We changed Echo’s stall today. That probably doesn’t mean a lot to the average person, but it means the world to us…and to Echo. Echo waited a very long time to come to Red Bucket….we were more aware of him than he was of us, as he fell onto and off of our waiting list. He was, of course, just trying to survive at the time. He had been passed around from sale barn to sale barn, not at all sound…and certainly not happy. It took a few years, but as his soundness problems and subsequent behavioral manifestations of pain became more glaring, his asking price fell and his chances of coming to Red Bucket increased. He came to us far too thin, a victim of a commodity mindset and I dare say the greed of trying to wring a few thousand bucks out of selling him. He was angry, and the first time that we put him on the end of a lunge line to assess him at intake was also the last time. He spent the next two years of his life literally getting “room service” and allowing us to intentionally attempt to make the abuse of his prior life up to him. Lots of turnouts, plenty of pampering, and an abundance of Miracle Bath. He tested our commitment in every way possible, and I sometimes wondered if he intentionally stained his nearly white coat green…just to see if we would react. He instead found that we groomed him lovingly, and asked nothing of him in return, genuinely cherishing and valuing him…without expectation. I’m pretty sure they call it unconditional love and acceptance, and that is what we showered lavishly on Echo.
During the beginning of the second year everything shifted. Echo seemed more relaxed, almost as if he started to realize that we didn’t expect anything from him. We did politely request respectful behavior…funny thing about that, respectful behavior invites respectful behavior in return. The real turning point, though, was when Echo found love. There is nothing terribly straightforward about Echo, and therefore it is fitting that his ultimate fulfillment came packaged by way of two naughty little donkeys named Buffy and Joey. Echo met the motley crew when the donkeys were integrated with Echo’s enrichment herd, and if the over-used cliché of “You complete me” ever rang true, it was certainly the case with Echo and his donkeys. While Echo’s happiness transformed him immediately as he obsessed about his new little charges, our resident one-eyed, slightly crooked Joey and his orphaned sidekick Buffy had an immediate status upgrade. While their White Knight and ever possessive and self appointed security detail cordoned them off from the rest of the herd, Joey and Buffy freely grazed in one of the slow feeders without the need to either defend themselves or share with the rest of the herd. While the slow grazers are typically the most sought after of all of the turnout activities, Echo was supremely satisfied to stand guard stoically over his beloved new family, sacrificing his own grazing time, shifting his position occasionally as he felt it necessary to block the line of sight to his half-pint herd of two. At the completion of the lengthy turnout, he would whinny for them as we led him back to his own roomy paddock on the opposite side of the ranch, and to his awaiting supper.
The enrichment of our residents is taken seriously at Red Bucket. Our horses have a Bill of Rights which entitles them to a great number of guaranteed benefits, including social time in which to visit, graze, and just be a horse. I have never understood the rather Machiavellian practice of locking horse in boxes and depriving them of both their nature…and their need for companionship and touch. We effort greatly in our quest to integrate our residents into herds that fulfill their basic need for relationships, space and freedom. Our recent coupling of two new geriatric residents brought a deeply resonant satisfaction as well as a few throaty cheers from those of us who watched from the sidelines. Mr. Sebastian, a draft mule, and Will Power, a 30-year-old and nearly toothless teddy bear of a Paint, were introduced over a communal feeder of softened hay (in this one rarity, the slow grazers proved a bit too much work). With the wisdom of the mature, both equines approached the feeder with a palpable peacefulness and began to eat in unison, nose to nose…reminiscent of two old gentlemen playing their daily game of checkers in the park. Absent was the squealing, striking, or somewhat typical behavior that horses will engage in when meeting another horse. Almost as if too much of their precious lives had already been wasted, the two new friends seemed to sigh softly and surrender into a gentle and benevolent partnering. Keeping with our standards of introducing new prospective herd mates, we left their halters on, and a few of us (quite unnecessarily in this case) supervised with lead ropes in hand. We ended up leaving them together for much longer than initially intended…and of course, began the mental reorganization of our little ranch as we determined the best way to allow the two best friends an opportunity to live together permanently.
We changed Echo’s stall today. It was not without our familiar game of “Sudoku for the Horse Lover’s Brain”, a game reminiscent of the plastic party puzzle that we received as a party favor at childhood birthday parties. The game requires reorganizing a scattered grouping of numbers in sequence, one through fifteen, by shifting them through an opening of one vacant space. While challenging – it often required a myriad of moves in order to get even one number into the correct space – at Red Bucket, because we place such a premium on the happiness of our residents, moving one horse can create in excess of 20 moves. While more mentally taxing than just moving 20-plus horses, name tags and feed signs, we typically joke that it keeps us young. The reality is that it keeps our horses happy and provides a richness to their lives that inspires and motivates us at a nearly molecular level. We moved Echo into a paddock adjacent to Buffy and Joey’s. While the donkeys seemed a wee bit amused, and without a doubt relieved that he was next to their stall…and not in it (Echo is perhaps more than just a little too doting for 24/7 contact), Echo enjoyed not only a status upgrade of his own, but the final piece in his puzzle of true joy and contentment. The move made a huge difference in Echo’s life, and in doing so, meant the world to us.
This Culture Message is dedicated with love to our Red Bucket team who work tirelessly to create happiness, fulfillment, and deep satisfaction for all of the equines that we serve.