by Laura Crum
My friend Wally came back from the local team roping a few days ago and told me a story. I’d like to pass it on here. This story really got me thinking. What is the right thing to do in this sort of situation? And this sort of situation is oh so common, as I’m sure you’ll all agree.
So, here’s the story. Apparently a team roper we’ll call Bob had a horse at the roping that Wally had seen before. Wally described the horse as a pretty nice buckskin heel horse who had taken to crowhopping when Bob kicked him up over the steer. Bob is an old guy who’s been team roping for years, but he isn’t a terribly competent roper, nor is he much of a horseman (there are a lot of ropers like this). Bob was getting lots of advice about what he should do, but he wasn’t getting his horse over this problem. And he was starting to get scared of the horse. At the roping the other day Bob asked a tough younger roper named Matt to get on the horse. Matt roped on the horse all day and punished him for trying to crowhop. Wally watched this and said that it was clear in his mind that the horse was behaving like this because he hurt. Even with a very competent rider on his back, the horse persisted with the behavior. Wally said he could tell by the horse’s expression and body language that something was hurting him. Wally told this to both Matt and Bob, who both brushed this unasked for advice off. So, Wally said to me, “What the heck do you do?”
It’s a very good question. If you insistently push your point of view at the horse’s owner, and recommend possible treatment options, you’ll likely just make yourself obnoxious and lose credibility, if the owner’s mind is set against your idea. You can’t force an owner to do something with his horse that he doesn’t want to do. And none of us can afford to buy every horse we see that’s in need of an “intervention”. Wally walked away, as most of us would do, shaking his head, and came back and asked me that question.
Since I’ve been working on this theme concerning the many gray areas we come across when trying to do right by horses, I pondered on this particular question awhile. I didn’t come up with any answers, just some stories that illustrate my thoughts. I’m going to share them with you today and ask for your advice. What do you do when you see someone doing something “wrong” to a horse? Do you interfere? And if so, how? How do you you “do good” is this sort of situation?
The potential “do gooding” can be grossly overdone and end up doing harm. For example, not so very long ago, at the pasture where I keep my retired/rescued horses, we had “Lisa”. Lisa was a neighbor of the pasture owner. She had taken on a rescue horse and gotten the pasture owner’s permission to put this mare in with our small herd. So, OK, we all did our best to get along with Lisa and the mare. But there was no “getting along” with Lisa. She was a perpetual wreck waiting to happen. Her mare seemed to have at least one soundness emergency, if not life threatening or property damaging emergency, a month, and Lisa’s personal life (with which she bored us all regularly) was the same. Friends and boyfriends and jobs came and went, with monotonous, if dramatic, regularity. And Lisa seemed to want us to be in the same condition.
She lobbied endlessly that various of our rescues/retirees needed this that or the other expensive new-agey treatment—from homeopathy to acupuncture to herbal supplements to various forms of therapy for their lameness issues. I’m not knocking this stuff—I have used all of the above mentioned treatments to good effect in my life. But Lisa didn’t seem to understand that our retired herd was comfortable enough as pasture horses, none of them were sound or young enough to be used, and that we realistically could not afford an endless stream of expensive treatments. Unfortunately Lisa was one of these people who don’t get boundries and she was intrusive in a number of ways. Eventually the pasture owner got tired of Lisa and her persistant interference and threw her and her mare off the property. Since Lisa could not really afford board for the horse and didn’t know what to do with the mare, this was a very unhappy state of affairs. And all Lisa ever had to do was relax and let her horse be happy in that field and all would have been well. It was the relentless do gooding that did harm.
I think we all know this sort of person. The one who comes up to you and says your horse needs a chiropractor cause he’s obviously hurting in his shoulder and they know just the one. Never mind that you explain that you know what’s going on with the horse. They just won’t let you alone. By the time you escape, you never want to hear the word chiropractor again, let alone look into it. Thus I don’t think the answer to Wally’s question is to hound the owner to recognize that the horse needs treatment. Once you’ve said what you see, you’ve gone about as far as you can go.
And yet, what about those times when something really rotten is happening? Shouldn’t you speak up?
Many years ago I was at a local team roping and a young guy showed up that none of us knew. Said guy roped awhile and then got mad at his horse for something—nothing big, just felt the horse wasn’t working well. He took the horse over in the corner of the arena and proceeded to beat up on him. Over and under and spur and jerk—relentlessly. This went on for awhile and everybody just sat there, watching him. Nobody liked it; nobody knew what to do. Call me hasty, but I couldn’t stand it.
I rode over to the guy and said, “Knock it off.”
Well, this kid was pretty mad and he shouted back at me that it was none of my business and it was his horse and he could do what he wanted to him.
I said, “Take him home and beat him up if you want to; you can’t do it here.”
I was about to get an earful from this still very angry young guy, but a couple of the other ropers, including the proprietor’s son, saw what was happening and rode over and told the kid to leave. Still in a genuine rage, this guy loaded his horse up and departed.
The proprietor thanked me, saying he “didn’t want those animal rights people getting after him.” But I wondered if I’d only made things worse. Maybe the kid would have gotten over his temper tantrum and that would have been that. Now that he’d been humiliated in front of the whole crowd, had he taken the horse home and truly crucified him? Or did he cool off on the drive back and leave the poor horse alone? I will never know. But I never forgot, either.
So, there’s my question for today. What do you do when you see someone “abusing” a horse? Have you all had experiences like this? What’s your advice?