Nocturnal Spirits

My brother, Christopher Kaufman, is a brilliant composer and he often writes about the beauty and power of the natural world. This piece is quite powerful and it’s one of my favorites. Performed by the American Quartet at the National Opera Center.

The Truth about Horses

My sweet Dakota at two years old.

I read a comment on Facebook (not always a good idea) from a woman condemning those of us who ride horses instead of letting them run “free” in a pasture. I’ve been working with horses for almost fifty years, and I have questioned the relationship between horse and human many times. But when you have a realistic, balanced, and loving relationship with a horse, you realize, let me say I’ve realized, that it is very much a two-way street. My horses and I have a covenant, at least that is what I call it. It’s a visceral thing and quite profound.

I love riding. I love studying horsemanship, dressage, jumping. I love the bridle horse path. I study or have studied all of these traditions  and more for a long while. I ask my horses to do what they were bred to do–work for me, try hard, be willing to do what I ask.

All I can say is that when I go to pull one of my horses from the pasture, they walk up to me to be haltered. My primary riding horse, Dakota, sticks her head into the halter as if to say, let’s get to it. My horses are intelligent, sensitive beings and they seem, at least, to be eager to have a job. They work hard for me and I ask them to. When they aren’t being ridden, shown, worked by me, they spend time in pastures or in their stalls at night eating and being with their ‘herd.’ I get up at dawn each morning, put on their fly masks, feed them, let them out, clean their poop. Every evening I bring them in, feed them hay and mash, mineral supplements. I bathe them. I get them the best hay possible. I buy them shavings, supplements, feed. I groom them, clean their feet. I treat their wounds, their feet, their whatever. I get their hooves trimmed and shod. They get regular health checks and vet visits.

Dakota and I, in the trailer for the ride home.

When I was bringing my then new filly home (who is now nine yrs old), I rode with her in the trailer because she was fairly untouched and she had climbed into this terrifying metal cave just because I asked her to. I thought the least I could do is stand back there with her and keep her company. When she was worried, I was able to look her right in the eye and try to comfort her. At one point, I blanked out for a moment and when I came back to myself I heard myself saying, in my mind, “And I’ll always take care of you.”

Think what you want, but the response I heard myself giving to my horse in the trailer was my part of an agreement. A covenant formed in that moment that enabled me, after working with horses for decades, to finally understand the true relationship between myself and the horses under my care.

The only word that comes to me to describe what I felt as my horse’s part of the covenant was ‘surrender.’ But in reality, there were no words. Simply an agreement formed between us, the foundation of a connection that has strengthened through many trials and challenges.

I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, but this is what is real for me. I don’t dominate my horses. We are partners who bring very different elements to the table. They are horses, I am a human. And while our roles and responsibilities are different, somehow, through some incredible miracle that has been forged between our two species, we have found a way to take care of each other and to honor the covenant we formed that day.

“In this country we have no other people. We are American people.”

This film on anti-racism was made during WWII. It’s all still right there. Nothing has changed. We keep coming to this same place, over and over again. Are we doomed to keep repeating this endless loop, or will our culture, our species, be able to evolve into a deeper understanding of each other and who we all really are? An unanswered, and likely unanswerable, question.

A Community of Crows

crowsI once had a writing teacher complain when I used the word ‘family’ to describe the band my mustang once led when he was living as a wild horse. Her objection revolved around a body of literature that sentimentalizes the horse, makes it a kind of human on four legs, or describes the sad tale of how a horse was ‘rescued’ from neglect or even death. Families are a human term, she said. We deprive animals of respect when we anthropomorphize them and give them human attributes.

I understand the objection, because I too tire of sentimentalizing animals and not letting them be what they are.

But what they are, to us specifically, is the issue. Horses, crows and other animals are not human. I agree they don’t experience emotions in the same way we do, nor do they care about us in the same way we care about them. Horses are not humans on four legs.

But describing them as living in families is as arbitrary as saying they live in herds, bands, flocks. Language shapes the way we feel about things, how we experience what we do, how we frame our relationship to other people, beings, the world.

So why not call a group of beings that live together, bear young, teach their young the ways of the world, protect and look out for each other, forming bonds of friendship and, dare we say it, love, “families.” How does it take away from a horse being a horse to use the arbitrary human word “family” instead of the arbitrarily devised human word “herd”?

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