Thursday, August 22, 2013

Reaching Out, the Palio di Siena, and Other News

Let's start out with a bunch of news.

In Pennsylvania, a horse was shot by some asshole for fun. It never ceases to amaze me how often this kind of thing happens. It's not like the killers even got some sort of sick enjoyment out of it-- the police say they probably shot from the highway and never went near the property. So it was basically random. Ugh.

In Scotland, William Nicoll was sentenced to therapy, for molesting a foal in full view of the public. Um, therapy? How about jail with a bit of therapy?

 The Chronicle of the Horse has been sold! Everyone is a bit worried that the excellent Chronicle may change for the worse.

A racehorse is blessed before the race.

 Giovanni Atzeni (nickname Tittia), aboard "Guess," just won the Palio di Siena, a bareback race held inside the city of Siena, Italy twice per year since at least the 15th century. It's sometimes called the most dangerous horse race in the world. I don't know about that, but this video of the race is certainly thrilling... after the first 12 minutes, that is. You see, after hours of pageantry, the race still cannot be started until the last jockey (on the black horse in this case) chooses to cross his rope line. This jockey is yelled at, possibly bribed, taunted and begged by the other jockeys who want him to start when their own horses are in a good position. Meanwhile, each of these jockeys attempt to intimidate the others and crowd each other out. The Italians apparently consider this great sport. The race itself lasts only about 90 seconds, but in that time, a whole lot of jockeys bite the dust, especially when navigating the tight turns. Picture galleries here and here. P.S. Atenzi is on Facebook.

Next up, have you ever wondered what Hydrophobia (rabies) would feel like? Check out the video of an unfortunate man with rabies, who can barely force himself to drink. VACCINATE YOUR ANIMALS!

Detroit's massive stray dog problem has become big news. An estimated 50,000 dogs are wandering the streets of the ruined city, in packs or alone. The city's shelter is filled to capacity, euthanizing at least 70% of the animals it takes in-- and only that few because rescues in other cities take some dogs. There are reports that the Detroit shelter cannot even reliably afford to have dead animals trucked away, leading to piles of carcasses. Some of the dogs are ex fighting pitbulls, but many are simply abandoned pets. The Discovery Channel wanted to do a show on the dogs of Detroit, but the city refused. This video is an excellent, if tear-jerking, glimpse into the lives of these dogs.

OK, time for the main story: Outreach.

I'll bet you didn't know you were an ambassador. Yes, YOU! An ambassador! No one told you, did they? That's OK, there is still time to go about your duties. Unfortunately, there's no special hat or fancy office to go with the job, but there are other perks.

St. Francis Horse Rescue's Camp Hope for grieving kids.
As an ambassador for the equine world, you have a chance to bring the joy of horses into peoples' lives. That alone is a huge deal. But in the process, you may even permanently "convert" them into horse lovers, and that's amazing. In doing so, you'll bring fresh faces, new ideas, money, supporters and competitors into barns, shows, rescues and equisports. Horses and humans will benefit.

Does that sound cheesy and overblown? Well it's not, actually. It's very important. Today, only about 1 out of 63 Americans is in any way involved with horses on a regular basis. And maybe it's my imagination, but I think there are many more older folks in the horse world than young ones. So reaching out to schools, churches, libraries and other youth groups is essential to the future of the horse world. If we don't keep working to get more feet in boots and more bucks in collection boxes, we could see a great decline in the number of people who care about equines and do something about it. That would be a great shame.

I believe that kids are much more likely to turn out to to be happy, productive adults if they're outside, learning to be kind to horses and responsible for their care. I also believe that the younger we can teach kids about the right way to care for horses, the fewer cases of neglect and abuse we'll see in the future.
"Whoah, hey there Northhorse! I'm not ready for any of that! I can't be some sort of horse world ambassador; public speaking makes me nervous, I have no idea what to say, and who the hell would want me to talk to them anyway!?"

First of all, just about everyone would like you to visit! Boy Scout Troops, senior citizens stuck in boring rest homes, schoolchildren, after school groups for at-risk kids, therapy groups and libraries would just adore you forever if you brought a horse or a pony for them to pet. Seriously, the directors of these groups spend hours and thousands of dollars of their limited resources coming up with educational and entertaining things for their members to do, and if you offered to give a little talk for free, with an actual, real, live horse, some of them would hug you and cry.

Don't believe me? Here's what I did last week at my local library's story time:

The library director ended up helping kids who were scared to hold out their hands.

"Ooooh, a PONY!"

Every single parent had their phone/camera out for this.

Yeah, that's my Sam! With Sam's help, I was able to talk with these kids and their parents. It was easy. I had a 300 pound, adorably fuzzy prop to take the attention and pressure off of me, and all I had to talk about was what I already knew and could recite by heart: cool facts about Sam, about equines in general, and how to take care of them. See? You could do that! You don't have to be an expert or a great speaker! No one is going to grill you on the causes of navicular disease. The hardest question you will be asked is, "will he always be that small?"

So go DO IT! Reach out to organizations in your community. Call them up and say, "Hey, I am a horse lover. I am not selling anything, I just want to educate others about horses and horse welfare. I would love to bring my pony/horse to visit, at no cost to you. My horse/pony is well-behaved. Let me know if you're interested."

Not everyone will take you up on the offer-- these days there are so many concerns about lawsuits/safety/allergies/whatever that not all organizations can take you up on it. But many will. So go be a horse world ambassador! Get people involved and caring!

Tips for a Successful Horse/Pony Visit
  • Clearly, you need to have a fairly calm, animal. (Duuhhh.)
  • Bring a poop bucket, shovel and even a damp towel, just in case.
  • Respect the rules-- some places may tell their kids/seniors not to pet or feed the pony. It's a safety thing. Don't tempt people to disobey those rules.
  • Respect and respond to your animal. Pony too nervous? End things early, or take a break.
  • If you can, bring flyers with information about horse welfare, especially local horse rescues.
  • Emphasize the hard work and responsibility horses require.
  • Talk about ways to get involved in the horse world, with sports, volunteering, etc.
  • Be very situationally aware. Kid getting too close to the horse's blind spot? Someone is getting very uncomfortable as your pony mugs him for treats?  Be ready to intervene.
  • SMILE. Have fun! You can only show others that horses are fun if YOU are having fun.


  1. Hear hear for being an ambassador. Any time I am approached by someone wanting to "pet the horsie" they get my speech. Of course I emphasize the good, but always caution parents to get start with lessons for the kids. It's cheaper in the long run, something they can get behind.

  2. I'm always a little vexed at the horse owners who get all offended at people who want to see/pet/ride their horses. Even if Princess Sparkles can only be ridden by you, and would either murder a beginner or have her training ruined, why get huffy if someone shows an interest in what we all love? Say something like "Sorry, my horse really needs someone with experience. But I know of this great place where you can get lessons." As the person who LOVES to show off her beautiful pony and doesn't have a single friend who actually rides, I am constantly offering to share my guy in one way or another (he's still too green and takes too much leg to be a beginner's horse, but he will be). Somehow, I never have any takers.

    1. I know, people forget that to people who aren't part of the horse world, they have only experienced horses in movies and TV shows where they're marketed as these sweet, harmless creatures that would NEVER hurt anyone and they're all perfectly safe for children to get on and mess with because that's what they exist to do, right?

      They don't understand that these are highly dangerous and unpredictable 1000 lbs animals. Someone coming up to you and you being able to explain why it's not safe for them is a good chance to teach them about horses and help them understand that while horses are wonderful creatures, they are not just stuffed animals you can do anything with.

  3. Wonderful job Sam!! He (and you) were born to be ambassadors. The smiles just say it all, don't they?