Socially distant, emotionally connected.

I pass this painting on a roadside often at the moment, and every time it makes me think…  Today, I actually stopped long enough to take a picture.

Socially Distant, Emotionally Connected
Socially Distant, Emotionally Connected

Yesterday made me, and many, many others, heartsore.  In South Africa, there is a town called Port Elizabeth, (PE) and in that town is a racetrack called Fairview.  It’s an important venue for the South African racing industry.  Yesterday is a long, involved story, but basically, a racehorse trainer has been having a labour dispute with one of her ex-grooms.  This has gone to the work tribunal, is being handled legally etc, but the groom is unhappy with how things have been proceeding.  The version that seems to be the one sticking, is that he abused a horse in his care in Feb of this year and was fired.  He now wants his job back, and if this is the truth, obviously you wouldn’t be hiring him back to work with horses.  Yesterday a group of around 80 people – largely grooms from the whole of the Fairview racing complex – went into the yard, released 28 of these young, sensitive Thoroughbred racehorses and chased them out.  In the process 1 horse died, two received life threatening injuries and most of the others were injured somehow, mainly lacerations.  Whether these lacerations occurred accidently, from falling or from panga wounds (a panga or machete is a very large weapon / knife, that is pretty common in Africa, for cutting through bushland, clearing gardens etc) is unclear.  But, that is all a little beside the point – what gets to many of us, is that these people worked for, cared for and supposedly were connected to, these horses.  They were not random strangers, they were horse people.  How do you do that to your friends?

But, closer to home, I see lack of empathy often.  I was watching a lesson a little while ago and could see the instructor getting more and more frustrated.  The rider was saying – “but he won’t go straight, I’ve told him once, now he’s doing it wrong”.

And the instructor was saying, again and again – “He’s a horse.  He is NOT a bicycle or a motorbike.  He’s a horse.  Ask him nicely, make the request clear.  Stop, think about what you are doing – you can’t make him do it…  Even if you ask once and he agrees, you can’t expect to have everything stay perfect.”

The rider went on – “But I can’t make him do it…”

The instructor, getting frustrated too – “Horses don’t come with remote controls…  I don’t have a remote for him…  You’re in the pilot’s seat – have a conversation with this living, breathing animal, and communicate”

This sign on the road – it’s asking, or assuming (depending on your mindset) that we have a connection.  But often, particularly for horses, the words are reversed – socially connected, emotionally distant.  Physically, socially, a horse and rider are pretty much as close as you can get.  A human is sitting on the back of this huge, potentially deadly, still innately wild, animal, and not grasping the honour and privilege we have, in calling this sentient being our friend.  If a horse chose to, he could kill you in an instant.  But it’s not on his agenda.  They are peace lovers, they are willing to submit to our wishes, and generally they’ll go along with our plans and ambitions, if we resect them and ask them nicely.   You have to leave your ego at the door…   They play the game, of keeping their silly humans on their backs.  But for many, many people, humans and their four legged dance partners are emotionally on different planets.  “Kick, kick, kick your animal friend, pull his mouth harder and make him go straight, like you would make a motorbike perform”.  He’s just a bicycle, and even a non-conforming bicycle at that.  Is that really a such a different road from the one taken by the grooms in South Africa?

I want to win a ribbon at the competition, so I will make my four-legged bicycle perform, come hell or high water.

I want to retaliate against my boss, so I will chase out her investments, those investments happen to have four legs, two ears and a tail…

It’s just a few stops further down the same road.  Which road are you on?

If I asked your horse, “socially connected, emotionally connected”, or “socially connected, emotionally distant” what would your horse say about you?

My thoughts and best wishes to all of those affected by last week’s trauma.

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