I have an admission to make.
I was a horrible horse owner.

Seeing the posts on the Mugwump Chronicles and the Fuglyblog informed me of every mistake I made, and reading the comments brought feeling of shame and guilt in the beginning. It only grew worse over time.

Ignorance is not bliss.

I never started out wanting to be a bad horse owner. I loved horses. I loved everything about them, their majesty and grace, their (generally) gentle hearts, the smell, even that soft kiss spot on the nose. My mother loved horses, too. She had grown up with OTTBs bought at auction. They used training methods that, in cowboy country in the 70s were considered good enough. Her horses always looked beautiful in the pictures, glossy coats, nice healthy bodies, and saucy looks in their eyes. 

I grew up hearing stories of the wonderful bond my mother had with her horse, Boomerang, a one person horse with only eyes for her. She would hop upon his back, barefoot and with dog food for a snack for her in one pocket, carrots for him in her other,  and ride from dawn until dusk. I wanted that bond with a horse of my own, but perhaps with human food for me to eat instead.

I was six when they bought a horse for my brother and I. A great, sturdy quarter horse/Morgan mix named Cheyanne that was 26 when we got him. He was a God in my eyes, and loving in all ways. He let us clamber up and over him, even run beneath his belly. Yes... I was the barefoot, helmet free child that clambered on and off my horse without much thought to the fact that he was a giant prey creature that could spook at any time. We had him in a barbed wire fence with uncapped t-posts, gopher holes aplenty (he'll know to go around them, don't you know?) and two flakes of hay thrown onto the sandy ground. When he colicked (only once, though heaven knows how), we didn't call in a vet, but used an old cowboy trick of tying him with his head up and pouring some alcohol, whiskey or scotch, I can't remember, down his throat and walking him all night long. Somehow he survived.

I read horse fiction books with a voracious appetite, and all I gathered from them was that a horse needed love. All the English riding terms of the Pony Club books went right over my little Southwestern head. I was in cowboy country, and had a hard time even picturing the carriage horse lifestyle of Black Beauty. The underlying theme of all those books seemed, to my oblivious little mind, that horses needed lots of love, lots of time with their owners/companions, and someone who didn't use a whip or push them too hard.

It was never a matter of not loving the horses we owned. I would sit by the pen and talk to them for hours. As I grew older, and suicidal from the ostracism of my peers, my horses became confidants. I would sit by the barbed wire fence, often cutting myself on the wiring as I leaned against it (why, oh why did I never question whether they'd cut themselves?) and cry. I'd climb into the pen in my thin canvas shoes with soles so thin I could feel every rock (can you see how well they would have protected me had my horses stepped on my foot?), lean my head against the neck of the nearest one, and sob.

Yes... I said horses. My bad ownership didn't extend only to Cheyanne, but to two other horses and a donkey as well. I gave up a Quincinera for the chance to own a younger horse. It wasn't like I had any friends to come to the party anyway. My parents agreed, and I received, on my 15th birthday, a horse that had been born the same month and year that I was. He was amazing, he was beautiful, he deserved better than me.

I found friends, fellow losers in a losers club (Speech and Debate/Forensics). It was time consuming, confidence building, and the horses became neglected.

It took me six months to realize my beautiful 
Quincinera horse was perhaps a 2 on the body scale. Not that I knew what that was. It seemed like one day he was healthy and happy, the next day he was skin and bones. He had a heart murmur caused by an infection, or an infection  and also a heart murmur. The veterinarian couldn't tell which, and we unfortunately didn't have the money to explore it further. I was given antibiotics to shoot into his neck three times a day, and my mother was taken aside and given the name of a few backhoe owners that worked cheap.

Somehow my horse made it through. I kept him alive until I left for College, no longer galloping him like he loved. He was an old rodeo horse, and I did love him. I loved that no one else in the family, or their friends who would get drunk and decide they were cowboys, couldn't ride him. When you tapped his sides or clucked he went back almost on his haunches like a dog, then launched forward into a full out gallop that unseated all the other riders, especially the drunk ones. I loved his fearless nature. And now I love him in retrospect for never stepping a foot out of line with me. 

Perhaps he knew I was the only one taking care of him. Perhaps he saw me hauling 5 gallon buckets of water in the winter for the length of a football field with my tiny twig arms, sloshing and slipping until I had as much water in my clothing as I did in the buckets, the 15 degree weather leaving me shaking for hours. Perhaps he saw me going out on my own accord, and shoveling the poop of all three horses and one donkey until my hands bled, not because the pasture wasn't large enough that they couldn't get out of their own waste, but because they tended to go near their food, and I thought they deserved better. Perhaps he just understood that I was a lonely and lost little girl, and I needed his strength to get me through the lonely days when not a single person at my school would say anything to me, unless it was to call me names or tell me what a whore my mother was for being a white woman marrying a Mexican.

Either way, in the end I failed my horses. I left for college, and when I returned the week after leaving to collect my things, I was informed that Cheyanne, now in his 30s, had been sent to auction with our club footed paint and the donkey. My horse had been given away to a cowboy. He had the best fate, as I'd learn later, reading the graphic accounts and watching the even more graphic videos on Fugly blog. My husband, then boyfriend, came home to me sobbing as I realized that IF, and it was quite a big if, my beloved yet neglected horses had made it to Mexico, they had faced a horrible death. I doubt anyone 'wasted' money on a crippled yet beautiful mare (unless they wanted to breed her, perhaps a worse fate), an old and too skinny gelding, or a donkey upgraded from an abusive situation and trusting only one human (me). 

I no longer trust myself to own a horse, but I did learn an important lesson from all of this. I currently own a cat and a rabbit. I make certain to keep enough money in my account to give them vet care if needed. Enough so that when my poor little chihuahua went into heart failure less than a month ago, I was able to take her to the vet immediately to euthanize her, rather than let her 'sort it out' like my parents would have, and thus let her drown in the fluids flooding her lungs. Before I got my rabbit, I did hours upon hours of research to make certain I could handle the responsibility, and would be able to recognize the warning signs. Never again do I want an illness to 'sneak up' on me. When my cat started biting at his belly and crying, I was able to take him to the vet immediately, because I knew neutered male cats were prone to urinary infections. 

I just wish my horses hadn't had to suffer.

I wish I had been better informed. I wish I'd had access to the information that's out there now. I wish Fugly Blog and Mugwump had been my neighbors, or at least had their blogs up so I could have read up on the information I so desperately needed. Most of all, I wish I had someone, any one of the knowledgeable horse people around me tell me that I was in the wrong in how I was taking care of my horses.

I've made this confession as a plea to all you knowledgeable horse people, when you see a horse that needs help, no matter how awkward or hard it may be, please speak up. For every smart ass teen that will snap at you or every grown horse person that throws attitude your way, there is a rider like me, who is honestly trying their best and just... failing. Most of all, keep on putting that information out there. Your honesty and the stories you've shared in the comments and blogs you run are gold for the uneducated like myself, the painfully shy who are afraid to ask for help, even when they so desperately need it. You are all heroes in my eyes, and I thank you for your efforts. My horses may have not been as cared for as they should have been, as well as they deserved, but from reading and research I feel confidant enough to speak up if I see abuse. From reading the wonderful stories of the bonds you have with your horses, I have hopes that one day, after plenty of lessons, I may one day trust myself to have a horse once more. This time I will take care of them. This time I'll honor the trust they put in me. And it is all thanks to you.