I’ve been drunk-and hung over-twice in my life. Both times, I got drunk at a helicopter hangar party on a 90+ degree day. The party rocked, as hangar parties usually do. The beer and Sangria were ice cold, as was the pop, but I didn’t care for pop. There was nothing else to drink. I was new to drinking, but that’s what one did at a July 4th party when all the guys were pilots. They were old hands at drinking. By the way, there were only chips and pretzels to eat. I despise pretzels.
I didn’t care for beer, so I drank Sangria with the chips.
It went down very, very smoothly. I thought I was way cool, better at drinking than I would have thought.
I had a great time. After the party, I went to my room (alone) and fell asleep after insisting to my stomach that its contents were going to stay inside of me until they exited the regular way. When you’re 26, your stomach will take abuse that at 56 will hospitalize you.
No, I wasn’t sick…but the next morning I felt horrible. My head hurt and I felt lousy. My first hangover. It wasn’t as bad as everyone would have had you believe, lucky for me. I know now that is because I didn’t drink enough. Two glasses were enough for me to get really buzzed on.
But I didn’t learn.
The next weekend, it was just as hot, and I returned to the apparently never-ending party. It was, if anything, much more fun. I hit the Sangria again. This time I got pretty drunk. Towards the end of the party, when I was barely aware of where I was and what I was doing, I said something very hurtful to a man whom I cared for very much. The remark was callous and uncalled for.
I remember it to this day. I remember seeing his expression. I won’t forget that, ever.
The next morning, not only did I feel horrible in my head and stomach, but my heart said, girl, did you eff up. I replayed what I’d said to that very, very nice person. I didn’t want to admit that I was in love with him. He knew, though. I could see spending the rest of my life with him. I’d hurt him, because. Just because I could. He was just a target for meanness I had no idea I had in me.
I apologized to him, but it was never the same between us afterwards. He airily dismissed it as the booze talking…but still. The booze used my mouth, my words. Mine had hurt him, and he wasn’t the kind of man who appreciated trash talk.
The emotional aftermath was harder than the hangover. I had a long, sober talk with myself. I had discovered an evil witch lurking deep in my soul, who, when I was drunk, I unchained. I decided I didn’t like her. She was important in that she gave me the confidence and assertiveness it took to make it in the military, but she wasn’t suitable for human interactions. I decided that, if not drinking was the price to keeping her chained, so be it. I won’t drink anymore. I didn’t. I went, oh, 25 years, before I ever drank anything alcoholic again. Now, if I drink, it’s a single glass of a lovely German Riesling, (DR Loosen, by the way). When I buy wine, I insist it is no more than 12%, alcohol content, and I only drink it with a substantial dinner. One glass, that’s my limit. I’ve never been drunk-or hung over- since that day.
In America, there’s a saying that is respected in drinking establishments: “know when to say when’. Meaning, know when to say “no more, thank you”, “stop pouring” “I’ve had enough, thank you” or best: “Ice water, please. I’m driving.” One must know one’s limits. I learned, with alcohol, when to say when. No matter how good it tastes at the time, I learned, there comes a time when you must say, no.
What has this to do with horses?
Right now, a friend of mine is recovering from her second (that I know of) mishap with her horse. This is her second go round with hospitals, surgery for a broken body part, and sky-high doctor bills. Her Dream Horse has hurt her. Again. It was an accident, a mishap, I don’t know because I wasn’t there. But she’s got broken bones. Again.
Being a horseman to my tail’s tail, I know what it means when you find the horse of your dreams. You fall madly, passionately, against all reasoning in love with the horse. It matters not if the horse has just three legs, is only halter broke at the age of fifteen, and is totally unsuited for what you want to do. All that goes out the window when your heart leaps at first sight of The Horse.
When we have The Dream Horse in our possession, all his sins are forgiven. He may bite, kick, chew your barn to splinters, crib, refuse to load, run away with you, crowd you, push you into walls, or merely refuse to do anything but what he wants. You will forgive him. Like an abusive, cheating spouse, you will excuse his behavior, work around things that he will not do, make allowances for what he does that he shouldn’t. You won’t listen to your friends who will say, you know, maybe he’s not the best horse for you. You will think people who mention that his behavior can get someone hurt are merely overly cautious. Your dream horse may have issues, but you can fix them, just give him time. See how much better he is now that I’ve been handling him?
But he isn’t. Not really.
Part of this is an unwarranted insistence amongst a few horse people (and, as I’ve seen over the years, virtually every dog owner) that the horse is never to blame.
By the way, my friend isn’t one of them.
These people turn the horse into a saint, a sacred being that must never be maligned or even spoken of as it were what it is-an animal. People who believe this baloney blow it so far out of proportion that they will excuse anything the horse does, blaming it all on the human.
For instance, if the rider is hurt because the horse very clearly refuses a jump, catapulting the rider with great force, they will find a way to blame the rider, even as she’s being trundled into the aid car. Events such as the horse slipping and falling are twisted into the mishap being the rider’s fault. They don’t put the horse, an animal, on the same moral and ethical plane as humans. They place the horse ABOVE the rights of humans. They are usually vociferous about their beliefs and will attack you without mercy; if you so much as hint that the horse was the one who erred, not the human. (And yet, they treat people-even their own kids and spouses-like they were cockroaches.)
People like this cannot be reasoned with. Accidents are accidents, not on purposes, and horses have them regularly.
Sometimes the horse is jinxed. I’m not normally superstitious, but I’ve met people who, if there’s lightning somewhere on the planet, it will strike them. They are the ones who are always in bandages due to an accident, or have their wallet stolen at the police station, or their name gets picked out of pool of millions for an IRS audit, or the drunk driver nails their car in a parking lot the size of Manhattan. Bad luck follows them wherever they go, and is capricious enough to not kill them, merely make their life a living hell.
Jinxed people have bad things happen to them, beyond any reasonable statistical likelihood. I feel sorry for them, but I avoid them, too. I don’t want to be around a jinx when his or her demon strikes her-it might involve me, too. Sadly, there’s a tiny, tiny part of my mind that believes that in many cases, their problems are self-inflicted.
Things can be jinxed. How often have you had an item that seems to break, go bad, and not work correctly, even though the same thing next to it works perfectly? Or a vehicle, like my last motorcycle. It was the sexiest bike I’d ever seen. It was also jinxed, being a lemon in all but color. Although it wasn’t two years old and had less than five thousand miles on it, every trip I took on it, something went wrong. I can’t tell you how many times the damn thing left me on the side of the road. The last time I got on it, I said to it, “If one more thing breaks on you, you’re out of here.” Not twenty minutes later, the speedometer cable broke. I rode it to the dealer, got off, said, “Sell it” and never rode a bike again.
So it is not unreasonable to believe that horses can be jinxed, too. The jinxed horse will lose a shoe and tear off half his hoof in footing that you could let your baby walk barefoot. The jinxed horse will be bitten by the one mosquito in the county carrying Western Nile disease. The jinxed mare will never keep to the breeding to that fifty thousand dollar stallion, but will produce a mule after that effing donkey crosses three fences in order to breed her.
If you spend any time at all on the shedrow of a racetrack, you’ll hear about jinxed horses. The one that gets bumped at the gate, or stumbles in dry footing, or draws the position that has all the mud on an otherwise dry track, or he gets crowded out, or his jockey has the flu and can’t afford to not ride.
All these things add up to what appears to be a good horse, and can be, on a day when his personal demon has the afternoon off. But that doesn’t happen very often.
So when do we horsemen say when? When do we get rid of a horse that we love?
Why can we not see that the horse that hospitalizes us is not the right horse?
What is this blind passion, this refusal to see? Horsemen call it ‘barn blind”, but in reality, it is addiction. You are addicted to him. I had a husband whom I was addicted to, and when he divorced me, I went cold turkey. I have never felt such pain. Addiction hurts and yet, there is that indefinable something that attracts us to the addictive thing like bears to a honey bee hive. You never get over it.
When you see The Horse, you are hooked. Instantly. As with cheating spouses, horses know when they have the upper hand. Horses, when they know they can dominate you, will.
They will hurt you, usually unintentionally, when they don’t respect you. Unlike humans, (or like my ex husband), they are incapable of remorse, or resolve, or learning from it, as I did with drinking. Most of the time, an equine inflicted injury is a mishap, an accident. But a broken bone is a broken bone, no matter how unintentionally it was inflicted.
Please realize that, as much as you love your horse, he does not love you, or indeed, any other horse, in the same way. He doesn’t give a darn about the barn or its appointments. He may be attached to another horse, but horses are adaptable, so much so, that they allowed themselves to be domesticated. Or, as one person put it, they are open-minded enough to allow us into THEIR band.
He may like you or he may not think of you as anything but an animal that feeds and rides him. Granted, there are some horses that truly bond with their human, but I promise: if you give a horse the choice of a lush, green pasture with room to run and horses to be with, or a place in your bedroom with you at his side, he won’t choose the bedroom.
So, when do you decide that the horse must go?
First, do not allow some bleeding heart, who is so insecure in her own humanity, to insist that getting rid of a horse is ‘giving up on him’. These folks are guilty of anthropomorphism, where one assigns human attributes and values to animals.
Your horse doesn’t care. He doesn’t care that he will be moving to a cheaper barn, or won’t have his ‘favorite blanket’, or won’t get the raspberry flavored gummi bear in his grain. He won’t miss any of those things. He not only doesn’t care, he doesn’t have the capacity to care.
Horses don’t have emotional issues of the sort we do. They don’t have abandonment issues. If you have a horse that’s herd bound, and you sell his buddy, your horse will fret and cry for a day, because he is alone. He will then find another buddy to bond with. They don’t need therapy because their mother weaned them using teeth and hooves, or that she did so because she had his new baby sister. They don’t worry that their sire had nothing to do with raising them, indeed, they wouldn’t know their sire if they met him. He won’t think you hated him by getting rid of him, or miss being ridden or jumped or whatever. He won’t cry himself to sleep, or wish that he’d been given one more chance. He won’t think that his life is over because he failed in your eyes. He won’t be upset, or angry at you, or worry that he’s no longer loved. He is incapable of such things. He cannot extrapolate, nor, for that matter, can he reflect on his mistakes of the past. He can’t worry. He won’t ruminate at ALL. I can’t resist this: horses don’t worry because they’re not ruminants.
This is not to say horses can’t fret. They do. But their fretting is confined to what is happening to them right now, or what is supposed to happen right now. They don’t go over what happened yesterday. They fret when dinner is late, or her foal is not next to her, or the veterinarian is about to stick him, or when he’s in the gate, about to race. Fretting isn’t worrying.
Mind you, you don’t HAVE to get rid of the horse. If you like him, for whatever reason: his looks, his history with you, his breeding, his personality, by all means, keep him. Horses don’t mind being pasture jewelry. You may find this hard to believe, but horses don’t like to be ridden. They allow themselves to be ridden, but given a choice, they’d much rather roll in a nice sandy hollow and then graze and loaf all day. You can always turn him into a pet. Keeping a horse because you love him is the best thing in the world. If you can afford to keep him without your needing him to fulfill a purpose, please, DO keep him. Keep him when you think he’s earned his retirement. Keep him because you love him.
But don’t keep him, hoping that he’ll ‘get better.” One of the definitions of madness is that you keep doing the same thing over and over, hoping to get a different result.
And, realize, that there are two types of letting a horse ‘go’.
The first one should be obvious: when he’s in pain from injury, disease, infirmity or old age, and has no hope of improving or getting better. If he has Cushing’s, he’s not going to get better. If he’s suffering from an intussusception, or his coffin bones have penetrated the sole of the hoof, put him down as fast as possible. You must have the courage to put his pain above your own, and stop his. You must learn to live with the loss, knowing that you did the right thing by ending his suffering.
But this isn’t what I mean by letting him go, life wise. I mean, let the horse go by selling him, or giving him away, or in any other way, removing him from your life and care.
You let a horse go when:
When you are no longer financially capable of caring for him. Don’t let him starve in a barren pasture. You can’t throw him out onto an acre lot, pretending there’s enough grass to keep him alive for the rest of his life. There isn’t. That’s cruel.
It’s even worse to drop him off in the nearest National Park or BLM land, assuming he has the instincts that will allow him to survive ‘in the wild’. I assure you, he does not. He will stay right where you dumped him, to starve to death, or die of dehydration, or be attacked by feral dogs (who are far more numerous and merciless than any wolf), or be shot to death, slowly, by assholes with guns who think it’s fun to torture a starving animal. Is that what you want?
When you are no longer physically able to care for him.
When he has hurt you, intentionally.
When it is obvious that he doesn’t like you.
When you finally admit to yourself that you don’t like him. Don’t try to second guess your gut. If you don’t like the horse, get rid of him. He can tell. You won’t be doing him any good by keeping him when you hate him. Give him a chance with someone else, someone else may click with him. No, not liking him doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. We divorce other people far more readily, without thinking WE are the bad person.
When you cannot trust him to not hurt you or other humans, given the chance. It is not nice to put other people in harm’s way with a dangerous horse. If he’s kicked you, he will kick others. Being kicked by a horse is painful, life and limb threatening, and oh, wait until the lawyers get through with you. Or it may be a case where he is just too lazy to pick up his feet, or stumbles all the time, or other idiosyncrasies that you will never train out of him.
When it becomes apparent that he is just too much horse for you to handle.
Too much horse means just that: he’s too big, you’re too old, too young, too inexperienced, he’s too hot, too whatever.
When you have been hurt by his actions, even though they’re accidents, and he is not ready for equine retirement.
How many times can you excuse a horse when he puts you in the hospital AGAIN?
When he demonstrates that, no matter how much you train him, he can not or will not perform what you wish of him. Some Thoroughbreds don’t want to race or even break into a trot. Most horses don’t care to jump. If you want those things of a horse, get one that demonstrates the desire and the talent to do it.
When he no longer can perform what you want him to, and you are intent of reaching higher levels of your sport/competition, etc.
When he refuses, despite thousands of training dollars and hundreds of hours, to do what you ask of him.
Don’t buy into the psychobabble of “Giving him up means I’m giving up on myself.” Would you run a marathon in muck boots? That’s the same genre as the “no pain, no gain” train of thought. There’s a lot of disabled athletes that bought into that nonsense. It makes no sense to keep a horse you can’t ride because he made you that way.
Last, but not least: get rid of him when you are afraid of him. It’s okay. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. They are big, powerful, intelligent animals. They know when you’re afraid. That old saw of them being able to scent fear is both true and false: we don’t always put off the fear scent, but low grade fear is just as obvious to a horse as is utter terror. When you try to master your fear of the horse by forcing yourself to be on him, all you are going to do is confuse him. It’s a vicious cycle. The more you are afraid of something he can’t see (not being able to understand that it’s him), the more difficult he will be to handle and ride, because you are scaring him.
Be honest with yourself. If you are afraid of him, no amount of rationalization is going to justify keeping him. There’s no shame in being afraid of a horse.
To thine own self be true. Don’t lie to yourself. There are other horses, equally good, or better. You can love another horse. Give yourself a break.
And now, for my friend who is healing yet another broken bone. Or several?
I put this to you, gently, because I care for you, and I know you reads this blog.
First off, thank you for wearing a helmet. Because of it, you can read this. You are going to heal. You are going to be able to ride again.
You have several other horses, none of whom have hurt you.
This one has.
He’s not a mean horse. He is lovely, oh my. He seemed to be coming around to your point of view. He was getting so good, he was. It felt so good to be back on him, feeling that power, that indescribable feeling of riding a horse that only us horsemen understand.
This was unexpected. No one can tell what caused the accident. But he has hurt you before. Indeed, you were still healing from the last accident.
He’s not a bad horse. I know that. We all know it.
Maybe you did something wrong, although I seriously doubt it. You’ve been riding since childhood. You’re not a novice.
But even if you did, this accident should be the wake up call, like my seeing the pain in the eyes of the man I loved. Pain that I inflicted, accidentally, because I didn’t want to admit that I could not handle alcohol. Alcohol handled ME, and I am glad-and lucky that I learned it after only two goes.
But you are hurting, right now, with broken bones because of your horse.
I know it was an accident, this time. It may have been an accident last time.
How much can you take? How many times must you be hurt before you realize that, perhaps, he is not the right horse for you?
You needn’t get rid of him, but perhaps you shouldn’t ride him. Ever again. Please. For those of us in your life who care for you, please don’t ride him again.
I know. He is your Dream Horse.
But dreams aren’t always the sweet kind. Sometimes, dreams turn into nightmares.