Great Horses “Act Like They Belong”
In Year Later, Barbaro’s Doctor Looks Back, and Moves On, by Jere Longman in today’s New York Times, Dr. Dean W. Richardson reflects on the Barbaro Days. He wouldn’t do anything different, he isn’t embarrassed by anything that occurred, but "from a purely surgical perspective, it was extremely unsatisfying because he didn’t make it." That all sounds reasonable (for a self-proclaimed "horseman" who owns three thoroughbreds).
Richardson’s explanation for the outpouring of affection for Barbaro was that people recognize greatness and that Barbaro was an "untarnished hero."
How could you ascribe any bad behavior or motives to Barbaro? And when you have a totally unblemished vessel, it can be filled with all kinds of emotions and ideals. All the good things they’d like to have in people, they could see in Barbaro.
I find that response fascinating. I look at the situation and I say: Barbaro WAS a living representation of the extent humans will go to for their own egos and greed. And he came to life as a living being only when he came close to death. His injury reminded us that he was alive and we had pushed his young body to the point where an injury like that was possible.
But as someone who owns thoroughbreds and "loves horses," Richardson conveniently neglects to mention the circumstances leading to Barbaros’s death–he was forced to race. Barbaro’s death was completely unavoidable. Barbaro’s injury was completely unavoidable. Barbaro’s mere existence was completely unavoidable.
Finally, Richardson remarks that Barbaro was a great patient.
Some injured horses can be difficult in everything from being placed in a sling to having bandages changed, he said. “Barbaro always seemed to understand, for the most part, that we were trying to help him,” he said.
Some have used the word courage to describe Barbaro’s fight to stay alive. Some used dignity. Richardson prefers class, with its suggestions of personality and intelligence. Previously, he said, he had treated horses that seemed to give up. They stopped eating or became disinterested in life much earlier than Barbaro did. Barbaro was different. Until the end, when he became anxious and frustrated, he kept his ears up, ate vigorously, came when he was called.
“Great horses,” Richardson said. “They act like they belong.”
Great horses are those who do what their people want them to do and don’t complain. Great horses are those who have assimilated into lives their humans have set up for them and don’t protest. Great horses remain interested in what we want them to be interested in and express that interest in a way we find acceptable. Great horses are great because they serve us in the manner we are accustomed to, and make it easy to do whatever it is we want to do to them.
That’s a mighty interesting definition of greatness.