we take on horses that we feel sorry for, I know that's not the best idea but sometimes that emotion you see in their eyes is too much to turn away from. I've known many people who just traded in horses like they were vehicles to get other horses who will (they think) get them where they want to go. It's very hard for me to understand that thinking.
I also find it interesting that the people who do this sort of thing are the most vocal about defending themselves.

billie said...

Arlene, your recent post on Sweetie is a tribute to your commitment to horses.

It was difficult to remain neutral but I wanted to be a voice of reason standing up for the folks who were being made to feel they were being judgmental simply b/c their view wasn't the "popular" one.

The most recent direction the discussion is taking is that if everyone had 'my' view, there would be no horses for any of us to have, because the breeders would just keep them all.


AnnL said...

Interesting topic. Jeeves is here for life,hopefully, or at least, for as long as I am able to keep him. The only way I would not keep him is if disaster really struck and I just could not do it anymore. I would work 4 jobs if I had to to keep things going, but sometimes, sh*t happens. I would not sell, but do whatever I could to "place" him somewhere safe.

But, I recognize the need to sell a horse. I had a mare that I loved to death, but she hated dressage. She really wasn't built for it, she was more of a jumper. After struggling with her for 5 years, I made the decision to sell her. I figured she was probably as miserable as I was, so it wasn't doing either of us any good to continue. I still miss her (she's doing great, is 20yo now and spends her winters in Florida). The gelding I got after her had "issues"--I ended up in the hospital with a broken back. I eventually retired him to a farm in Virginia.

It was then that I decided I would never own another horse until I could keep it on my own property. So, I went 6 years not riding at all, and thought I might never ride again. Until I bought this place, I just could not afford a property where I could keep a horse. Not everyone has the money to buy a farm or to keep boarding a horse that they can't/won't ride.

If Jeeves's previous owner had not sold him, I wouldn't have him. She COULD have afforded to keep him, she's quite wealthy and has her own farm, though she has no horses now. So, I am eternally grateful that she allowed him to move on.

I think you really have to look at each situation and decide what's best for all involved. My mare HATED dressage, I hated jumping, so why make each other miserable by continueing. When the kid that I sold her to rode her and pointed her to a jump, you could see her body language change--she just lit up! She was much happier jumping and happier doing that than she would have been retired.

billie said...

Ann, you're right that everyone has to look at his/her own situation, his/her own values and priorities, and make a decision based out of that context.

I put myself through the ringer bringing any new animal into our family, trying to look at every possibility before we make the commitment. We were fortunate that with the pony my daughter was able to ride/take care of him for an entire month before we bought him.

Even so, there have been rough spots along the way and now she is not jumping him, although she loves to jump, because it doesn't seem to be his strongest point at this time in his life.

I have said out loud on any number of occasions in the past, during rough spots, that maybe we should sell him, but once "out there" that idea made all of us so sad it became clear we would never do it.

When I see what she can do with him now, and how much all of us have learned dealing with some of the difficulties he's presented, I know it has actually been a huge gift to have him in our lives.

I know one thing my daughter has learned is that sometimes your pony can't do everything you want him to, sometimes he just doesn't want to do it, and sometimes he gives more than you'd ever have dreamed of imagining - but the basis for the relationship and for growth as a horsewoman and a person blossomed mostly out of the tough moments when we chose to shift our comfort zones, change our expectations, and look at what he is, not what we wanted him to be.

Not everyone takes living with horses to such lengths, and I'm not suggesting that's the only way to be with horses. But for us, it's what works and feels best.

If I thought any animal was miserable here, I would certainly consider options to change that. We tend to shift our own expectations as needed wrt the animals and what they offer, so thus far we have not had a scenario where any of our animals has been unhappy.