The more I get to know my friend Sonya, the more I find out we have in common. As her English has improved, and my Chinese has started to be somewhat comprehensible we have been able to find out more and more about each other. Sonya’s favourite animal is the horse, and so is mine. Her eyes lit up when she found out “Do you want to go ride the horses?” She had asked.
“YES!” was my immediate reply. Nate got dragged into our over-excited horse loving frenzy, and the morning of April 15 we met my Sonya to bus it out to the yellow river, where Sonya had found an online listing for a horse riding place.
Sonya has gorgeous long hair and high cheekbones that she tries to hide as she says her face is “too wide.” She wants to look more like a westerner, and I have to tell her again and again how beautiful she is. She is always smiling, and trying her hardest not to directly insult us, even though I know that our blundering western ways have made her uncomfortable more then once. Sonya is a kindred spirit. She is fascinated by our culture, as much as we are by hers, and I think by hanging out with us we’ve given her almost more culture shock then we’ve experienced living in China.
Sonya had never gone riding before and she was really excited. We met another of Sonya’s friends just outside the gates to the park. I had wanted to visit the yellow river for a while, it’s one of China’s most famous landmarks. I quickly found out why it was called the yellow river. We walked through the park entrance, which was decorated with a stone carving of a dragon, and below us we could see the river. Jinan is on the end of the river’s path, so the walter has had a lot of time to pick up sediment, making it a muddy yellow- brown colour.
It wasn’t exactly nice fertile ground near the river either, everything was dried and cracked. Still, it would be interesting to ride along side and explore the place a little.
A mare and foal were pasturing in the middle of a round track with little to no grass to graze on. At first I squealed “aw a baby!” when I saw the little guy, but as we got closer I realized his tail was matted and tangled from neglect and his ribs poked through his hide. His mother looked near death with her her ribs showing through her thin coat. There was no shade, only the cruel hot beating sun.
I’m not sure what I expected, I probably should of seen this coming as we’ve seen a lot of animal abuse in different forms in China.
The rest of the horses were standing fully tacked in the hot sun, tied to a network of poles. Their coats were dull and their ribs stuck out in sharp rows. They were dull eyed broken things. It was like looking at shackled slaves The ride was little more then a pony ride around a dirt track.
It’s hard to explain the way I feel about horses, the herbivore that became a partner in hunting and war to one of the most creative and vicious predators on the planet. The prey animal that has learned to trust it’s human counterparts to drive it directly into situations a prey animal should only run from. Horses are amazing, and the emotional connection that comes from being a horses human counterpart, even just for an hour, is insane. I remember learning to guide the animals with nothing but the movement of my body. Seeing starving dogs on the street, or locked into tiny cages, that was hard enough, but to see a horse, an animal that I’d been connected to through all of the energy of my body, it was like seeing a human being tortured needlessly. I guess in the core of my being I am a horse. In some ways more then a human.
I rode anyways, and a small part of me hates myself for it. There’s this cold knot of hopelessness, like the feeling you get when walking past a beggar on the street and knowing nothing you do in that moment will really make a difference, because the core of the problem goes way beyond his current situation. There’s only been a few times in my life when I’ve felt so defeated, once when listening to a little girl I used to teach talk about the three toys she owned, and the other time when I left the group home I used to work in. I just couldn’t help the boys in that house, the more I tried to carry them to the surface the more I drowned.
I am faced with the pain of helplessness every day, and I carry that pain with me through my life. The horses were a sharp stab. I wanted to get as far away from that place as possible, but when I looked at my friend, this woman who I had grown to love, who had never ridden horses, who didn’t know any better, who was so excited to be there, I handed the guy in charge of the place my money. I felt the connection with the beast as I sat on his back. Heat and deep seated depression, I let our emotions connect as we wandered slowly around the pen. I didn’t want to push him. I didn’t want to look at the starving baby. Sonya’s face was a mixture of joy and fear as she was led around the track. She was experiencing the moment.
I was just glad to leave the place behind. I felt sick to my stomach. Sonya was saying she too was disappointed. I struggled to explain my feelings to her. We’d come a long way to understanding each other, culturally and verbally, but there just weren’t words. The bus ride home was quiet.