September 8, 2014
Are You Listening?
Recently I moved my Paso Fino gelding, Coro, who had been boarded over an hour away for the past year, to a new stable. My main goal was simply to have him closer to me, as I wanted to be able to visit and ride more often. I wanted an arena to ride in - it didn't have to be indoors - and ideally, some trails. Beyond that, all of my criteria were about Coro. I had several barn managers scoff at some of my considerations - mentioning that I wanted a place less busy or with more grazing - and say things like "it shouldn't be about what your horse wants" or "who's running the show - you or your horse?" At 25 years old, with two significant health issues and having already experienced a lot of change in the last few years, my answer is that it is about what my horse wants, within reason. I know which conditions he does best under, and I'd like to see him thrive for ten more years. I wanted him to be able to graze most days, to have shelter in bad weather, an active but not stressful social life, and an individualized feeding program including his daily medications. If that meant I drive a little farther, don't have an indoor arena, or pay a bit more - so be it. After a month of searching, calling and driving, I did find that perfect place for my old guy - one I think we will both be very happy with. I did not choose the barn that was a short 11 miles from me, because it had no grazing. I did not choose the barn that had an indoor arena, a heated lounge and beautiful trail riding, because there were holes in the pastures and fewer turnout days. I prioritized Coro's needs and found a picturesque little red barn tucked away behind a hill that offers his own private pasture and a safe, airy run. He has already settled in wonderfully and I think I made the right choice.
My father believes that having pets at all is a selfish choice, and I see how this could be argued philosophically. Having rescue animals with known backgrounds, having seen exactly where they came from and how their lives are changed, I truly think my animals are better off with me and that Boca, especially, is so obviously grateful for her new home. Even if it is inherently selfish, I do my very best to make their lives as happy, healthy and fulfilled as I am able. I was raised to put animals first by a woman who ran into a burning barn to save our chickens and rabbits. You can see why my dedication to them might be construed as a little over the top, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I stumbled across an old blog post in support of shock collars the other day, and as disappointed as I was since this is a blog I regularly follow, I had to read its entirety as well as the comments. The most discouraging commenter stated that she "had" to use a shock collar in order to take her dog to the dog park or let it off leash - two activities that should be enjoyable to the dog, but because they caused it fear or anxiety and just were not within its realm of comfort, pain and intimidation was employed so that it could conform to the commenter's ideal of a "normal" dog. I find this rationale heartbreaking.
For me, it is far more important that I am interacting with my animals with softness, kindness and grace whenever possible, than that they are fitting into some cookie cutter standard of what they are "supposed" to do or existing in places of expectation. I have made many changes and compromises for Ruby and I do so without hesitation. I mourned the loss of some ideas I had about the dog I wanted her to be, but gained so much more in seeing the dog she is and what she has to teach me. There is nothing more valuable than her trust. In Boca, by some twist of tropical fortune, I very likely do have the farmers-market-dog, the coffee-shop-patio dog, but we're taking it slow. I am interested in conversation, not conformity, and I know that they have more to tell me than I could ever tell them. I think that if we are listening closely, if we let them "run the show" sometimes, our lives with animals can be infinitely more rewarding.