The state of the world through my lens: the tragic and redeeming relationship between horses and humans.
Yesterday Greg, my farrier, cut a pie-shaped piece out of my horse Gabriel’s right front foot, in an attempt to drain a massive abscess. Only last week he saved the horse next door from the same. Because it has been so wet, and horses stand in mud, foot infections are now common. It is said “a horse is only as good as his feet.”
I am only as good as my relationships with horses and writing. Every time one of my horses died, I wrote about it first. You could say this defines my place in my world.
1956, Richmond, IN
My grandmother Ida gave me copper horses. Part Blackfoot, she was sent to an orphanage by her father’s second wife, the white one. The Blackfeet say pray to horses, horses have a god, Ida told me. Horses teach us when to join up and when to run. My grandfather gave me a pony named Star. I climbed out my window at night to ride my pony, black sky above, and to sleep against his back when he slept. Probably more girls than you know crawl out of their windows at night to ride.
1957, Delaware, OH
My box of found objects: Photo of a phone booth horse. Ivory horse kneeling, carved from soap. List the Appaloosa’s four basic patterns: leopard, snowflake, blanket, and marbled roan. Notes for a history of Justin Morgan. Story of The Red Pony, with the death scene covered in black magic marker. Ring of woven silver horse hair. The Invisible Horse showing organs and vines of intestine. My portrait in charcoal of four horses hooked up to sulkies and waiting to run the Little Brown Jug. The Evolution of the Horse, with charts, for my third grade science fair.
The first horses evolved to survive the changing climate. Human beings eradicated horses from the Americas, then, eventually, imported them back from other countries. Through calculated breeding, humans re-designed the species in more ways than they managed to do with any wild thing. Breeding changed the horses’ length, shape, size, weight, to suit the many uses mankind invented.
A pendulum is measured by the height of the bob. The speed of the swing is measured by the distance of the center of gravity from the point of attachment. If you increase the length of a horse’s lower leg, you give it greater speed. But it puts greater strain on the ankles and toes. Then these parts must be strengthened by converting them from ball and socket to pulley-type joints. You then gain additional strength at the expense of flexibility.
I’m sure these were primarily men directing breeding. But I don’t want to say “man” because it is primarily blacksmiths who care most about horses, and horses’ feet, and most, but not all, blacksmiths are men who love horses.
1998, Ithaca, NY
My Morgan gelding racing the pasture perimeter, keening like a banshee as we buried his best friend, Wave. Wave was a silver Arabian who died of founder, a disease that rots the feet. He died the summer my best friend Helen died. Helen, who had ridden him with me, at night, in the dark pasture under the stars. We rode bareback, and lay on their backs to watch the stars, unafraid, as they swayed gently, tugging at green grass. Helen, wearing her neck brace. With his giant excavator, neighbor Jim buried Wave where we used to ride, gently placing a boulder marker on the fresh mound, and sent his youngest daughter in to comfort me.
2017, Ithaca, NY
When Sonny’s hoof had to be carved open to drain, we tried fettering him the old cowboy way. Tie one foot up. He hopped so hard he upended farrier and iron tools three times. Finally, his body in spasms, he faced the farrier and they stared eye to eye. He could have bitten off the man’s face. Instead, horse turned away in a hundred- year-old resignation. Sometimes they take the long view, backward and forward. Horses have history. Sometimes they won’t give up, both would rather die fighting: farrier to save horse, horse to be free.
My New World
The placentas used on humans in stem cell surgery are taken from mares who stand tied in rows of stalls their whole short lives. A harvest of placentas, beginning the moment they give life to their foals, who are taken away and killed. Stalls like the rows of the temporary shelters trucked in for the Olympic games to house the prostitutes. America, where they, us, still, again, are colluding in killing every living thing.
Based on my experience, the horse illustrates the best and worst of animal/human collaboration. Horses don’t lie, they don’t hunt or kill, and they respond to kindness. They live in herds. Wild horses are being killed in the thousands on the Plains of America where they lived before people, and were eradicated once before by people.
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About the Author
Lou Robinson lives in Ithaca NY with two horses and a dog. She has published in numerous small press magazines, and is the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts grant in writing. Her novel, Napoleon’s Mare, was co-winner of a Fiction Collective best book of the year award. She is currently a freelance book jacket designer for several university and small press publishers.