Biff America: The passing of a famous four-legged hero
Where I grew up, only the cops had horses.As a child, my mother would occasionally take me to the Boston Commons, where the mounted police would let the children pat their horses. Years later, in my teenage years, I’d attend rock concerts at that same Boston Common where the mounted law would provide crowd control.During those shows, the cops were in no mood to let the wobbling hippies caress their mounts.Since then, my relationship with equestrians has been an uncomfortable one. It’s not that I don’t like horses. It’s just that I find them to be large animals which, if angered, could crush me.
Over the years, I’ve been forced to host a few shows and commercials from atop large beasts. It seems those equines could smell my discomfort and felt free to ignore my commands. Recently, I took a trail ride with a friend who runs a working ranch. He put me on a good-natured steed that was both gentle and incredibly flatulent (in that respect, at least, the animal and I were kindred spirits). The horse in question mostly did what I asked of him; luckily my commands were non-verbal, otherwise he wouldn’t have heard me above the noise. I enjoyed the experience – except for the day-after inflammation on the back of my lap.But despite my indifference toward the ancestors of Seabiscuit, I found myself very saddened, nearly to the point of tears, by the recent death of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. After winning his first six starts, one of them being the Derby, the colt was injured at the Preakness. As I understand it, after his injury, there was little chance he would ever race again. That said, there was much hope that he could be put out to stud and spend the rest of life mating for money – good work if you can get it.If Barbaro could have recovered to the point where he could charge a breeding fee, his owners stood to make over $30 million for his services. I don’t have to tell you what Barbaro would have gotten out of the deal.Unfortunately, one injured leg turned into four, and infections followed. When his veterinarians could no longer keep the horse from suffering, the owners decided to put him to sleep.
Obviously, that decision was not made lightly. Over the course of eight months, all medical options were exhausted, and almost daily updates were issued from the owners and veterinarians. The world watched and waited as the 3-year-old colt’s fate was decided by medicine and nature. Thousands of get-well cards were sent, and cases of apples and carrots arrived at Barbaro’s stable. At first I dismissed these gestures as the peculiarities of “horse nuts,” but soon, I also became caught up in the thoroughbred’s condition. I’d go online a few times a week to check on his progress. When I heard he was euthanized, I felt horrible. We humans are terribly conflicted when it comes to animals: We eat them, ride them, wear them and love them – often all at the same time. On one hand, we seem to believe they exist purely for our pleasure while we revere them above even our own species.It’s interesting how the nation can rally to the cause of a brave animal. Even those of us who couldn’t tell a filly from a stallion (especially from above) followed, so closely, the fate of Barbaro.
By contrast, it’s a little sad how seemingly indifferent we can be to humans who are likewise suffering. Every morning, I read of man-caused death and distress in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa as well as the poverty and despair in our own country. Of course, those reports catch my eye, but the fate of a horse captured my imagination. Perhaps “indifferent” is too strong of a word – maybe anesthetized is more like it.Granted, there are many individuals and organizations who are not only aware but who are doing what they can to help. And, of course, a portion of all our tax dollars goes to social welfare and international aid. I guess my question is whether we’ve seen so much human suffering that we’ve become jaded. Or perhaps it’s easier to find empathy for an animal because they are devoid of race, creed or political affiliation. Could the infatuation with Barbaro stem from the fact he wasn’t white, black, brown, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Iraqi or American but simply a beautiful creature worthy of compassion? If only we could always see people as people all the time, maybe then we’d have Barbaro-level empathy for our own species across the board.Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on RSN TV, heard on KOA radio, and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or at Backcountrymagazine.com.
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