The thank-yous seemed out of proportion for an act I perform several times a day. Yet as the conversation went on, it became clear why they were being so heartily expressed. We had stopped at our favorite feed mill to pick up a few bales of straw. When I got out of our truck, I was surprised to see a horse standing loose in the mill’s yard. Our favorite mill employee explained that it was a senior citizen and rarely moved very far because of sore knees. Just then another horse came walking up to us, also loose. This one, it was explained, was another matter.
It turned out that this horse was being boarded on the mill’s property, and its owner let it loose on the property without permission. There was nothing stopping it from wandering out onto a busy road. In fact, its owner often rode it on that busy road, so the gelding would be familiar with exiting the property on that route. The gelding was friendly, and walked up to us readily to say hello. To me he was big, being a Thoroughbred. The mill’s owner was the only person with horse skills on staff, and he was off the property, and while our favorite employee had asked the mill owner to come put the horse away, he hadn’t appeared to take care of the chore. The horse’s owner couldn’t be reached and hadn’t responded to previous requests to keep his horse where it belonged.
My husband asked the mill’s employee if they wanted help putting the horse away, saying that we had a halter and lead rope in the truck. When his offer was eagerly accepted, I went to get the halter, though I wasn’t entirely sure we’d be able to help since I for one hadn’t ever haltered a strange horse out in the open before. I let the gelding smell the halter, which was covered with dog hair from being in the dogs’ portion of the truck, and the horse walked off a short distance. My husband and the employee left in search of some feed to entice the gelding. I started talking to him, and when it was apparent he was listening, I began approaching and asking him for his assistance in solving the problem of his safety. This time he let me halter him.
I called out to my husband and the employee, asking where the gelding needed to go, and we began walking towards his paddock. On the way I learned that our favorite employee was very confident catching loose cattle and sheep but had no experience with horses. I shared that this was the first time I had ever caught a loose horse I’d never met before, so I was glad I’d been successful! I also learned that our favorite employee had fond memories of being around this horse when he was young, but then they’d become intimidated by him in recent years. When his owner rode him, the gelding was very high strung and anxious, making our employee friend very uncomfortable around the horse. Walking with him and me that day, though, made them realize that it wasn’t the horse but the way the owner handled the horse that made him intimidating.
We soon had the friendly gelding back where he belonged, and the thanks continued up until the time we left. I was reminded how many people are unfamiliar with horses; I had had the mistaken impression that mill employees who mixed and sold feed all day would be familiar with all manner of livestock and be able to handle them. I was also reminded about the 2013 court ruling that classed equines as potentially vicious (click here to read more.) One of my biggest lessons from that story was how important it is for horse owners to help the general public learn that our favorite animals have a potentially larger positive side. Helping that particular equine show his congenial side rather than his anxious one also helped our favorite employee feel less intimidated by an animal with whom they’re in close proximity on a regular basis. It was a fascinating, impromptu and multi-faceted experience, and I’m glad it turned out well on so many fronts.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015
If you enjoy stories like this one, you might also enjoy the books A Humbling Experience and What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here.