Edward Pershwitz - NHE Representative in Texas USA
I often wonder what makes two lives touch each other. What combination of chance and purpose brings them together, makes them connect and start weaving each other's threads into the fabric of everyday existence? What makes those threads grow in number permeating more and more aspects of experience, creating the need to see the good and ignore the bad, to love and to nurture, to commit, to make another happy, or shrink and dwindle, and detach, and go their own ways, or maybe even stay side by side yet separate?
What combination of thought and action create trust, attachment, affection? What makes us know another’s needs, feel their fears, anxiety and discomfort like our own, hurt when they are hurting, take comfort in knowing they are fine? What makes us go out of our way to please another and to feel rewarded by simply doing so?
We grow up, mature, amass life experience, and the answers come and go morphing into different shapes along the life-long path of self-development, of broadening awareness, of deepening intuition - sometimes clear, sometimes elusive.
The litigation is over and the herd is being dispersed. A two-year-long struggle to support forty horses is over. Most of them are still relatively well. Everyone’s life is about to change, some for the better, some for the worse. Videos are recorded and posted on the internet, dollar amounts are figured out, ads are put together.
A man gets out of his friend’s truck with a borrowed horse trailer, a bit tired after driving for three hours across Texas, and a scrawny two-year-old colt with timid eyes and big movement is brought over. He’s scared of the people, not knowing what to expect. He hardly knows people at all - the babies were still running with the mares while the estate was being settled. They try to show him off, run him on the circle, but he has no idea what they want and moves erratically back and forth. The man is there to buy his first horse; after decades of riding and training for others this is a life-long dream about to come true. He is anxious and afraid of making the wrong decision but finally money changes hands and the words “you may lead the horse to the trailer” are spoken. Two lives have just touched and started to fuse together, a tiny thread weaving through them along the three-minute walk to the parking area.
Your world has just dramatically changed Gunner. You will not go into the saddle-seat training that was slated for you. Your tail will not be nicked and you will not spend your life in a tail set. Your feet will not be sored, you will wear no chains or shackles, and you will not start your training as a two-year-old wearing draw reins and a twisted wire snaffle. You beat the odds, and if the only reason for me to have met you was to save you from this fate I'd still thank my lucky stars for it. But I need to thank them for much more than that. Never in my life have I encountered such bottomless purity, a soul so fragile, so vulnerable, and so unprotected, a heart so kind, so generous and so forgiving.
You are walking alongside a stranger who is now in charge of every aspect of your existence. Your new bridle is already hanging in the barn waiting for when it's time for you to be started under saddle, not for a couple of years still - you're far too young. He doesn't want to hurry, he wants to give you enough time to mature. He'll use this time to look for better ways to get you ready, to win your trust, and when the day comes, to have you accept him with as little trauma as possible. He will soon discover a new path, a sharp departure from the established norm, away from dominance, away from training, away from coercion. Your life will take yet another turn. You will never get started under saddle. You will never see the show ring. You will never have a bit in your mouth. No whip or rope will ever hurt or scare you, and no metal will ever touch your body other than hoof care tools. You'll beat the odds again.
Neither you nor the man leading you away from the only place you’ve known as home know this yet. Both of you will go through a long journey of discovery, through ups and downs, joy and frustration, doubt and uncertainty. A journey of trying to mend two worlds - those of a human and a horse - together and finding that place where the boundary is so blurred that it becomes irrelevant.
The journey that started that day and will continue - you and me together - for as long as we both shall live.
Two babies are playing in the arena, both young stallions - ten-month-old half-brothers. It's early spring, the first spring in their lives. The mares are grazing right outside the four-foot wall, in plain sight, waiting to be impressed. Oh, and to impress they try! Running, screaming, nipping each other on the butt, and boxing each other walking upright. Their dad, a beautiful Andalusian stallion, is standing in cross-ties in a wash rack nearby paying no attention to the frolicking youngsters.
I'm there by accident, by a bizarre combination of a long chain of unlikely circumstances. I've been thinking about buying some land and moving to another state, and I wanted for Gunner to have a companion. I wasn't looking for an Andalusian, in fact I wasn't looking to buy from a breeder at all. It was just curiosity if nothing else that prompted me to make this exploratory trip. It was a Saturday, the place was less than an hour away, and even though no one answered the phone when I tried to make an appointment I decided to go anyway, despite feeling awkward about popping in.
I got what I deserved. The place was deserted and I was technically trespassing. In rural Texas, well, you can actually get shot in those circumstances. My only hope was that leaving a stallion in cross ties for a long time completely unattended would be unlikely so someone must have been around somewhere.
I called the number from the website again and a woman ran out of the house to greet me. The two colts got curious as we walked to the arena and came to check us out. Then one left and one stayed. He was in an awkward stage of his development, lanky, with droopy eyes, looking like a doped donkey. The woman and I were talking and he just hung around, then his nose dropped and he started picking at my shoe laces. His half-brother was pacing the fence and calling to the mares but this one was not leaving. “Who needs the girls when I can untie your shoes, really?”
Thank you baby-Atticus for choosing me that day. Otherwise I would never have known you - how brave, how funny, and how smart you are, how much joy you bring into my life, and what a beautiful stallion you would mature into. I would never have known how a body so formidably powerful could hold a being so gentle, so amiable, and so full of light. I would never have seen the mischievous spark in your eyes when you're about to dart at me with your ears pinned and your teeth bared, only to carefully grab me by my clothes, trying not to pinch my skin - “gotcha!” - and then rub your nose on my cheek. I would never have heard your short, low, rolling neigh when you greet me every morning, contrasting with Gunner's bright and cheerful call.
You had already been claimed when I saw you that day. They were supposed to come and pick you up later in the afternoon and take you to Houston, but it just so happened that I was there first and I had a blank check in my wallet. And if I'd waited another day, or if the phone had been answered the first time I called, or if I hadn’t dared to enter someone else's property unannounced, you would have now been somewhere else. A dressage prospect, a breeding stallion, a Mexican dancing horse - who knows? That thought is still haunting me now. Our lives would have never touched, but just flown past each other in the vast space of unrealized possibilities. How incredibly fortunate I am to have you in my life and to take you along on this life-long journey, not as a prized commodity, but as an individual, a non-human person, a cherished equal.
Please do no harm. First and foremost, if you know a horse, please do no harm. Get to know the delicate, sensitive, vulnerable creature hiding inside a strong and sometimes intimidating body. Respect his opinions, his reality, his fears, his right to make choices. He has millions of years of evolution and a lifetime of experience to justify his notion of safe and unsafe, of right and wrong.
It’s easy to do harm. It’s easy to not see, to not be aware, and to just blindly follow along in the footsteps of established tradition. It takes work to learn, to study available science, to astutely observe and draw your own conclusions. It takes courage to open your mind and to accept inconvenient facts over convenient opinions. It takes even more courage to be different, to stand up for the physical and emotional welfare of our horses. Stand up to the industry that will choose profit and utility over anything else, to equestrians who satisfy their need to compete and win at the expense of living, breathing, feeling beings entangled in ropes and iron, to well-meaning horse lovers chasing the blue bird of their horses’ love from one fashionable clinic to the next. Stand up to anything and anyone in the horse world who does not put the horse first - in actions, not words.
The horse is silent. His subtle language is hopelessly drowned in the loud cacophony of human noise. Noisy vocalizations, noisy body language, noisy thoughts, erratic attention. He is quietly trying to reach out to you in the best possible way he knows how, but he has likely given up the hope to be heard. If you only let him speak, and you listen, and you surrender your ego and give respect to what he has to say - a whole new world that you never knew existed may open up. A world where no training, no techniques, no methodology will allow you to enter. A world to which you only get a one-way ticket, for once you experience what free expression from the horse looks like there is no coming back. You’ll know you’ve arrived.