Freeing the Broken Horses on My Search for a Horse of My Own

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Photo © netg15 via Flickr

BY RAIN ZIMMEL

Since childhood, horse ownership has represented the ultimate accomplishment and success. Riding was the proverbial carrot exploited by my folks to encourage favorable behaviours, so I became a well behaved child. Horses have been woven into the fabric of my life, mostly in the background grazing in the lush pastures of tomorrow. 

I was content to ride, ownership would wait till I finished schooling  and was a “proper” adult.  Consequently, I’m really good at delaying gratification. On paper, I look fantastic—the model of success. But it’s a sentiment I do not share. I still didn’t have a horse.

The  profoundness of my desire for horse ownership was not realized until a nice horse at my barn was offered to a good home. And the price tag fit my budget: free.  

I met him in the Fall. A tall, dark creature with kind eyes and a muscular build—dark bay with a beautiful head of hair. He had a noble ancestry record, but the ugly truth only revealed in a plain radiograph. Years of pounding round on the track was hidden by flesh and bone, a botched turn and disposable investment. There were two horizontal screws buried into the bone, the joint severely arthritic, the preverbal “run away” to potential buyers, as my vet quipped.  

Distraught, I drank a bottle of wine and had a good cry. Was this horse my responsibility? I had “discovered” his issue, and saddled his reluctant owner with this ugly knowledge. I couldn’t invest in a broken horse. 

The recommendation of euthanasia was raised by more than one equine expert. The comment “fates worse than death” were tossed around, voiced with the knowing of embittered experiences. The reality of suffering and the use of death as release is acceptable in animal medicine. An aspect which I often envy in human medicine. But was this horse suffering? Where was the horse’s say?

Photo © Louis via flickr

No one had a good answer, and these are the ugly truths that I wish would just go away. The reality is we are all fumbling for the right answers and the ethical choice when caring for someone who is voiceless. 

Admittedly, I am naive to the horse world. I have ridden intermittently my entire life, and am considered by many to be horse obsessed. The barn has always been my sanctuary, and horses are these otherworldly creatures caught in the caprice of mortality. There is a certain beauty in this ignorance, one that I must sacrifice upon the journey of horse ownership.  

All horses have a past. Most invisible to us humans, and only known to the bearer and his kin. Others are written on the skin, in the movement and the vices we attempt to interpret and at times forcibly correct. All horses have secrets and some of those are tragic, buried in sale records, racing lists, unremarked medical exams, and gossip either to be unearthed or to remain forever decaying in a stranger’s memory. There is some beauty to this unknown, a puzzle to figure out and wrongs to correct. The reward of a creature disavowed and abused to become trusting at our hand.  Lending us wings, and moving with such poetry we become breathless. Plainly, horses inspire us from common everyday phrases to historical myths.

This handsome bay and I would never have been introduced if not for a friend who played matchmaker. Sudden and excited, I quickly and foolishly fell in love. Beware a free horse, the adage goes. Luckily, This handsome gelding has a happy epilogue: a green pasture shared with a fellow broken thoroughbred as his buddy. 

This experience has changed me, and now I find myself falling down the rabbit hole of the horse world. There is a desperate nature to this want, like a junkie looking for her fix. Simply I am tired, and I just want a childhood dream satisfied. Trying to be baller on a budget, I went to a horse auction.  

Photo © Dale Hicens via flickr

There I entered a world of smoking cowboys and questionable paperwork. A quiet, hidden place most of us will never witness. The twilight between a dream and a nightmare. The horses gathered there had stories, and I was doubtful of the truth as printed on the pamphlet. Did these horses know? Do they understand their situation and the uncertainty of their futures? Among the dropping heads and lidded eyes, I wondered if it was meditative calm or resignation. Some attempted to engage us, soft muzzles reaching for our sleeves, a ploy for salvation.  

Buried in the back in a stall no bigger than her, was a horse that never should have been at auction. She has a gash on her forehead where a star should have been, and was doubly branded—a mustang with three strikes. She looked at us with these deep dark eyes that told of intelligence and curiosity. She was breathing American history, and on a whim my trainer bought her. I was too afraid to gamble on the unknown. I have always been cautious. A fear that runs through my everyday life, a fear that at times can cause paralysis. A fear mollified only when  on horseback, as doubt leads to trouble and tumbles. 

Horses make me less afraid. I can be brave for someone else. I want to know her story, one which we are discovering as this little mustang gets settled at the barn. Her story is still unfolding, but now she is in a soft place, one that will work for a happy epilogue for her. Her hidden histories are waiting to be appreciated and to be shared. My question remains: what do we owe the horse?   


Rain Zimmel in her spare time enjoys barn time, comic books and the occasional puzzle. She is also new to this whole horse owner thing but is rather enjoying the adventure.