One of my best equine mentors is a woman named Lynne Howarth. She was my boss and the executive director of Medicine Horse Center. She was an amazing example to me for five years of my equine career in Therapeutic Horsemanship. Lynne taught me many valuable lessons, some intentional, some not. One of the most important lessons I learned was that the animal always comes first. Now, I know what you are thinking. Of course! I know that.
I thought I did too.
I thought that my animals’ welfare were always forefront in my decision making. I loved them. They were my life! And yes, it is true, they were. But that didn’t mean I was always making decisions completely based on their welfare. Sometimes it was convenience. Sometimes I kept my donkeys and horse somewhere I knew wasn’t entirely safe for their health because it was close by or a good friend was letting me keep them there at low cost. These weren’t terrible places, but They weren’t correct for my animals. Maybe the grass was too rich, or maybe the fencing had barbs, or maybe the people who owned the property weren’t trustworthy. My animals weren’t necessarily in bad situations, but they could become bad easily. I felt uneasy about these decisions but I had very little money and didn’t feel I had a choice. The truth is, true stewardship demands you make correct choices for your equines no matter the situation.
Lynne showed me what true stewardship of equines is. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like the price, if you can’t afford it you have no business owning equines. It doesn’t matter how tired you are, you get that pen built so that horses can be separated to eat their designated meals. Don’t have time to sit and watch them finish their individual meals since they each have separate feeding needs? Either make time or don’t own them. Don’t have a proper equine vet? Either research and shadow a vet to learn how to do it yourself or don’t own them. Want to own that equine? Research research research. Ignorance is never a good excuse, especial y with so many resources at our fingertips. We are all on a learning curve. There are many many things I am ignorant of that I learn as I go. However, I researched thoroughly before buying a horse. In fact I got a bachelors degree in equine science. Before buying a mule and then a donkey I researched my butt off. I made sure I wasn’t going to miss anything big, like allowing my donkey to graze lush grass and founder, or thinking that any old farrier would be able to trim a donkey correctly. If I make a mistake from ignorance, it was from ignorance. There is no good excuse. No, “well, I didn’t know!” Nope, that’s on me. If I knew better,or could have researched it or asked before it got bad, double shame on me.
Now, no boarding or home keeping situation is absolutely perfect without flaws. We all get tired and make mistakes, we all encounter something we do not understand. I know that when something even basic happens to my donkeys my mind jumps to the worst possible prognosis, because I have been burned a few times and also because I care so deeply and I have a tendency towards worrying.
The key to stewardship is not creating a situation in which absolutely nothing can go wrong with your equine, as that is impossible. It is about reducing the possible things that can go wrong and creating the best environment you possibly can in terms of health and safety and security of your equine. Its about expanding your knowledge with a mission towards always learning more. Double check facts. It is about never accepting substandard care or environment, even if that means moving the equine or creating the correct environment yourself.
I hope to impart a little bit of Lynne’s amazing advocacy and zeal for stewardship of our equine friends and family. In her own words, and you have to imagine this in a strict Scottish accent: “I don’t want to see a single poop ball left when you muck. It will bring flies. And it will show you don’t care about the health of the herd.” I think about that every time I muck. I may not pick up every flake of dusty poop, but I am pretty fastidious in ways that put my housework to shame.
I give thanks for my mentor Lynne, for imparting so strongly upon me good principals of stewardship. I hope to live up to them as much as I can.