Monday, June 7, 2010

Making memories

Submitted by EARS volunteer Shari Neal of Marion, Iowa

I’ve been told that horses have a memory that lasts a thousand years. While this might be an exaggeration, apparently equines really do have exceptional memories. So what kind of things do horses remember…who brought them hay when they were hungry and how good it tasted? Who exercised them then gave them a relaxing brushing? Who brought them in from the rain and made sure they were warm enough? They remember faces, smells, tastes, touches, sounds, dangers and many other things… the good, the bad and especially the ugly.

My grandmother had Shetland ponies when I was a kid. Everyday she threw the same pony an apple over the fence until the day she threw an onion just to see what he would do…trusting her and remembering their routine, he bit into it and made a terrible face. She laughed and he made a mental note not to trust her again.

What will these horses remember? Having no shelter or being locked in a shed, not having enough to eat, times when there was no clean water, aching overgrown hooves, injuries left untreated, ailments ignored, no social interaction, no bonding or attachments, no exercise, neglect?

This has been their experience with humans. This is what they remember. This is what has been played out since the day they arrived at the emergency shelter. Bad reactions to hands offering kindness, kicks for those who got too close, nips on elbows, lunging at fences trying to get at those who walked too close. This is what must be undone. Good memories must replace the bad. Trust must be earned. These animals are not blank slates. They have had a lot of bad words written on them but it is time to get out the eraser and a fresh piece of chalk and begin to write their new story.

It has already begun. Horses who wouldn’t let people in their pens to clean will now allow petting. Horses who have been fighting for food because they are afraid they might never get any again are beginning to relax as they have figured out that more hay will be coming each day. Horses who were rigid and cautious are melting to the touch of an EARS volunteer giving them a good scratching. New, positive memories are being made every day. Slowly trust will be established through thoughtful human contact and their new lives will begin.

Will they remember what has been done to them and by whom? You bet. And they will also remember who brought them out of that painful existence and into this safe place filled with fresh food, clean water, companionship and affection.

There is not an EARS volunteer among us who is not grateful to be a part of their new story and not an animal among us who will ever forget what a small group of dedicated volunteers has done for them.

Photos: Lisa Ammirati of Fuquay Varina, North Carolina and Soda Pop; the mule who was locked in the shed is now comfortable enough to lay in the sun; Chance is the skinniest of the rescued horses; a horse who is cautious but is tolerating more contact every day; Cheryl Derasmo of Clayton, North Carolina gives one of the horses some affection.


  1. janell matthies6/7/10, 11:28 PM

    Shari ~ That is beautiful and so well said. I was just looking at the video of the horses before they came to us and the pictures when they first arrived. What a difference! Ewven their stance and the way they look at us has changed so dramatically. And they have all of the incredibley dedicated volunteers to thank. Nice job team. Again, I am so proud to be a part of it.

  2. I wonder if these horses will have an affinity for red t-shirts from now on ;)


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