Earlier today as I looked into the beautiful brown eyes of my mare, Tempo, I could have sworn I heard her whisper:
It made me queasy. I shuddered under the weight of those two little words, spoken from the soul of a horse I’d raised from birth… a horse hardly anyone but me has ever laid hands on.
As I mustered the courage to hold her indubitable gaze, I had to admit to myself that I already knew. I already knew that privileged white men don’t hold exclusive rights to the vilified “sense of entitlement”. Equestrian women like me (who, ironically, claim to love our horses more than life itself) are sometimes the guiltiest of all.
We may teach our sons and daughters that “no means NO” but when it comes to our horses, we rarely take no for an answer. We may resent our elders for insisting that “polite girls” should be quiet, gracious and accommodating but when our horses try to express their dissenting opinions, we often respond with anger and punishment. We think it’s disrespectful when men judge us by our appearance or ogle our bodies yet we shamelessly drool over the “dreamy black Fresian with perfect conformation” we see prancing on Youtube. We know all too well that it’s assault when a man holds a woman down and forces her to accept unwanted advances and yet we regularly cross-tie our horses and require them to accept all manner of petting, grooming, touching, trimming and tacking up.
You get the idea. In fact, you might be starting to feel nauseous yourself now too. Or, you could be thinking, “This woman is crazy. Horses aren’t humans. There’s no comparison here to sexual assault. She’s just anthropomorphizing.” But hypocrisy is hypocrisy. And looking into my mare’s eyes that’s exactly what I saw reflected back today.
So I began to imagine what our relationship might look like if I vowed to always treat Tempo with the same dignity I believe men should always treat women with. The picture that came into focus is both beautiful and terrifying; it leaves no question what the moral thing to do is but it also leaves no question that at times in my life I’ve been as guilty of depredation as any predator.
Even though I’ve said it to my horses many times before, the words “I’m sorry!” came crashing out again today with a wave of tears. “Please forgive me,” I sobbed. Her eyes assured me that she already has, confirming once again that horses are far superior beings than we are.
Tonight I am making Tempo (and my other horses) these specific promises, knowing full well that keeping them will heal my wounds as much as it will heal theirs:
If you ever look worried or start to leave when I approach with the halter I will stop and say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare or threaten you. Let me put this down. You don’t need to be afraid.”
The next time you sidestep or pin your ears when I want to groom or pet you I’ll stop and say, “That’s not a yes. I will never touch you without permission.”
If you get anxious when I try to take you away from your pasture-mates I’ll stop and say, “I see that you’re getting worried. If you would feel safer staying close to your friends, that’s okay. We can go back.”
And anytime you are less than eager about my personal agenda for our time together I’ll stop and say, “I can tell you aren’t into this. It’s only fun when you’re into it too. Let’s just hang out instead.”
So now I have to hold myself accountable.
Every. Single. Day.
Because if I can’t do that, how can I expect others to?
Postscript: I have been contacted by some people who feel it is inappropriate for me to use the #MeToo hashtag and movement in relation to this blog post. I encourage you to visit the official website of the MeToo Movement and to read Tarana Burke’s own words about why she started this movement. This blog post is in alignment with her expanding vision to “disrupt the systems that allow for the global proliferation of sexual violence”, to “reframe and expand the global conversation around sexual violence” and to implement “strategies to sustain long term, systemic change.”