Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What Started it All

We are often asked about the motivation to open a sanctuary for elderly horses. "Why focus so much energy on horses at the end of their lives?" "Why spend so much time and money on horses who can no longer be ridden?" "What made you want to do this work?"

THIS made us want to do this work: Meet Gypsy.
More formally, Dame Gypsy Rosalee la Paramour.

Gypsy arrived at the Equine Rescue League, where I volunteered at the time, as a skinny, depressed 35 year old, having no use for the human race who had let her down in every way. There was nothing magical about our relationship at first. She wanted no attention from me and I wasn't interested in talking her in to liking me.

Slowly..........painfully slowly.........we each grew to respect the other's personality quirks and likes and dislikes. Gypsy came out of her shell, bit by bit, and allowed me into her life. From there, the magic blossomed. The big mare with the attitude problem would stand for hours, if you'd oblige, to be groomed, scratched, bathed, and otherwise beautified. She would, quite literally, fall asleep if the scratching happened to be in just the right place at just the right speed with just the right pressure. She tolerated all sorts of decorations for ERL Open Houses and seemed particularly pleased to wear anything with bells on it. For some odd reason, Gypsy also enjoyed the Armour Hotdog Song.

Taste in music aside, it was Gypsy who taught me to respect the dignity and wisdom of the Elders. If I did anything she considered vaguely stupid, she had a way of looking at me over her shoulder than said it all. "Don't do that again. I'll give you one more chance. And you know I don't give second chances often." On the other hand, on days I wasn't feeling quite up to par, she was right by my side, nuzzling, giving "neck hugs," and on her best behavior. The mare who was so emotionally damaged on arriving at ERL was herself becoming a caregiver.

Dame Gypsy eventually became the alpha mare in her field and ruled with an unquestioned authority. A small change in posture or in the carriage of her head brought immediate response from the most unruly youngsters. Watching her carry out her duties was a lesson in handling improper behavior. Remain firm, but show no anger.

The photo above was taken when Dame Gyspy was 36 years old. She subsequently lived another three glorious years, large and in charge, as Herd Matriarch, before leaving us with a huge hole in our hearts. Though we've had special relationships with other horses since then, none could fill the void left by la Paramour.

It is to her and to her successor, an Appaloosa mare called Mystic, that we dedicate Traveller's Rest.

"Turn 'em in with ours, and kick for the river," girls.

(For more info about the Equine Rescue League, without whom Traveller's Rest would not exist, visit http://www.equinerescueleague.org/ )

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