In this heartfelt, thoughtful, and inspiring memoir, New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz tells the story of his beloved rescue donkey, Simon, and the wondrous ways that animals make us wiser and kinder people. In the spring of 2011, Jon Katz received a phone call that would challenge every idea he ever had about mercy and compassion. An animal control officer had found a neglected donkey on a farm in upstate New York, and she hoped that Jon and his wife, Maria, would be willing to adopt him. Jon wasn’t planning to add another animal to his home on Bedlam Farm, certainly not a very sick donkey. But the moment he saw the wrenching sight of Simon, he felt a powerful connection.
I love donkeys. I knew that reading a book about a neglected donkey would be tough. The opening chapters tell the story of Simon being left for dead in a pen without after food or water except for what is smuggled to him by his owner’s son. Eventually the son calls the authorities and Simon is taken away.
He ends up on the author’s farm. He is nursed back to health over time. The author has learned slowly to love donkeys and understand their ways.
“They are agreeable creatures, but they do not like being told what to do, and if you show that you really want them to do something that doesn’t involve food, you may be standing out in the sun for a long time.”
The author uses the story of his recovery to contemplate the meaning of compassion.
“But it seemed to me, I thought, standing out in my pasture, that the love of animals has made many people less compassionate to humans. The very idea of animal rights in our time is equated with hostility, rage, and self-righteousness.”
He is telling Simon’s story on his blog and his readers are outraged when he reaches out to the man who neglected Simon. He doesn’t go to him in judgement but to hear his side of the story.
“And why, I kept asking, are people who love animals so angry at people?”
This is an interesting topic for me. I’m definitely on the “love animals, don’t care about people” side of the divide but I’m not nearly as hostile as some people I see especially in the rescue community.
“The farmer was animal, a monster; he should be jailed, punished, tortured, even killed. No one offered a single line of compassion or understanding or concern for him, or for his son, who had bravely helped Simon when he was starving.
The hatred and fury were shocking to me, disturbing; this idea of rescue was not compassionate for me.”
This reminded me of the outrage I saw on Twitter from civil rights activists around the time of the shooting of Cecil the Lion. They didn’t understand why the world was upset over the shooting of one lion in Africa when people in Africa were dying all the time and when African-Americans were being shot by police. I didn’t have a good answer for that. I still don’t.
After reading this book I saw the author bio below. See the issue? No Simon. I went to the author’s website to follow up. It turns out that Simon died unexpectedly shortly after the publication of this book. That was a downer but he had a few good years where he was loved and well cared for. He turned into a bully towards the end of the book and I don’t know how I feel about the story of pony he terrorized. It was disturbing all around.
About Jon Katz
Jon Katz is an author, photographer, and children’s book writer. He lives on Bedlam Farm with his wife, the artist Maria Wulf, his four dogs, Rose, Izzy, Lenore and Frieda, two donkeys, Lulu and Fanny, and two barn cats.
Show jumping is the big draw at the horse show. We started the afternoon watching the Junior/Amateur championship. Kids and amateurs so you know, little jumps, right?
The big class of the evening was the $75,000 Ricoh Big Ben Challenge. When I was here a gazillion years ago, Big Ben was competing. He was a superstar. When it was his turn to come in the ring the lights would dim and he’d come in with a spotlight on him. I don’t know how he managed to jump with all the camera flashes going off in his face. His rider, Ian Millar, is still competing. Here he is this year with Star Struck.
The maximum height of the jumps in this class was 1.6 meters (5′ 3″).
Sometimes things don’t go so well. This horse didn’t fall or get hurt but he demolished that jump.
I went back to Alabama for the second time in 3 weeks to judge a trail ride.
I didn’t think this one was going to happen. It was scheduled in a national park which shut down last week. They managed to move it to private land at the last minute which was a huge undertaking. I’m shocked that they pulled it off.
There were donkeys to pet.
I’m thinking of requiring a donkey or mule to pet in my judging contracts from now on.
There were dogs.
Of course there were the horses that I was there to see.
This guy has been competing as long as I’ve been judging, which is a long time now. He’s semi-retired but occasionally he comes out and plays for a day.
I was in Alabama this weekend to judge a trail ride. It went pretty well with only one sick horse. There was a minimal number of human injuries that resulted from humans doing something stupid.
Have you seen those pictures like this one that show a horse waiting outside an outhouse?
Turns out they are true!
This had the added degree of difficulty of the rider still holding the reins. If the horse had decided to leave that would have been a real mess! One of the complaints that some people have about our organization’s rides is that we make people do obstacles along the way. Our obstacles are nothing compared to what the riders do to themselves apparently.
I was really on my way to take a picture of this little guy.
Today is my last day at my old job. Officially I was supposed to work from 2 to 6. I had a massage and sewing day in the morning.
At my massage I found out that Prize went to a horse show this weekend and took first place in Leadline. Yes, thousands of dollars spent at top trainers so she can rock the leadline circuit. Leadline is just what it sounds like. Kids 6 and under get led into the ring on their horse, walk a few laps, and line up. I’m not sure how it is judged other than falling off is bad. But, my massage therapist’s other horse and other grandkid took 5th so the girls are now arguing over who gets to show Prize next. Prize probably loves not having to work so hard at shows!
Then I went to sewing where we had ice cream sundaes. My one friend kept squirting whipped cream into my mouth. When we finished sewing she drew up straight flashed me a Vulcan salute and said, “Live long and prosper.” We are such geeks.
Then I had to go to my work party. I’ve been the party planner for the 12 years I’ve worked here so I’m not shocked they were rusty on the details of planning one. I found out about it yesterday when I noticed that 12-2 was blocked off for my party. I questioned if I was invited because as you may remember from the first paragraph I don’t work until 2. The party was also being held at a clinic that I don’t work at. Did they think I would just magically appear if they forgot to tell me? I was sewing at that time so I told them I could only be there by one. Point two of party planning – ask if the guest of honor can be there.
I got there and they were very pleased by the cake. It was an ice cream cake with Batman on it because the one with the shark was too small. Obviously. Because they are random like that here. There was pizza and I got my very own veggie one because no one else will eat healthy stuff.
The clinic owner’s brother died. (Not at the party. He died last week.) They had a card for everyone to sign. But one person obviously was confused and thought it was a going away card for me so he wrote, “Get Out!” and signed his name. My boss said that his brother had already gotten as far out as was possible.
To finish off the cluelessness my boss asked if I knew how long it took to drive from my new house to the clinic. “I mean, have you ever done that?” Twice a week since January. Four hours roundtrip. That’s why I’m doing a happy dance when this commuting is over tonight!
I’ve known this for weeks but I keep forgetting to post this.
I gave Prize to my massage therapist. I was scheduled for a massage and was a bit nervous. What if she absolutely hated Prize and wanted me to take her back? What if my massage suddenly really, really hurt? Would that be a sign that she was displeased with me?
I walked in and she started gushing. “I just LOVE her! She is so sweet. We are riding all the time. We’ve never ridden this much – not just riding a lot for January but riding more than ever. She loves to go! She gets all excited to go for rides.”
At this point I was staring at her incredulously. I was thinking that maybe she had picked up two horses that day and forgot which one came from me. I mean, this is the horse who could sigh from the tips of her toes whenever she saw me with a saddle.
She noted my look. “I know, it’s liking hearing other people talk about your kids.”
What made me really believe it was when she said that they were trail riding her and at first she was a bit excited but when they started riding her on the buckle she started to love it. That explained it. With me she was a dressage horse wannabe (I wanted her to be and she didn’t mostly). She had to hold her athletic posture and do what she was told when she was asked. With them she is wandering the countryside with her new barnmates looking at everything which is good for such a nosy busybody. “Riding on the buckle” means that she is on a very loose rein just doing her own thing wandering down the trail. That fits her work ethic (or lack thereof) much better. I’m competitive. If I would have trail ridden her I’d would have been pushing her to long distance competitions which I knew she was too lazy to enjoy. They are riding a few hours at most a day. Perfect for her.
To top it off, since she’s working more she gets a little grain at night. She’s got to be in Heaven!!
Prize went off to her new home today. Everyone keeps asking me if I’m ok but I really am. I almost feel bad that I don’t feel bad.
Her new people came today with blankets and masks for her to travel in. She got all bundled up and I warned them that she has a bad habit of backing out of the trailer. I specifically warned them not to tie her head before the back of the trailer is firmly closed.
She hasn’t loaded over 3 years. She walked up to the trailer and put her front feet in and stopped. Susan talked quietly to her and then she backed out. She led her to the trailer again and she did the same thing. After a few tries she went in and they closed the back door but not the slant divider. Then, they hooked her head. She immediately backed up, snapped the trailer tie, and exited the trailer. Most horses would have run off then. Not Prize. She stood immediately outside the trailer and looked around calmly like, “Now what?” The lead line was unhooked and she was totally loose. She was closest to the husband so he grabbed her by the halter and calmly said, “Come on.” She loaded right up on the trailer just as calm as you please and scootched over so he could close the slant divider.
Thank you Prize for reminding me why I found you so frustrating to deal with! Why does there have a be an episode of stupidity before you do what you so clearly know you are being asked to do?
Her new people never got excited and never raised their voices through it all so that’s good. I think they will be a good fit for her.
Happy Solstice! I’m so glad the days are starting to get longer again.
I’ve had a good news bad news kind of day.
The good news is that I finally found a home for Prize. I’ve been wanting to find her a home where someone would be able to ride her. I have no desire at this point in my life to ride. I especially have no desire to ride her. We have too much history together and way too much baggage. She’s been mostly hanging out for years while I pay her board bill. It is surprisingly difficult to give away a horse. I’ve been trying for years. With the move it got more urgent but she could have stayed where she was if necessary.
This happened quickly. I had asked my massage therapist about her before. Yesterday something told me to ask again. She was excited. Her horses are either very old or very young right now. She doesn’t have a horse that can be ridden consistently. She came out to meet her today. She seemed to “get” Prize right away. She works with the natural horsemanship methods that Prize prefers. Prize is going to go to her new house on Monday.
People seem worried about how I’ll react to being horseless. In a way I’ve been horseless for years. After Spirit died, Prize was boarded and I didn’t see her much anymore. For now at least I’ll play with the horses I judge at trail rides and wait and see if I ever want to get back into it in the future.
Now for the bad news. We aren’t closing on the house tomorrow so we aren’t moving next week. There is a reason why but for the life of me I can’t understand it even though it was explained to me by the SO twice. Maybe I do understand it but it is so completely stupid that my brain is rejecting it. We paid for an inspection that we shouldn’t have paid for. So, to somehow compensate for that even though we don’t care at all, there needs to be new paperwork and a scheme that sounds a lot like money laundering to my simple brain or else the loan company won’t approve.
Way back when Miss Prize was a youngster she had a spot of difficulty finding a trainer to work with her.
Trainer #1 was during the winter of her two year old year. She was working on voice commands in preparation for driving training. For four lessons Prize totally ignored this woman. I didn’t understand. I was starting to think my horse was learning disabled but she could do everything when I asked her. Eventually the trainer refused to return my calls.
Trainer #2 and her daughter worked with her under saddle in the spring of her three year old year. I was already riding her but wanted her fine tuned. This is where she learned to buck. They declared her viscious and untrainable. They would only ride her if someone was holding her on a lunge line. I took her home and continued riding her around in a halter and leadrope.
She fell in love with trainer #3 and worked beautifully for him.
The other day, nine years after her one month with trainer #2, the trainer’s daughter walked through the barn where Prize lives now. She recognized my sweet little horse on sight. She told the barn owner that that horse was viscious and she wouldn’t ride that horse for any amount of money. The barn owner said she had to be mistaken because they have a 12 year old riding her with no problems. At that point Prize reached out of the stall to have a cuddle with the barn owner. The trainer’s daughter recoiled and repeated that she was so viscious that she shouldn’t snuggle with her because she will get bitten.
What can I say? She didn’t like those people and the feeling was apparently mutual.
I’ve been trying to find someone to lease Prize since she is standing around doing nothing. There is a girl who hangs out at the barn sometimes and loves my horse so I’ve been trying to get them together more formally.
Yesterday I went to meet with her parents at the barn. She also had a friend and her mother there. The friend was the typical “I’m 12 and I’ve shown horses for a whole year so I know everything there is to know about them” type of brat. The girl I want to take Prize had ridden her with the barn owner lunging Prize earlier in the day. That surprised me because I didn’t know they had moved to that point. I’m glad that my drama queen horse was actually very good.
Then the friend was going to ride. Yeah, my horse who hasn’t worked in years was suddenly on two-a-days. Luckily the kids are very free with the treats which excuses a lot in Prize’s world.
She was really good. She didn’t like the bit she had on so she was fussing with that but she behaved. I directed the know it all on how to ride her. She doesn’t have the skills yet to really understand Prize and since I’m the worst rider Prize had ever previously had on her she was bit confused as to what the kid was trying to communicate. I even got on her to show what she can do but the people didn’t really know enough to know what I was showing them.
Hopefully, they will decided to lease her for the first kid. The parents are hesitant but 12 year old girls with the prospect of a free horse of their own are hard to resist!
Before I went to the hands-on acupuncture class last week, I went to the barn and practiced finding points on Prize. This caused the barn owner to double over in laughter at the thought of me trying to put needles in my dearly beloved pony.
Ok, sure, she once slammed me into a wall for taking blood from her. Yeah, and she once stomped another vet’s bag into the ground because she saw him pull a needle out of it. She’s also a Fire Horse. In Chinese medicine that means that she is highly emotional and prone to having fits. In my words she is likely to have a fit of the vapors whenever things don’t go her way. Yes, she’s Scarlett O’Hara in the flesh.
I figured it might be worse if I tied her up because she doesn’t really believe in cross-ties. I put her in the arena loose with some hay to keep her busy. She didn’t want the hay. She wanted to play with my bag of stuff which she picked up by the bottom of the bag – all the better to dump it out and sift through it.
I took a deep breath and just went for it.
No problem. I fed her a treat after each needle to reinforce that this was a good thing. I put four in her legs. She wandered around a bit. The barn owner came out and was amazed by the fact that she had needles in. But, she got bored in a few minutes and started getting mad that she was in and everyone else was outside. I pulled the needles instead of forcing her stand. I’ll go back later this week around suppertime when she is happy in her stall and put them in for longer now that I know it can be done.
I’m on my way to Quarter Horse Congress despite my personal ban. I refuse to go to Congress normally because of the blatant and unapologetic price gouging. I go to lots of events at the fairgrounds. Parking is $4-5. For Congress it is $25! Pissed me off good and proper the first time I went and I’ve been avoiding it ever since.
If that isn’t enough watching Quarter Horses show is the closest thing to paint drying. I can entertain myself with playing the “point out all the lame horses” game but it gets depressing.
There is lots of shopping that appeals to western riders and people whose ideas of decor involves the liberal use of cow hides. I am neither.
I am the Scrooge of Congress. I give a great Bah Humbug to it all. But my mother has a 4-H team competing tomorrow so she has a coaches’ meeting tonight. I’m accompanying her so she doesn’t get lost. Maybe it has gotten better over
the last ten years.
Nope. I walked through the trade show and am now in rhinestone overload. The theme is sequins and rhinestones on everything that stands still long enough to be bedazzled. If you can get both on the same item, so much the better.
Other things I would never have dreamed there is a market for: a bit with the shanks (sides) shaped like guns, gun Christmas tree ornaments, or tear away pants. Actually I understand the pants for strippers but not in a horse show context.
I also hate people who wearing western wear in a nonhorse manner. Seriously I couldn’t hear myself think for the clanging of spurs. If you are shopping you don’t need to be wearing spurs. I don’t actually think there is ever a need for spurs so big and jangly that I can hear you coming two aisles away.
I’m too much of a snob to go to Congress. That’s ironic siince these people are paying WAY more for their tacky clothes than I am. I keep thinking of Dolly Parton who says that it takes a lot of money to look so cheap.
Knights and pirate ships. Yep, we hit the Renaissance Fair today.
It turns out that we aren’t RenFair people. The SO likes turkey legs and I wanted to buy some fake (hopefully) elf ears and he expressed a wish to see what I looked like in corsets but other than that, we aren’t RenFair people. We never did make it though a whole show without getting bored- even the jousting. I have no need of a magic wand or a walking stick with a skull on it. Now we know. Been there, done that, moving on. I ended up not even getting my ears.
Now for the really sad news of the day. We stopped at the outlet mall on the way home. A shoe store had a buy 1, get 2 free sale. They were almost completely sold out of my size! I couldn’t find three pairs that I wanted. It was SOOOOOOOOOO SAD!!! Even worse, the SO is all bubbly because he did find his three pairs. Total shoe shopping fail for me!
How can you tell if your horse is feeling better? Equine Avoidance Manuevers (EAM) are put in place.
EAM happen when you are trying to brush out a thick tangled Morgan mane with the horse standing in the stall. She dances forward and back to get away from you. Then she shuffles sideways to get moral support from her neighbor. Since for the last few months this horse hasn’t taken any unneccesary steps this is a huge breakthrough. This makes you so happy that you don’t even yell at her to hold still.
The getting-better-horse may also chew on your shirt, head butt you, and engage in other naughtiness now that her thoughts aren’t full of concerns about her feet.
Since she got away with low grade naughtiness you can safely expect an escalation of the naughty until she isn’t cute any more. Bad pony!
Miss Prize has gotten spoiled with her uber-expensive footwear. The low rent foam board and duct tape are no more. Let it be known that she destroyed the one that the barn owner put on. My super vet duct tape bandage had to be CUT OFF.
She wasn’t having it. She’s a brand name footwear kind of girl.
Look at the disgusted/long-suffering look. I had just put the green ice wraps on her. I think she wants to get better just so we leave her alone.
I haven’t posted much about Prize lately because I would just start contradicting myself all over and confuse you about the status of her feet.
“She’s better. No, she’s worse. False alarm, all better. Wait….”
I finally got annoyed with this and called a professional. This morning I met with a vet who sees lots of foundered horses to get an aggressive rehab plan.
I proudly reported that Prize has lost about 200 lbs. The vet doubled over laughing. Ok, so she looked like a tick previously. She’s better now.
She’s now on multiple meds that she is of course refusing to eat voluntarily. She is going to get some padded glue on shoes instead of her boots for a while. For right now though we went super high tech. She has foam board duct taped to her feet. This will conform perfectly to her feet for support until we can get the shoes on.
The duct tape is where I came in handy. I went to vet school in Appalachia. That’s the only way I’ve ever been able to explain that I was taught to make beautiful duct tape foot bandages. The barn owner taped one foot while I was talking to the vet. He was looking at it dubiously when I walked over. I then demonstrated my technique that involves making a weave of duct tape on the stall wall and peeling it off. The weave goes on the bottom of the foot and you wrap the ends up around the top. Wrap some more strands of duct tape around the hoof and it will stay through anything. He looked at me funny. “You learned this IN VET SCHOOL?” I don’t know why he was surprised when the other vet (from another school) recommended foam board. LOL
It is eventually going to sink in that $250 of specialized boots are sitting in the tack room while she wears $1 worth of foam board and duct tape on each foot.
I didn’t really mean to have one. It started innocently enough. The SO wanted to go to the track to run when I did. The first time we did our own thing. The second time I decided that in the spirit of togetherness I would do whatever he did.
Conversation while walking from the car to the track:
Him: You are the competition.
Me: I am?
Me: What is the competition?
Him: I don’t know yet.
Me: So, are you just going to look over at me at some point and say, “I win”?
Him: That wouldn’t be sporting.
Him: At this point, you are the better runner and that’s just pathetic.
Me, mock pouting: Thanks sweetie
Him: You know what I mean.
Ah, ego. This is why I hadn’t suggested running with him. He used to be really good. Like trophies around the house good. Now he is broken. He is not happy.
We warmed up by walking a lap and then started running on the straightaways on the track and walking the curves. I stayed a few steps behind him. I decided that it would be bad for the male ego if I passed him right off. We alternated walking, running full laps, and running on the straightaways for a while. I decided to see what would happen if I sped up a bit on one of the straightaways. He sped up too. I decided not to push it too hard and backed off. He didn’t mention it but as we approached the next running point he hissed back over his shoulder, “Easy!” Then he added laps. That may have just been a coincidence or I may have been being punished for being bad.
It reminded me of racing Spirit. He was always the fastest horse in the neighborhood. But as he got older young whippersnappers moved in. Then he was 20 years old racing 5 year olds and it was harder to win. He still could do it but the young horse would be close to him. I had to work out a system with the other rider before the race so that when we crossed the finish point that we had decided on they would stop their horse. If they didn’t Spirit wouldn’t stop. He would have killed himself rather than be passed in a race*. The male ego is a fragile thing.
The SO told me afterwords that I was a good running partner because I was determined. I’m not sure what that means exactly. He pushed me to go consistently faster than I would on my own and to do more intervals so that is good.
* Spirit got passed one time. I was 15 or 16. We had gone to a lesson and he was being a jerk. He wouldn’t listen at all. My instructor told me to take him into a large hay field. They had a path mowed around the edge. She said to run him all the way around to get some of his excess energy out so he could focus on his lesson. We were about halfway around moving at a really fast pace when I heard hoofbeats.
I looked back in time to see a blur fly past us like we were standing still. It surprised Spirit at first and then he kicked into another gear that I didn’t even know he had. He went about 25 yards and the other horse was still pulling away from us. Spirit slowed back down to the speed we were originally going. He knew it was hopeless. He was very subdued and listened to his lesson after that. I don’t think it was shaking off the excess energy as much as being publicly humiliated in his mind that made him mild mannered that day. Turns out the other horse was a Thoroughbred recently off the track who needed to run to even be sane in regular work but I don’t think Spirit would have cared that he only ever got beaten by a professional racer.
At Prize’s barn there are two rescue foals. As they’ve gotten bigger they’ve spent more time in with Prize and her two pasturemates to learn how to be proper horses. Since they didn’t have moms to teach them how to behave they have to learn it somewhere or else they will be spoiled rotten little brats!
I found out today at Prize has taken it upon herself to be the strict maiden aunt/ schoolmarm in the pasture. If either colt steps out of line they hear about it from her. She’s so strict that sometimes one of the geldings steps in between her and the babies to give everyone a break.
That made me laugh really hard. Prize is the model of civilized interhorse interactions? Let’s take a look at her highlight reel:
1. As a yearling she threw such a violent hissy fit about Spirit’s dominance over her that he literally refused to turn his back to her for two years.
2. When an older gelding decided to teach her some herd manners when she was about two she sassed him so badly that he made her run around a pasture until she gave in to him. After a half hour I stopped it because it was over 90 degrees and I was afraid she was going to collapse. She never apologized. He’d give her a chance and she’d get sassy all over again.
3. She once kicked a small pony into a fence because of a dispute over treats. She wasn’t the least bit apologetic.
4. She beat up multiple farm bullies in her travels around the boarding farms in the area. She wants to be the only bully left standing.
Granted, she has mellowed in the last few years but Miss Manners she is not. I think we are far into “do as I say, not as I do” territory.