Part 1//Why having horses is nothing like having dogs

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I’ve been super sick, so i don’t aim to organize this well and my point is liable to get lost here or there. But, as per my usual, I promise to get wherever it is that I am going.

It is hard to describe what love of a horse is to those who do not have/ride their own horses (pats self on back). One of the most common misconceptions is that the relationships equestrians have with their horses are akin to those people have with their pets. Ages ago, when I didn’t know better and made the occasional error of gushing or worrying out loud about Ryllin to non-riders, I found, much to my chagrin, that they tended to relate my feelings to their experiences with their dogs. It became clear to me then that non-horse people really are not able to understand what I am talking about. Horses are nothing like dogs, keeping them is nothing like keeping dogs, loving them is nothing like loving dogs, they offer more, they take more, they make you a million times more crazy. The real distinction between the relationships arises when it comes to horses that are really being used, the more rigorous the riding/sport the more involved and complicated the relationship tends to be. But I’ll espouse on that in Part 2.

The financial investment alone is a hundredfold. Combined with the time investment, which is so significant that for most of us it leaves little to no room for any other hobbies, horse ownership/equestrianism is elevated to the classification of a full on lifestyle. This is also one of the chief reasons many horse people are completely off their rocker. What horses offer their riders is also markedly different from the offerings of dogs, but that portion of the lesson will be delivered in careful detail come Part 2.

For now, and with all that being said, I want to focus strictly on physiological issues which separate horses from everything else pet-like, and how those issues affect the hapless humans endeavoring to manage them. Unlike dogs, horses are dishearteningly fragile. Most people don’t realize that horses can drop dead on a dime. It would seem that these animals had never quite acclimated, evolutionarily speaking, to domestication, and, despite their imposing dimensions, are utterly frail. Their bodies can be potentially riddled with a slew of debilitating conditions, many of which, if gone unnoticed or not properly addressed, easily turn deadly. The two most common sources of horse fatality are their guts and their feet. Horse feet are complex structures, somewhat poorly designed to withstand the rigors of supporting over 1000 lbs, especially when that 1000 pounds is hurling itself over obstacles or performing complex aerial maneuvers. The saying goes “No foot, no horse”, and it is quite literal, a bad foot means at best, a lame horse, and at worst, a dead horse. Lots of care goes into maintaining healthy feet on a horse, from shoeings and trimmings, to supplements, dressings and careful selection of footing. A foot can go bad in a day, dietary issues, bad shoeing, genetic issues, weather issues, ground conditions, stall conditions, etc. all can cause deadly foot disorders and diseases. You might say, what’s the big deal, one foot goes bad, there are three more. Be assured, a horse needs all four of its tiny feet to equally distribute its enormous weight, one foot gone, means the other three will go shortly thereafter, as they cannot take the horse’s weight in perpetuity. And no, horses can’t just lie around while it gets better, like dogs. A horse’s weight and intricate circulation/nervous systems prevent it from being able to lie down for long without dying. I kid you not, a laid up horse will basically crush itself from the inside, its organs will go out one after another under its own weight causing permanent damage to its nervous system and eventual death. So not only can a horse with a compromised foot not be ridden but often, the degeneration of the hoof structures is so severe that it has to be put down. A sport horse, who becomes too lame to be ridden, is a tragedy in itself, as the amount of work, time and feeling that goes into creating an effective riding partnership between horse and rider is massive, but when said horse has to also be put down, the dimension of loss is on another level.

Second most common and sudden horse killer, that all horse people live in constant fear off, is colic. Again, seems innocuous enough right? I mean who hasn’t had a little colic, a bit of constipation here and there, some gas? Well, if you’re a horse, the word colic carries with it weight equal to that of words like cancer or apocalypse. In short, due to the unique anatomy of equine stomachs and intestines, indigestion kills. Kills suddenly and mercilessly. So there is that. It’s definitely nothing like when a dog gets upset stomach and barfs all over your favorite duvet. Not only is a horse physically unable to regurgitate its food btw, i.e. throw up, but as I had mentioned earlier, it can’t even rest it off on its back, since even laying down for too long is deadly to horses.

Another thing to mention is that unlike dogs, horses cannot breathe through their mouths, so when they have a cold, or an allergy, they can easily suffocate and, again, die. For the same reason horses often croak from simple choking.

With these few example, I am trying to illustrate why dog owners have no comprehension of what goes into horse ownership. No one really understands what it’s like to be dealing with a horse health problem, how all consuming and exhausting it can be, except for horse people of course. And this is just one dimension of horse ownership, the highly redacted physiological one. It is also why horse love is nothing like dog love. The more attention and worry something requires, never you mind money, the more significant the place it occupies in our worlds. Just from the perspective of wellness, horses are infinitely more complex and demanding than dogs. After spending years worrying and obsessing about every cough and every limp, the feeling we develop for our equine partners is infinitely deeper and more involved than the fuzzy uncomplicated affections we feel towards our sweet canine companions. It’s just simple math. Involvement and investment is commonly proportionate to attachment and meaning. The harder we work at something, the more we value the product of our labor. In the case of horse ownership and equestrianism, a live, sound horse is the product.

—–>Part 2// Why Horse love is nothing like dog love // The partnership, the sweat, the guts, the glory.

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When they get you, they really get you

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Though I have many easy enough days volunteering at the shelter, there are hard ones as well.

Luckily for me, I am not the kind of person who greatly loves all dogs. I feel deep compassion for all of them, but otherwise I am almost as dog selective as I am people selective. Furthermore in an effort to steel myself against attachments I do my best not to get to know the animals. I have to remain stoic in order to be able to help them, the alternative would be completely falling apart. I fully expect that at some point in my life I will crack and dabble in animal hoarding, there will be an intervention of some kind, it’ll probably make it onto the news. Local woman on the run from authorities with her 100+ dogs in tow, armed with biscuits and not at all dangerous. Anyways….

During my volunteer hours I usually concentrate on getting out as many dogs as possible, I am all about efficiency. Once in a while though, it can’t be helped, I get caught inside a quiet moment in the shade of a tree with an animal who puts its head in my lap as if it belongs there, as if we are the oldest of friends. 

  He lays there quietly, listening to the earth like he speaks her language. He stares up at the sky, takes deep breaths of the grass, he is young, but he won’t waste his energy on spastic antics, no, he wants to take the world in best he can, while he can, he knows he might not be long for it. He leans into my hands, but does not coax their movement, my fingers press gently into his coat. He seems calm, but his heart is beating fast, I think from joy. I have to bring him back to his cage. Eyes close then open slowly to look at mine, then close again. By the next time he opens his eyes I am completely wrecked. That dog destroyed me for the duration of this entire day. I cried over him, I cried after him, I cried during dinner and I am crying now, as I write.

Update **** He’ll never be alone again. FullSizeRender copy 5