Banishment

My neighbor and I walked our dogs this morning on a country road not far from where we live. It’s just the right distance for exercise and the road follows a large pasture holding two boarded horses, one a bay and the other—not sure? But it’s pure white with a swayed back, a marker for being older. There’s also a brown mule in this pasture which clearly has plenty of acres for all three. They spend the day grazing in lush grass nearly touching their rounded bellies, thanks to days of an unusual amount of Colorado rain this spring. 

I noticed in the beginning, all three stayed close together, like herd animals do. A few days ago, my husband watched them out of our picture window and saw the bay raise its back feet swiftly, the intention of slamming its hooves into the mule’s side. The mule jumped away just out of distance of being kicked. Maybe a more knowledgeable horsewoman or horseman might explain the mule probably deserved it. Or were the two buddies just telling the mule to “get lost”? I have no idea. What I do know is that now the mule keeps his distance, far away from the possibility of getting a good punch from either of the two horses. They, however, continue to feed close to each other, real buddies. I can’t help feeling sorry for the ostracized mule. 

As we walked today, my neighbor and I mentioned we couldn’t spot him in the pasture, wondering what happened. Where was he? As we continued down the road, we looked for him. “Oh no! Where is he?” my neighbor lamented. “I don’t know, I can’t see him,” I replied, my eyes searching across the field and high grass. We continued beside a row of pine trees, then spotted him eating alone by the barbed wire fence, hidden from the other two. We were relieved to find him. It’s funny, but since our homes sit upon a hill with acreage and farm animals in the distance below, we are attached to them as we watch the antics of horses, goats with kids, feral cats hunting and dogs below. We keep track of them.   

After our walk, I decided to lounge on our deck and read my latest book, The Other Family Doctor, by Karen Fine, DVM. Throughout her stories, she tells of experiences and gives examples over and again about the connection between animals and humans and the way in which our behaviors are similar in so many ways, most importantly, how we humans can learn from animals if we pay attention.

The scene in the pasture reminded me of the days I was a teacher, with my turn being to monitor recess. It was the norm for students to run to me, accusing each other of starting a fight. Of course, half the time I didn’t see who actually did and spent time investigating or assessing the situation. Fine’s comment about humans and animals displaying the same behavior makes me wonder not only about such incidents during those years being a teacher, but even now as one negotiates their way through life, perhaps the most difficult question is, “Who started this fight?” If one did, it’s often difficult to admit it was you and banishment seems easier. 

Maybe I’m stretching Fine’s intent in her book, but it gives us something to think about. There clearly are times we can learn from animals. I just know that whoever started the fight, the horses or the mule, we humans do the same thing, but should realize there are other ways to resolve an issue besides blaming or physical aggression. At least, I hope so.

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