Friday, April 23, 2010

(Sort of) Off Topic: Dragonfly Monitoring and Do We Overvalue the Special?

This post is somewhat off-topic, but it ends up having some relevance to horses and working with horses. I had the chance today to attend a 3-hour workshop for people interested in dragonfly monitoring. Our local Forest Preserve Districts and conservation organizations have an active network of volunteers who undertake monitoring activities for such things as rare plants, frogs/toads, birds or dragonflies in our nature preserves and on private property. This is interesting and valuable work, and provides an opportunity for interested amateurs to contribute to the work of scientists. The area where I live has many water areas, full of dragonflies - marshes, streams, small lakes and ponds, and I've always been interested in observing the dragonflies - this was an opportunity to learn more and perhaps contribute something.

There are many dragonfly species in Northern Illinois - almost 100 - so there was lot to learn about, ranging from the most common to the possible rare sightings. I was also inspired by some wonderful macro photographs taken by one of the participants - beautiful detail and insight. I did not realize how diverse the habitats are that dragonflies prefer, and how specific many species are in their flight, perching, hunting and egg-laying preferences.

Somehow this got me started thinking about horses - but then, everything pretty much gets me thinking about horses! As we were talking about the common, and then the relatively rare, dragonfly species, it occurred to me that we could have been talking about horses. There are horse with outstanding achievements - Tevis Cup winners, Olympic medalists, World Cup show jumping winners, Triple Crown winners and aspirants, and even that beautiful dressage/show jumping/eventing horse that wins competitions. And then there's breed preferences - like with show dogs - there are beautiful purebred show horses of every description. As a former hunter/jumper competitor, I've been as guilty of these preferences as the next person - I got Maisie largely because she was so beautiful.

But what about the ordinary, everyday horse? The perhaps ugly (by conventional standards), oddly colored or not purebred horse that is someone's special friend or companion, or that achieves in the backyard, or the lower level show ring, or on the trail, something special with a human companion? Or the therapy horse that provides help and comfort to someone who is mentally or physically challenged? Does it always have to be about the beautiful or the perfect or the competition winner? I think half (or more) of the problems in the horse world - abuses of all kind - come because of the human desire to compete and win, sometimes regardless of the cost.

There's a lot to be said for the value of the ordinary - the horse that is someone's valued companion or friend, regardless of breed, appearance or pedigree. How do we learn to value the everyday (but very special) horse, or dragonfly for that matter, as much as the "special" horse, dog or dragonfly?


  1. My first horse, Hope, was beautiful! She was a bright sorrel, very feminine. I had strangers stop me to tell me how beautiful she was. She was also so well behaved. Then I a second horse. Just a horse for friends to ride. Maggie was basically a fugly horse. My mom's first comment after she got off the trailer was, "she's swayed back!" And she was: had huge ears, a spotty palomino, and eventually had to have one eye removed. But was she an awesome horse! I could put anyone on her and she knew her job, which was to follow Hope. Although I could ride her out alone, I admit I didn't very often.

    I would give my right arm for another Maggie.

  2. I'm not so sure that one can 'learn' to value that special connection. I think it is just something that someone has to appreciate and to be able to open up their hearts to.
    I did not set out to buy any of my past horses (or dogs or cat for that matter) because they were beautiful or an outstanding athlete. It was because something in them called out to me and I had to answer.
    In fact, Fawkes, (who I believe is quite a good looker!) was set to go off to the killers, he was in bad shape and almost unrideable, severly underweight with a bit of a temper.
    I think that if a person can just be open and trust feelings and instinct then you will naturally learn how to value such wonderful relationships with animals (and even some people!)

    Great post!

  3. Panama is ordinary. Backyard bred, on top of it. But dammit, he is special to me, and that's all I care about. :o)

  4. Beauty is as beauty does.

    I remember being at a big dressage show. I'd done just fine and was up in the secretary's booth afterwards, just chatting. Far across the showgrounds, we saw an expensive trailer festooned with all manner of blue ribbons. Outside, throwing a massive temper tantrum was a gorgeous big, magnificent warmblood. He was absolutely out of control as his handlers tried to load him in the trailer. This had been going on for some time and continued to go on for the better part of another hour.

    At some point, I said, "Well, I wouldn't want to own that horse, that's for sure." I was greeted with horrified stares from everyone around me. "Who the heck wants a horse you can't trailer anywhere without a fight like that everytime?"

    No one said a word, but I could tell they were still mesmerized by the first place ribbons.

    I meant what I said. My horses are all "point and and walk in" as far as the trailer is concerned--although Chance needs a brush up course. And not a one of them put up that kind of fight when I was training them to load. (Tucker did get a Kenny Harlow session.) What was bad about this "show" horse was that he was scary and dangerous--striking, kicking and rearing.

    Now, he may well have had a good excuse for not wanting to load, and certainly with the proper training, I figure he could eventually be taught to do it quietly, but the trauma of what I was watching was going to take a lot of undoing.

    My horses are attractive, but not one of them is "take your breath away" stunning either in form or movement. But I can handle them easily and ride--well, excuse Tucker, please--them with enjoyment. It's not how they look, it's what they do that matters.

  5. My TB is quite ordinary looking (other than in height!) with a big clunky head. But to me, he is the most beautiful creature on the planet! I love him dearly and honestly wouldn't part with him for a million dollars. It's fun to just spend time in each other's presence. He is so very special to me. Our Paint is quite a looker & very flashy, but he can be difficult to get along with (extremely intelligent prankster with strong opinions).
    The dragonfly project sounds quite interesting!

  6. My dear Champ was a fugly - he was priceless to me though! Dixie is really stunningly pretty, but I think if she could choose, she'd be a fugly too. She doesn't want to be fussed over, and she doesn't want to be a show horse, and her beauty is kind of a hindrance to her.

    It's all about the look in her eyes; that's where the real beauty of a horse is.


Thank you for commenting - we appreciate it. No spam or marketing comments will be published.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.