Like many little girls, I spent a good deal of my childhood pouring over Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series, riding any chance I got and yearning for a horse of my own. Western television shows flooded the airways, each featuring examples of equine beauty such as Trigger, (Roy Rogers), Buttermilk, (Dale Evans) Champion (Gene Autry) and of course Silver, boon companion of the Lone Ranger.
Although novels like Black Beauty saddened me and the fate of Animal Farm’s stalwart Boxer gave me pause for thought, I neither considered nor knew what grisly fate awaited many horses once they aged or their owners’ enthusiasm waned. In my innocence, I pictured horses living an idyllic life with a happily ever after ending.
While researching my latest novel I got a wake-up call that broke my heart. I learned that those captivating, magical creatures were far too often regarded as disposable commodities subject to human whims, caprice, and slaughter. Yes, slaughter.
Most domestic horses have a life span of 25-35 years. That’s far longer than the attention span of many humans who own them. When costs skyrocket or living arrangements change, an equine companion may become a financial liability rather than a joy. As the Humane Society of the US observed, forget the convenient fiction that these poor creatures are “put to sleep.” They often suffer brutal, painful deaths under conditions that beggar the imagination.
Fortunately, a number of individuals and rescue organizations have mobilized to address this horrific situation. Willy Nelson’s Luck Ranch, for instance, houses over seventy horses that he saved from slaughter. They are hand-fed twice daily and allowed to roam freely over his 800-acre spread in Texas.
Although this is not the norm, many states now have one or more rescue facilities either publicly or privately sponsored. They are able to save or re-home only a fraction of the horses in need, but they provide hope and a positive model for the future.
We are only now starting to understand how to harness the magical powers resident in horses and to explore the many implications of the equine-human bond. Recently while attending a “Horse Wisdom for Women,” seminar at a local rescue facility, I learned of some amazing programs that marry the therapeutic properties of horses with human needs. The lives of many autistic children, people with disabilities and veterans suffering from PTSD have all been touched by contact with these marvelous animals.
As one expert observed, horses never judge. They accept. Personal appearance, age or emotional challenges are immaterial to them. PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International) is one of the organizations that assist in training counselors to facilitate this process. Their goal, sharing the power of horses to change lives, is one that people of goodwill everywhere can embrace.
When human compassion intersects with the needs of our fellow creatures, miracles can and do happen. Saving Trigger and his many buddies is a monumental task that requires awareness, action and education. Like all great endeavors, it is an effort worth fighting for.