Also by Meg:

Diaphanous:
a collection of poetry and essays

Diaphanous

 

 

 

Butterfly Effect
by Meg Eades

 

I hurried through cold, metal light, across squelching ground, and through the rusted gate, towards expectant nickers. Thanksgiving night, and I was barn sitting for a backwoods Georgia horse trader, instead of spending time with friends and family. I was thankful for the extra cash though. The business of teaching people a more enlightened way of relating to horses was slow. And I had my own herd to feed, two legged and four legged. I also wasn’t completely disappointed to be missing out on huge portions of family food and drama, television, and heaps of kitchen work. Give me a dirty old barn and a herd of motley horses to dine with any day!

Then I entered the murky, low barn, flipped on the lights, and my heart sank. Dim, naked beams from bare bulbs along the cobweb covered ceiling revealed a sad truth: For every horse who is understood and loved by a human, there are hundreds who will never have that chance. Their owners will never change their minds and see their horses as anything more than fancy slaves who should be made to be obedient at all cost. What about those horses? My heart physically ached and a profound sadness settled itself in a dark corner.

The herd crowded around the back gate, anxious for their evening meal. Mud crusted and caked itself around their legs. Tangled manes and forelocks hid soft, hungry eyes. These horses were well fed. They had plenty of water. And sort of adequate pasture and shelter. This was not a case of neglect that the humane society or the department of agriculture could respond to. The horses were happy enough to see me that I could tell they weren’t getting badly beaten. But I also knew that these horses were prostitutes. The mares and the stallion existed to make saleable babies, without incurring too much expense, and certainly not vet bills. The riding horses in the barn were expected to perform without complaint, with ill fitting saddles and big bits and harsh riders. All of them had scars on their faces or backs – the marks of uniforms that are too tight, or left on too long. Their hooves needed trimming. And there was a certain emptiness about them. I knew the feeling too well. Emotional neglect.

I grimaced my way through the broken boards with nails protruding, the tangled webs of baling twine on the floor, and the stall doors that sagged on broken and complaining hinges. I let my sadness turn to outrage as I led each poor horse to a stall and doled out cheap grain that was the nutritional equivalent of corn flakes. I poured water into buckets that were beyond scrubbing. I stomped through the mud with towering armloads of hay. With each task completed, my indignation folded in on itself again and again in waves of questions, pity, and feelings of helplessness in the face of such equine atrocity. And my steps quickened, to get out of that hell hole and away from such hopelessness as quickly as possible.

Then I made my way to the back of the barn to feed and water the breeding stallion. He stood alone in a tiny, cobbled together paddock. Boards, barbed wire, and other unrecognizable materials formed a barricade between him and “life.” His muscles were tense and bunched, his hooves overgrown, his legs slightly swollen, and his vaguely copper coat wore the familiar garment of dried mud. I was certain he didn’t get any regular human attention, except for a scoop of feed and a few flakes of hay tossed over the fence twice a day. He looked out longingly from beneath his long, tangled forelock, towards his mares, towards the field, even towards me, a lowly human.

I felt so desperate, standing there, offering so little. November night gathered heavily around us. There was rain in the forecast, so I placed his hay under the sagging overhang that provided shelter, and stood quietly for a minute, on his side of the fence. He acknowledged his hay, and then walked over, and placed his muzzle in the palm of my hand. There was no nibble, or wiggle of his lip, or swipe of his tongue. He wasn’t asking for anything. It was simply a gesture of gratitude from an unhandled, un-socialized, and probably untrained stallion. And it completely filled me with peace. His nose and his spirit were pure velvet. And I was twelve years old again – completely turned inside out by the touch of a horse. We stood there for a brief infinity; me, the supposed trainer and healer, without even hope to offer. And him, reassuring me, reminding me that there is always hope.

Eventually, he turned to enjoy his hay, and I went to let the other horses out of their stalls, back to their pasture for the night. I forgot about the cobwebs, the hay strings, the nails, the filth. I forgot about the injustice of the whole nasty dynamic of the realities of horses being a business. I looked at each of the horses in a new light. No more sinking feeling in my gut. No more hopelessness. No more pity. I stopped hurrying and acknowledged each and every horse, taking a moment to say hello, offering a caring touch if they desired.

I was amazed to find the conditions of the place fading, and to realize that each horse was simply alive and living in the moment, with no thoughts about how tough they had it, or how unfair humans are. Energy flowed and quivered and quickened under the façade of mud caked hair. Behind the tiredness in their eyes, there was still a memory of wildness. Light sparked in their steps as they connected with each other as a herd and flowed out into the darkness and the magic of the earth. A small chestnut gelding smiled at me as he shyly slid past me through the gate. A buckskin mare eyed me warily as I approached her stall. She was tall, rangy, and defiant. “Mustang Sally” popped into my head, and I said it quietly. She pricked her ears, and let my fingers brush the side of her face. She softened to my touch. The black and white herd matriarch who had come in with pinned ears, threatening to barge me out of her way, walked out quietly next to me, with a knowing twinkle in her eyes.

The thought of a butterfly effect danced through my head – which theorizes that a small change, something delicate and seemingly inconsequential, such as a flap of a butterfly's wings, can influence huge and far reaching consequences in the future, such as the path a hurricane will travel.

I waved goodnight to the peaceful herd as they drifted off into the shadowy realm of fairies, and took a deep breath of gratitude. On that seemingly inconsequential Thanksgiving night, a motley herd of horses in a dingy old barn taught me a powerful lesson: I don’t have to change the world. I don’t have to save anyone. The most powerful thing I can do is to acknowledge the perfection that is already there, and offer my gratitude. I can tell them, “I know who you are, even if no one else does.” They do understand. And maybe that will create a butterfly effect, somewhere down the line, or even right in that horrible place, with all those four legged masters grazing quietly, giving people endless chances, and bottomless hope.

 

 

 

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