I am going to take a moment to talk about a horse.
Ahahaha, some of you might say right about now. Another crazy horse girl! Let’s hear about Flicka! Black Beauty! Tell us how you felt a special connection and how you are just oh so special because of it.
I won’t, though. There is nothing special about me.
Manny was the special one. He had every reason in this world to hate.
To look at people with fear and distrust, and to use his incredible strength for ill and hurt everyone around him.
He had the ability, and the reason. He was a big horse, a German Warmblood (Westphalian, for those in the know) standing just over 17 hands. And he had a broken back, his pelvis fractured (among other things) due to the abuses of someone I don’t ever care to know. But that was not even the beginning of his pain, as he was a valuable animal and the powers that deemed him such wanted him ‘fixed.’
I can only imagine what he went through before he ended up in my care, but I remember clearly the smell of DMSO and that acrid taint to his manure and urine that meant he was being injected with all manner of medications and steroids. The smell of it pervaded his stall. His insides were in chaos just as his world was turned upside down and he was moved again… this time to a barn where everyone was schooled to ignore the ‘clinic’ horses. Not your problem, management would say. The vet and his assistants look after that one, they would assure the well-intentioned and curious. At the time, I was leasing another horse in addition to developing their website and doing some freelance photography at the local shows.
For months I wondered about the big bay horse with the alert ears and soft eyes… walking by him and patting his muzzle when he reached for me. Don’t ask questions, they would tell me when I did. Don’t worry about him, he’s fine… they would tell me, as that bright light in his eyes dimmed little by little beneath the weight of the benign neglect.
But it never went out. Not when his once fancy show horse mane and tail grew long and tangled… his hooves also grew long and made it hard for him to walk, nor when his weight dropped off and his glossy coat became dirty and ill-kept. Eventually I stopped asking, and just started doing. No one bothered me.
I’ll never forget the moment I picked up his halter for the first time, and those bright eyes of his blazed with such love.
He didn’t know me, but he loved me in that moment because I was there for him… and that was enough.
I unlocked his stall gate, slipped that ratty leather contraption over his head, and led him out for some overdue grooming. Such a big horse, I worried that he might charge out and head for the feed room, or the paddocks, or another horse. I put a chain over his nose; because the grooms said he sometimes did all of those things. He was so thin, kept at barely acceptable weight because he was a clinic freeloader, and never allowed on the grass paddocks for the same reason. Boarders got the best, you see, and horses that were not boarders had to earn their keep.
But he didn’t do any of those things, despite his condition. He walked calmly beside me, his great big head with his warm breath just at my shoulder.
We reached the wash racks, and I hooked him up to the cross ties and took that chain off his nose, never to use it again. His eyes were so soft, and he watched my every move with such interest and joy. There was never a moment spent with Manny that was not a happy one, even if I was crying and frustrated because I couldn’t save him. When he saw the brushes, he whickered again and nosed me gently as I ducked beneath the ties to go to his side. Stopping, I held the bucket up to him for him to inspect… wondering if he was hungry and mistook the brush bucket for food. He didn’t, and I realized I had misjudged him yet again. He only wanted to have his face rubbed first, as I learned when he continued to reach around for me as I started to curry. Luck had me rub his face, and he let me know that was what he wanted through his relaxation and that great long sigh I would later associate with him and him alone.
The rest went as any normal grooming would, bar that it was Manny and I have never met a horse who so thoroughly enjoyed it. I would spend hours bathing him, brushing him while he grazed, or just idly rubbing his forehead in that particular way he liked while we watched the kids and the other horses jump around the ring during lessons. He was very observant, and when we weren’t involved in the grooming ritual or spending quality time shortening the grass… we went on long walks around the community. I’ll admit, a big part of me was broken as well… I’d been thrown from one too many horses and had one too many a poor trainer mistake natural aptitude for sitting in a saddle for actual knowledge. There is a stigma in the horse world, against telling the truth. A false assumption that if someone says they are a beginner, but look advanced, they must be lying to get cheaper lessons or easier horses. “Toughen up, girl!” I’ve heard so many times. For the non-horse people out there, it is akin to the ‘walk it off!’ encouragement of coaches to the new skinny kid QB who just got pummeled by the burly defensive lineman. He can’t walk it off, coach. He’s scared, because that hurt and he knows it’s going to keep happening again and again, and you just taught him that pain is the game.
Pain is not the game.
The game is supposed to be fun, not hurt.
A long time ago, horses began to hurt for me. First it was my back, then other parts of me as time progressed and the root problem was not addressed.
Finally, my heart started to hurt as well. Horses were the last thing I had that was still going right, and when even my relationship with them started to go sour, I really began to feel that my life was falling apart for good this time.
I was so ready for Manny to hurt me, even as I just wanted to help him. You see, that had started to be a trend as well… I was so ready to retreat from horses forever, but maybe I would try just once more.
One more opening of my heart, as my friends dropped away one by one and even the horse I leased began to feel like a stranger.
I wanted to help Manny, and he… he just wanted to love someone.
I was that someone, by some grace that is beyond my ability to understand. And I am so very thankful.
He ended up helping me far more than I ever helped him.
Time passed for us, and I would drive to that barn to be with Manny for hours each day. People forgot he was just a ‘clinic horse’ and he slowly became ‘Meagan’s horse’ even though everyone knew he wasn’t really. Questions were raised about his origin, and the kids began to take care of him as well and braid pretty ribbons in his hair, give him treats, and adore him. He loved all of them for it, and I loved them for it as well. The attention made him happy, and he was never going to be the sort of horse who would become spoiled by such attention. He was such a classy and affectionate soul, genuinely grateful for every little kindness and attention shown him. When I couldn’t get out to the barn because of school, someone would make sure he was grazed that day for me. When he was injured, someone would let me know because everyone knew I had purchased grooming supplies and other necessities just for him. That I cared for that horse, and would do everything in my power for him.
I even bought him a new leather halter and got him fed better and his feet done, because he deserved to be treated like the champion he was.
He was my brother of the heart, responding to cues I never had to vocalize. If I shifted, he would watch and read me for intent. When he flicked his tail or twitched an ear, I took note and looked around for what had caught his interest. What was often of interest to him was also of interest to me, and we discovered many things while out walking I would not have noticed without his keen horse-sense. The kids reported he was pushy sometimes, and I would just laugh because he had likely just lost patience with them stopping to talk to each other instead of letting him get to the very important business of cropping grass. He was never pushy with me, after all, and would stand calmly when I asked him to, because he knew I always had a reason. When we moved, we moved together in a harmony I have never been able to replicate even when mounted on another horse. I don’t like that gimmicky ‘natural horsemanship’ crap, but what we did was probably the heart of what that stuff is based on. And we did it on accident. Always he was aware of me, and I of him. His deep and intelligent eyes followed my every move, wherever I was. When I would arrive at the barn, he would whicker for me… and if he was turned out in the nasty sand paddock, he would come trotting up. Sometimes, when he would be resting in his stall, I would sit down next to him and we would just breath… our inhale and exhale perfectly matched as the tensions from the day melted away. Horse. Hay. Wood chips and scent of the barn and the dust tickling our noses. I never trusted a horse as much as a trusted him, and he never put a foot wrong. I was once a barn manager well known for taking the cautious route, never trust any equine… because you, as a soft and squishy human, would get hurt. Treat them with respect, and caution. Always caution.
Nearly a year we had together, with me tossing all prior caution to the winds, until one of our champions in management called me after I had gone to bed to let me know that he was leaving that very night.
She wasn’t sure why or to where, only that his time with us was up and he was going back.
I’ve never driven so fast, nor broken so many traffic laws, but I was there by 10:00pm… in his stall and hugging him while our friends stood outside and kept watch for the trailer that would take him away. Even then, when surely he knew something was wrong, he didn’t appear to worry for himself. He just wrapped that long neck around me and whuffed in my hair as I cried. Me, the girl who never cried for anyone, or anything. Never once did that horse show fear or distrust. Never once. Not when I had to leave his stall and turn away as they led him out, nor when he walked up the dark ramp into that trailer.
Words had never mattered before, after all, and they didn’t matter then. His heart was with me, and mine was with him. I would find him, I silently promised. In return, he whickered. The memory still gives me chills.
I managed to keep part of that promise, finding out where he had been taken and sneaking up there with one of the trainers from my barn who knew some folks up that way. I visited whenever I could after that, bringing him apples and face rubs when no one was looking, until I snuck in for the last time and found him gone.
I used every connection I had forged over the years to figure out where he went from there, but as is often the case in situations that are ‘embarrassing’ to someone with money, no one wanted to say. I got several different stories, until finally hearing from someone relatively close to his situation that had they known about me… they would have given him to me.
Given him to me.
My heart, my love, my brother on four feet.
I didn’t have words for that, only thanks to the person who gave me that information even if she didn’t know his current location nor that her kind admission broke my heart.
I’m still looking for him to this day, because I have a promise to keep and he deserves that promise kept.
I don’t know his registered name, only that he had a 1993 Westphalian brand. If that is the year he was branded, that places him at around 20-25 years old. A retiree, hopefully. If he is safe and well cared for, far be it from me to remove him from a place that he is loved; but if he is not.
If he is as dirty, hungry, and lonely as he was when I first met him?
I want him back, and I will do whatever I have to do to get him back and care for him for the rest of his days.
I’ve included some photos throughout this posting. He was last seen in South Florida, but he might have been taken up to the Ocala/Central Florida area. If you think you know him, or anything at all about him, please contact me. If you currently have him, and he is safe, I would love to hear from you. I won’t trouble you or try to take him from you, I just want him to be happy and well cared for.
Thank you, tumblr, for hearing me out. Your time and consideration is greatly appreciated! <3