Relationship Status: It’s Complicated.

I’ve been thinking about the words we use to label our relationship with the animals in our lives. It isn’t politically correct to say we own a horse; instead, we are its caretaker. That dog doesn’t belong to you, you’re its guardian. Swell.

Referring to an animal as a family member is the norm; it’s common to hear someone in the barn refer to themselves as Big Red’s Mom, or say that Bandit is their fur-child. No shortage of Fur-Daddies either. I understand the intention and if the words fit, go with it. It won’t be the last time your real kids roll their eyes at you, even if they love their little brother, Rowdy. If you don’t have actual kids, it will make people think that you dress the fur-babies up in little sweaters and ties and sit them at the dinner table with you.

For me, the mom/child terminology doesn’t fit. I’m not Clara’s Mom. I knew her Mom and she was pretty special. I wouldn’t pretend to sit in that throne. Edgar Rice Burro, being bigger in legend than life, is no one’s fur-baby. And my Grandfather Horse, 26 years old today, is certainly deserving of all the dignity shown an elder statesman. After all he has taught me, maybe I should be his Skin-Baby. But that’s just gross.

I think it is an amazing thing to be a horse or dog, there is much to envy about them. Are we sure that being their species isn’t preferable to being human? Don’t we aspire to the position of Lead Mare?

Plato said, “Man is a wingless animal with two feet and flat nails.” It doesn’t sound so great when you put it like that.

How do I describe this relationship? Significant other? That always sounds like an oxymoron to me, and BFF is a little too pink. Let me check the list of options on Facebook…

In an open relationship? Humans might frown on a communal lifestyle, but herds like it. Besides, being a singleton and standing alone in the light of my love is blinding. They are only too happy to share me. “Look, she got another horse. Thank God.”

Married? As in ‘Till death do us part’? Of course, but does that make me a polygamist as well? Divorced? From animals? I can’t imagine it. Widowed? Three times so far this year.

A civil union has the sound of workman-like training, but seems to lack both rudeness and brilliance. If you spend more time in the barn than the house, does a horse count as a domestic partnership?

Finally, there is the It’s complicated status. Does this one fit? My animals inform every decision I make, whether financial, real estate, or work related, to dovetail with their care and well being- just like a good parent. I invest my passion in hopes and dreams that include them- just like a lover. I remember stories of those animals that are long passed- like ancestors kept alive through memory. It’s complicated is a status with an open-ended feel, blurring traditional titles and perplexing in its scope.

Maybe the It’s complicated status will have to do because there is no All of the Above status.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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Comment by MagsNMe on April 19, 2013 at 10:47pm

I aspire, I think, for my horse(s) to trust me.  My Mom has Snippet, who has been in her care since she was 6 months old, she's nine this year.  She has the utmost confidence that Mom will fix whatever situation she finds herself in.  Absolutely positively, Mom will fix it.  She has Cass, who is currently 26.  This is not a trusting child, she's obsessed with 'safe', everyone has to be safe, especially her.  It's taken years, but Cass knows she can trust Mom to be exactly the same every single day, and she'll see to her needs.

I struggle because my baby Maggie is gone.  I worry that I didn't do right by her, that she didn't know she was loved, that somehow I could have or should have done something different and she'd still be here.  My little Havoc is Snippet's son.  He trusts humans like his Mom does.  I can only hope that he trusts me like his Mom trusts my Mom.  And that my sweet girl knew she was special to me, regardless of whether she 'loved' me.

Comment by Jackie Cochran on April 19, 2013 at 1:58pm

I have noticed that the horses rarely think about their owners like their owners think they do.  A horse may like and even respect their owner, be glad to see them even if no treats or feed are in the picture, but they do not "love" them.  I had an absolutely wonderful relationship with my first horse, a gelding, but I never assumed that he "loved" me, and he often nickered when I came to get him though he knew he faced an hour or two of hard work with maybe a pound of sweet feed before being turned back out.  He never seemed to consider me anything more than a friend he got to play with--being riden, I never "played" with this horse.

But he did not love me, I know because one year he fell heads over heels in love with a beautiful, trim, black Welsh pony mare, and I had to put up with his attention not being on me for a few months.  Equine love can be quite violent and loud. 

Because of my first horse I try to treat every horse I ride as a potential friend, and I realize that since I want to be considered a friend I must treat each horse I ride with great patience and understanding.  I have found that set schedules can be VERY bad if you want your horse to view you as a friend.  I do not currently have a friendship relationship with a horse but they do not seem to particularly mind me riding them which is my main goal since I am so handicapped.

We are not their moms, they do not view us with unending unconditional love, they do not really view us as "masters", we are just odd specimens of another species that want to play with them in odd, and sometimes slightly kinky ways.  If they are not abused, not subject to extreme bondage, and not ever punished hard unless there is a real good reason, they can look upon us kindly and forgive us our minor sins and rudenesses.  This is fortunate for us since they can hurt and kill us without much trouble.

Good post!  

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