The long dreary winter days are upon us. ‘Tis the season for carriage horses and drivers to take it easy, working occasionally to stave off cabin fever, bankruptcy, and the extra pounds from last night’s oversize carb-fest.
During the slow season, much of what we do at the carriage stand involves people watching, interacting with our horses, and chatting with pedestrians. I’ve recently had two excellent encounters with passersby concerned about my horses’ welfare.
One night last week, with temperatures dipping into the low 30’s, a well dressed gentleman approached me. He asked me how cold it needed to be before I put a blanket on my horse. Though he seemed interested in my response, his manner indicated a readiness to trounce me with his opinion.
Without missing a beat, I replied “Never.”
“Not even if it gets really cold?”
“Not even then.”
“Why not? I have a horse farm and I know what I’m talking about.”
I rattled off a quick summary of my own equestrian resume and said, “I know what I’m talking about, as well.”
I removed my glove and ran my hand backwards along Reebok’s thick coat and fat-covered ribs. “See this? There’s no blanket out there better than this. Mother Nature has provided far superior protection than I ever could. This is a work horse who lives his life outside. If he’s resting at the farm, he’s outside. If he’s working in the city, he’s outside. A blanket would only make him miserable and hot.”
“So you’d never ever put a blanket on this horse?” The man seemed incredulous.
“Not this horse. He’s not a show horse. He’s not unhealthy. He’s been growing this coat since last fall, and if I put a blanket over him, I’d only compromise what he’s able to do for himself.”
After a 20 minute discussion, the gentleman walked away with a better understanding of the industry, and at ease with the excellent (if pudgy) condition of Reebok. Politesse won the day, and both parties felt good about the result.
Two nights ago brought a different experience. A girl walked into the street to accost me while Cisco and I waited at a red light. She proceeded to call me cruel and heartless for forcing my horse to “carry the weight of the carriage” all night, at which point I assured her he did no such thing. The carriage bore its own weight–Cisco merely started and stopped the momentum, walking easily as he enjoyed the laws of physics.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” she shouted. “Shame on you! You have no right!”
“I beg your pardon, miss, but you have no right. Who are you to judge me? I assure you, I’ve done this long enough to know exactly what I’m talking about. And furthermore, shame on you! You are the very height of rudeness and impolite behavior to approach a complete stranger on the street and judge them with no knowledge of them or the situation. How dare you judge me? How dare you judge my horse?”
Her friends begged her to come away and once the light turned green, she followed me down the street. “You don’t care about that horse, you’re just using him!”
I slowed Cisco’s walk, no small task as he was headed home and knew it. “Again, how dare you judge me? I adore this horse. Do you honestly think I’d do this job if I didn’t? This time of year, I make very little money–I’d be better off sitting behind a desk. This horse is the ONLY reason I do this job–I care for him far more than I do myself!”
Again, her friends pulled her along, trying to assure her that the horse looked good, well cared for. And perhaps, my interest in defending myself and my trade made a difference. I’m no troglodyte, and am generally good at making a point.
“If you are concerned about my horse, come meet him. See for yourself!” The group walked away, and the girl, after a brief pause looking at Cisco (who was doing his best to be patient but had begun to puff up into his ‘fire breathing dragon’ pose), shut her mouth and followed her friends. A different approach, but a somewhat similar result.
So why do I share these little tidbits?
Seldom do carriage drivers get an opportunity to defend themselves. Most of our opponents hurl insults out of car windows as they drive away, unwilling to hear anything that might tarnish their gilded heroism. Many hide behind computer screens, their confrontations protected by the anonymity of screen names. Personal attacks against someone capable of refuting assumptions and accusations take real gumption.
I applaud the two people who confronted me. Good for you! With any luck at all, you learned something from me. If you listened to what I said and looked at my horses, perhaps you feel better. But perhaps not. Faced with living proof that our horses are cared for, that we drivers know our horses better than anyone else alive, if you still feel certain that I am an abuser, then so be it. You are still wrong, but at least you now base your beliefs on tangible evidence.
I cannot change willful ignorance, but at least it’s not my burden to bear.