Sustainable forgiveness


I have long had a problem with the word forgiveness and the common concept around it.

I don’t like how it tells you to let go, that is how it is, and you are supposed to surrender to the flow of life. I really think that if you just keep surrendering each time something happens, you will soon have to live in a very awkward situation. It has never appealed to be a sustainable solution to me.

Horses teach us a lot about forgiveness, among many other things.

They forgive us every moment, and we forgive them whenever we need to; just so easily.

One day, I was feeding a barn full of horses. I think there were about 20 of them. They each had a bucket of their own, and we tipped the bucket of prepared feed into the bins inside the individual stalls.

I reached this young colt, and I saw him approach his feed bin as I walked up to his stall. He was generally very quiet and easy to be around.

I lifted the bucket over the door and emptied the feed just as I usually did, or so I thought I was going to. And this colt bit me. I saw him flatten his ears, his posture changed, and his month coming towards my whilst. I watched all this happen in a matter of a second and then yelped as I felt the sensation. It hurt.

I then saw the horse take a step back, just enough to step out of my arm’s reach. He must have thought I was going to smack him on the nose or something. And he also knew how he was faster than an aching human.

I did not hit him with my hands. But did hit him back with loads of surprise. I did not think much before I threw the empty bucket at him. The bucket fell on his flank and I saw his reaction, “oh.” As I watched him, I grabbed whatever else nearby, which happened to be a halter, a lead rope, and a bridle. And in that order, those things flew across the air towards the horse in the next few seconds. The halter managed to slap the side of the horse before it fell. The horse side stepped to avoid it. The lead rope nearly got him. But the horse turned around and fled to the back of his rectangular stall, where he was sure I could not possibly reach him. Well, but the flying bridle did, those reins slapped the horse as it fell.  And that was when the horse really looked at me and snorted. I was about to pull a rug off the lack and throw that next. But I saw the horse look at me, and so I stopped. And I said, in human language, “IT HURTS.”

I then moved to the next stall to feed another horse. The colt walked up to his feed carefully and started eating.

It was at the end of the day. We were feeding horses as one of the last thing to do before we left the barn. And I had one more job to do before I left. Those days, I used to stay back a short time each day to poultice cray horses’ feet for those who benefited from an extra help or two. The colt was on the list. And I approached him with a bucket of poultice and a halter.

He stood there and waited for me to catch him. He was watching me but did not move. I put a halter on him and took a lid off the bucket. As I leant down, I knew he was not going to bite me. It was not the feed time. And he was watching my every move. I took my time to cray his front feet all the way up above his knees. And he just stood there with his head down, watching me.

Next day, at the feed time, he behaved like a borrowed cat.

The following day, he waked up to the feed bin and showed that he was about to pin his ears back. I saw that, and I said with a firm voice, ‘ hey’. That was enough to redirect his interest. He waited until the feed was in the bucket, and did not look at my whilst with frustration.

That was it. Just one incident. And it never repeated. He was still a colt, only becoming fitter and stronger as a horse. But he heard the NO, and he understood that he could not bite a person. And the matter was sorted. There was no need for me to be afraid of him or to dislike him, though I certainly remembered the bite and the moment it happened. The horse was just the horse. He did not become afraid of me. He was still quiet. He did pin his ears back and snarled at a young staff a few more times, but nobody considered him as a problem.

Had I walked away hurting that day, this colt would have learned that it was just another part of the day to attack people at a meal time. Had I whipped him in revenge, he or any horse will grow suspicious around people. But our goal is to co-exist. We are not supposed to harm one another. And if it hurt, you need to let the other person know that it did. They need to recognise you as a person, and realise that certain behaviours of theirs can hurt another. Forgiveness isn’t about letting it go. I insist that we are supposed to learn something from it.

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