Before the rains came again I went over to Bluestone Valley Farms in Warwick. They were holding a garage sale to raise money for an organization called Equine Rescue Resource. Most garage sales are sad affairs -- nothing is less appealing than the junked remains of our foolish acquisitiveness -- but at least the cause was worthy. It also gave me a chance to see Good Will Hunter in the flesh. He'd been a seriously maltreated year-old colt when they rescued him in April. So serious that the guy who owned Will and his mother, a twelve-year-old mare called Hunters Circle, was arrested and charged with twenty-two counts of animal cruelty. Since then, Will had been receiving exemplary and expensive care, both at the Farm and up at the Equine Hospital at Cornell University, where he'd been sent a couple of times, for various treatments, and castration. He'd put on 175 pounds and appeared almost normal for a young gelding except for his right hind leg, which was painfully thin and splayed out crookedly when he walked. He was surrounded by lively young girls who pelted him with adoration, to which he responded with a bashful lowering of the head and a soft snort. An ideal poster boy.
The stuff on sale was indeed junk -- a couple of dollars for this, whatever you're offering for that -- except for some of the tack and a few pieces of outdoor furniture. I bought a new tee shirt and a little wrought iron sconce, then made a donation. A woman with gaily colored eyes and large calloused hands thanked me and gave me some literature about their work. The farm lay in bright sunshine, though the hills off to the northwest were dark.
Whenever I hear of a cruelly treated horse, I think of Rodya's dream in Crime and Punishment and the mare in Chekhov's short story "Misery" to whom the cab-driver pours out his heart's grief. There is something deeply mysterious about our relationship to animals, how we need to care for them, and how, in giving that care, we awake to something good in ourselves. We are seldom shocked when humans deliberately hurt other humans -- after all, we recognize ourselves as the only consciously cruel creatures walking the earth. (Though we have been known to teach cruelty to other species.) But we are almost always shocked when humans willfully hurt animals, especially domestic animals, whose reliance on us is nearly complete. Such behavior is shocking. And yet. And yet why should it be so? Is a horse worth more than a man? Are there any limits to our intra-species cruelty? Darfur? Cambodia? The Wilderness? Auschwitz? I haven't heard of any garage sales for survivors of the bombing of Baghdad up here, have you?
I like to be around horses and dogs, to see them thrive under proper handling and care, and to watch their masters thrive too, by becoming faithful stewards of their four-legged charges. What do you think, poot? If we rescue them, do you think we can rescue each other?