Friday, July 14, 2006


I don't usually get too worked up about animal issues. I love animals -- I've had countless pets over the years -- but, every time I get a little sad about an abused animal or a lost animal or a sick animal, I just think about the 1.2 million human babies that are cavalierly dismembered and vacuumed from their womb homes every year in America, against which so few cry out; I think of the children across the world who face every day the realities of war and famine and oppression, against which so few cry out; I recall that certain darkened souls plot and enact acts of unspeakable evil against innocents, about which we have gotten too calloused; and I find myself a lot less worried about the animals. Animals are nice, and we humans ought to be kind to them and be good stewards of this beautiful earth and the inhabitants herein, but it's been made clear that He who knits us together in our mothers' wombs, and He who planned out the days of our lives when as yet there were none, finds us far more valuable than sparrows (and I think we can bet more valuable than cats, dogs, spotted wood owls, etc.).

Ah, but horses. I shall always have that special concern for those of the equine persuasion. And that mushy part in my heart gets even more soft when I think of Thoroughbred racehorses. And so, I cry over Barbaro, that lion-hearted colt who is hovering on the brink of death. His case is so painful to me because I once had an ex-racehorse (tattooed lip and all), and I know the nobility of these athletes; also, I lost a horse to laminitis when I was younger, and Barbaro's case is renewing memories of that loss.

Laminitis is an insidious disease that is nigh impossible to cure. My beautiful dressage champion, Inverness Heather, slowly declined with that hoof ailment until she had to be euthanized. It is a wretched thing to witness the pitiful sight of your glorious horse lying on her side in her stall because it is too painful to stand. The last night of her life, I lay down in the stall next to her and rested my head on her belly. Echoing throughout her body was the beat of that noble heart -- the heart of a grand dancer whose precision and elegance were responsible for almost all of the show ribbons in my collection.

Am I anthropomorphizing my horses? Of course! But -- and I think that anyone who has spent time hands-on with horses will tell you the same thing -- horses are different. I suppose that people will say that dogs are different, too. I've never been much of a dog person. Many will declare that cats are also capable of having those inter-species bonds. I guess so, but I still insist that with horses it is different. As I stated, I've had many, many pets over the years. But, the only "pets" that haunt my dreams are my horses -- especially my ex-racehorse, Spirit. I still have heart-wrenching dreams about when I gave him up to go to college in 1994. Twelve years later, I still haven't recovered completely. If he is still alive out there, he would be 25. I'm guessing that he is in greener pastures by now. Is it wrong to hope that the God of Creation will have set aside a corner of eternity for those friends that somehow managed to transcend the barrier of dumb beasts and capture a bit of our souls to claim as their own? Oh maybe, but that's not going to stop me from praying for Barbaro, and my own long-lost equine friends. As always, God's grace is far bigger than my heresy.

My mom and I often didn't "get" each other, especially when it came to my riding. But, when the trailer came and took my last horse, Spirit, to his new home on the brink of my leaving for college, my mom saw my stricken face and wracked soul and made this observation:

Your horses were your friends when you felt all alone. They were your parents when we didn't understand you. They were the school where you learned your toughest lessons. They were your sounding board for all of your fears and hopes and frustrations. They were the biggest part of your life for many years. It is okay to miss them terribly.

That was a very freeing statement from my mom, who, I had always thought, viewed my horse obsession with contempt and disgust. I bless her for that, because it allowed me to go into my childhood bedroom and cry my eyes out. And it still lets me do that today, as I tear up while typing this out. And I bless my dad, without whom I never would have had the joy of owning horses.

I'm hoping for a miracle for Barbaro.


Flicka Spumoni said...


Which is your favorite fictional horse?

Hell Bitch, Captain Call's steed has got to be up there for me, but only because the Captain prized her so. Every good horse has first the respect of it's owner. A good horse draws that out.

Smokey the Cow Horse is on that list. Exceptional. Inspirational.

And, probably my personal favorite, Sham who became The Godolphin Arabian, as told by Marguerite Henry gives me chills to think on his glory. Still one of my favorite stories.

And, Okay, Flicka

Flicka Spumoni said...


You should go over to The Ranting Room. blogspot and convince Bruce to give you the book "Beloved" and the book review on his site.

Nobody does a book review like you.

Justine said...

Hi Flicka!

This is going to sound weird, but I've never read a lot of the "horsey" books that have filled so many young girls eyes with stars and saddles. I've never read about Flicka, Misty, the Black Stallion, etc. Two horse books that I did love that immediately come to mind were:

King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry -- the Sham you mentioned. What a wonderful book! You're right about the chills.

Man o' War by Walter Farley -- about that famous Thoroughbred racehorse (natch!).

I really read a lot of non-fiction horse stuff, especially books about dressage and eventing and all that jazz. I used to collect the Breyer models too, and so I have Smokey and Phar Lap and Secretariat and The Godolphin Arabian (and his sweetie, too! -- the white mare), etc. These models are packed away until Sadie is old enough to have them.

What's your favorite horse movie? I weep over Phar Lap every time. I love The Black Stallion (classic) and Sylvester (cheesy, but irrevocably tied to my youth).

You'll have to tell me who "Hell Bitch" is! That's a great name for a horse. :-)

Re. Ranting Room: Are you talking about the Toni Morrison book, Beloved? Or is there a new book by that same title? I'm glad you like my reviews. I surely enjoy writing them. How's your writing going, BTW?

Justine said...

Hey Flicka!

After posting my comment, I went to the Ranting Room and read of the contest. Sounds intriguing, but I doubt that I would find Beloved the greatest work of American fiction in the past 25 years. Maybe I would, but who knows? So, I'll tell you what: I will borrow Beloved from the library and read it and write a review and post it here, but only if you'll do the same (with or without winning Bethke's book). What say you? Will you book-club it with me?

Typing the above paragraph has also made me wonder what I would identify as the greatest American literary work since 1981. Hmmmmm . . . I don't read a lot of contemporary American fiction, so I cannot really think of anything. I do tend to agree with the commentor at the Ranting Room who said that a recommendation from Oprah essentially damned a book to perdition in his/her eyes. B&N employees will mostly all say the same thing. We universally despised OBC (while enjoying the increased sales that that oracle of mediocrity sent our way).

I'm almost done with Vanity Fair, by the way. I might just review that massive tome. Or I might not! That's what keeps me so piquant and interesting.

Flicka Spumoni said...

"but I doubt that I would find Beloved the greatest work of American fiction in the past 25 years. I don't read a lot of contemporary American fiction, so I cannot really think of anything. I do tend to agree with the commentor at the Ranting Room who said that a recommendation from Oprah essentially damned a book to perdition in his/her eyes."

Precisely why your evaluation would be so insightful, in my opinion.

By the way, I agree with your sentiments and have no desire to actually read and review it myself. Hence the salacious entreaty. He'd be a fool to reward that, and I don't take him for a fool.

As for actually reading it with you and doing a review, hmmm....
Interesting, but I'm soooo busy write now. (slip intended)
Let's think about that for the fall. If not with Beloved, another book we agree upon.

Flicka Spumoni said...

As for horse movies:

The Black Stallion, if only for that way it looks.

That's the only one that comes to mind right now.

The Hell Bitch is Captain Call's horse in "Lonesome Dove". If you want to talk about superlative American voice, start there. There is no finer Western.

Call loved the Hell Bitch, though everyone else was scared of her, for her fierce independence, intelligence and stamina. He rode that horse from the Southern border of this country to the Northern.

If you turned your back on her she took a bite out of you. Kept you on your toes - Call preferred her that way.

The Hell Bitch was piquant and interesting - to borrow a very Justine and Jane Eyre phrase.

Justine said...

I cannot tell you how good it is to hear that you are so very busy write now. ;-)

I hope you'll share with us these treasures you are creating.

Just wanted to post that quickly. I'm off to watch "Matchpoint." I'll be back later!

heidi said...

I just have to say that I so very much understand your words and your sentiment.

Here's hoping you get back in the saddle again.

I wrote about this just the other day.