Unadilla: A short reflection

Two weeks seem as if it is a short amount of time when you compare it to our relatively long lives. For myself, however, it feels like it was a lifetime ago.

Two weeks ago, I understood very little about how a horse auction was run. It wasn’t that I was ignorant, but rather that I just did not want to even have to imagine what a horse auction was like. So going into it, I had no expectations; I was a blank slate ready to be covered with feelings and emotions based off an experience that I had no prior expertise in. I did not even have previously seen photos to prepare myself for what I would be seeing.

But now I am no longer a blank slate.

At the auction I saw things that I will never be able to un-see. I felt feelings that I will never un-feel. I had emotions run through me that I did not even have words to express. I tried to convey my experience using the best words that I could, but sometimes words are just not enough. I took pictures, yet those pictures still do not adequately portray what it is like to actually be there. Pictures may paint a thousand words, but actual experience of an event writes a novel.

Despite having to be a part of something that was truly heartbreaking, I can confidently say that I do not regret going to the Unadilla horse auction. If nothing else, it acted as an event that will now forever mold the rest of my life. Witnessing a horse auction created an infinite amount of desire in me to do what I can to raise awareness about a cause that I personally saw the darkness of. At the same time,however, I also got to feel the joy that comes with saving another living creatures life. It is this mixture of emotions that I felt within myself that I hope to use as fuel for motivating myself to continue writing about this topic.

Right now as I sit here, I understand that the horses that I saw sold to slaughter are no longer mortal, living things. They are no longer bodies filled with light and the peppiness of life. They will never again be someones pet. Eyes once radiating with light, enthusiasm and hopefulness have now grown dim. They will, however, live on in my memory. I will never forget the look of that one chestnut mare awaiting death in the stable after the auction. I was the last friendly touch she would ever feel.

With a heart full of remembrance and a mind in constant recollection of my first auction, I will continue to promote the stories of those who go to these rescues. The people who consistently see what most are too afraid to see. The people who change the lives of horses, one auction at a time. Those who give hope to horses who do not understand that their hope was slowly running out. They are the people who, by saving one horses lives, have the possibility of bringing a once abandoned horse to the home of someone who will love them unconditionally. In saving one life, you have the capacity to enhance others.

These are the people who are true heroes. Changing the world for one horse at a time. People who give their time so that horses can have more time.

More to come soon.

Unadilla: Arriving at the auction house

Trailer pulls into auction house lot.

Trailer pulls into auction house parking lot

My day in Unadilla began approximately seven hours before the horse auction was slated to begin. As our small group pulled into the parking lot of the D.R. Chambers auction house, there were already horse trailers in the parking lot. Equipped with two-horse trailers (room for six horses total) myself and four others (I won’t refer to exact names in order to protect the rescues interest at the auction) backed into our spots in the dusty, rock covered parking lot.

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Dark aisle horse

As we opened our doors and stepped onto the uneven ground, a grey truck with a picture of a horse on the driver’s side door and an electric blue trailer hitched to its’ back pulled into the spot directly next to ours. The movement of a horse could be heard from the back of the dilapidated-looking trailer. A little man wearing a cowboy hat, a snug fitting Coca Cola shirt and jeans jumped out from the driver’s side door of the truck and came around to the back of his trailer as the others and myself waited to ask about the horse that was locked away inside the tiny blue trailer.

Waiting inside was a 22 year-old gelding with smooth brown hair and a slight cut over the bridge of his nose. As we sat listening to the story about why that horse was placed in auction, my mind began to drift away as I wondered whether or not you can believe any of the stories that anybody at these auctions say. If he was such a wonderful horse, why would you be selling him at an auction that could possibly lead to your horse ending up in a Canadian slaughter-house. When asked why, he was selling his horse, there was no answer, as if he just did not hear the question directed at him, or maybe it was that he did not want to hear it. Stories at these auctions, as it turns out, were as flimsy and fake as the people telling them were.

Number 1555

Number 1555

At around 1130 a.m., we made our way into the auction stable area where the horses are left to wait, some waiting for rescue, others waiting for death, the line between blurry and indecipherable. With six and a half hours until auction, there were already about 10-15 horses tied with bailing twine to a wooden beam. In the dark aisle, the aisle in which the majority will go to slaughter, there were horses of all different shapes, sizes and colors. The only way of really referencing them, however was through the green circular tags placed on their rears with numbers on them. These horses were nothing more than numbers. They were no longer somebody’s pet, a little girls dream present or even animals. Just number 1548, a white pregnant mare. She was living, breathing, but at the same time she was now just a number; numbers don’t breathe and they don’t come alive. Names are too personal. Names belong to things that have futures. Numbers are assigned to products, to anything that needs to be impersonal, to anything that won’t be around long enough to need a name anymore.

In a small stall further inside the confines of the auction stable I found where the minis were kept. As I approached I could tell that something was wrong. Upon further inspection I found that this mini had gotten its’ leg tangled in the bailing string that also kept it tied to a wooden beam. I watched as this horse helplessly struggled to remove its’ foot from the twine that it had wrapped around its’ leg. The horse began to jump and smash into the side of the wooden stall as it struggled with no avail to free itself from the bailing twine. I pulled out my keys and began to cut off the bailing twine while I began to also wish that I had brought some sort of knife so that I could have helped cut the horse free quicker. While I struggled with cutting the twine, I heard voices approaching and had to stop. I started to walk away as two chubby men approached where I had been moments before. They watched as the horse jumped, continuing to try to free its’ foot. One of the men was amused by the horses struggle and said, “We got a jumper here boy.” Where I found horror, another found humor, and just like that, the two men walked off without even thinking of helping the tangled mini. Apparently they had clear consciences and untroubled minds.

Unloading

Unloading

As the sun began to rise, so did the number of horses being brought into the stables. It was one trailer after another. A continuous stream of unwanted, or unneeded horses. Horses that were used and then tossed away like cigarette butts. As I watched the trailers come in, I felt myself beginning to go numb. There seemed to be no end to the flow of them. But the auction house employees handled it with perfect precision. They worked like clockwork, and trailer after trailer was emptied with little or no difficulty at all. It was not their first rodeo. By 430, the total number of horses (not including minis and mules) was at 70.

At around 430, the Amish began to arrive, which was a contradiction in itself. The Amish showed up in trucks, something that I had previously believed was not something they were supposed to use. The Amish brought horses that were virtually beaten into the ground. Horses used to do work until they physically could not do anymore work, at which point these horses would just be discarded at the auction. Horses who made life possible for the Amish were sold to slaughter without any type of pity, as if years of hard work was still not enough for these horses to deserve reprieve.

Dark aisle

Dark aisle

In the parking lot there was pandemonium. Men and women sat atop horses as they rode walked, trotted and cantered through a parking lot full of rocks. This act in itself could be devastating for some of the horses due in part to the fact that if the rocks bruised their hoofs and they became lame, buyers could interpret this as being a bigger problem than it was, resulting in some perfectly healthy horses being sold to slaughter because of nothing more than being a little sore.

As 6 approached, the stable was nearly at full capacity. You could feel the energy. It was a dark energy, the kind of feeling that made the hair on the back of your neck rise. It was a feeling of anxiety, nervousness and maybe even emptiness. With only room for six, I felt myself realizing that not every horse in this stable would be finding a happy ending. I looked around realizing for maybe the first time that day that there were going to be a lot of horses there that would never again be put out to pasture. Many horses would not feel the softness of green grass beneath their hooves ever again. When 6 rolled around, it would be the beginning of the end for many, but at the same time, some of these horses would also find new beginnings. For every life taken, there would also be the chance that a new lease on life would also be given.

There would only be six horses that would be coming home with us, and with nearly 100 horses there,

Waiting

Waiting

this seemed too small, but we also were not alone. Others were there who were not kill buyers. Not everyone who shows up at auctions are people looking to sell for slaughter.

It was in this moment that I began to realize the enormity of what we were doing. We were going to be a part of change. There was no way that we could save them all, but we would be able to save a few, and sometimes that was all there was too it. You save what you can, you act as the change that you hope others will be someday too. Change, I realized, was the sum of all the intricately small actions directed at a larger goal, and that day, our change was going to be six horses; six lives.

A Generation in the Shadow of War

Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind. – John F. Kennedy

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If there’s one thing that this generation knows well, it’s war. We grew up with the sound of gunfire constantly resonating in our ears.

It is hard for most current college students and most mid-to-late  teenagers to recall times when they have memories that have taken place in an era that was not in the midst of war. We have been bred in a nation of constant battle in which we have learned nothing of peace, and all the ins-and-outs of war. We have become comfortable with war. It may not be comfort in the sense of a warm sweater, sweatpants and a cup of hot cocoa in front of a a slow-burning fire, but it is comfort all the same. Well maybe it is just toleration. We may have learned to tolerate war. We have accepted it as something that is just part of our daily lives. It is a depressing necessity, like the destruction of the worlds natural beauty to make room for human development. We hate to see natural beauty infringed upon, but we recognize the need to do so, as well.

It is difficult to realize that when this generation is remembered, there will always be a mention of the wars in the Middle East. When my future children sit down in their classes to learn about their countries past, they will learn of about the death and tragedy that defined my childhood. How we turned on the news each night to hear about another 20 year old who left this world prematurely. A young soldier who left behind a wife and two young children. Children who will grow up knowing their father only through stories and precious pictures. Pictures from a time when their father was teeming with life – a soul that still had so much potential. Potential that was waiting to be uncorked until his duty as an American had to come first, and all that potential had to stay untapped.

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This generation is defined by the destruction of two towers and the loss of over a thousand lives. It is an event that will always be engrained in my memory. I can remember sitting in my second grade classroom. It was a day like any other day in a second graders life, but then all of a sudden it wasn’t. Over the intercom, students began to start being pulled one-by-one out of class by their parents. I vividly remember one student saying, “I don’t remember my Mom telling me I was leaving early today.”

Eventually I was taken out of school by my babysitter. She would not tell me why we were being taken out of school, but I could tell that there was something wrong. Parents often mistake a child’s innocence as being a trait that makes them very vulnerable to deceit, but I think it makes them quite the opposite. I could see worry in my babysitter, a sense of uncertainty and a look that said, “things are going to be different now.” Children may be innocent, but it is this innocence that allows them to better understand the change of emotions in adults. They may lack knowledge, but they are very adept and aware of their situation, and that day I could tell something was not right.

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When I went home, my parents told me what had happened, but I could tell that they still didn’t fully understand either. I have come to understand that when you witness history, it is almost always impossible to put it into perspective until you really look back upon it. That day, I remember the first time that I saw the towers come crumbling down. Pillars of steel that are normally a symbol of strength and longevity giving out from intense heat and weight as the towers began to implode on themselves. The cloud of debris blanketing the streets of Manhattan as powerful men and women who may have been prominent figures on Wall  Street or CEO’s of companies just ran for their lives. Ran as if their lives depended on it. Ran away from the agony of tragedy toward some kind of peace.

And today we are still running to find that peace.

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After we entered war with Iraq in 2003, I can remember catching the fever of patriotism. Our country was running on pride and fueled on patriotism. A nation united as one and a Union that was stronger than I could ever remember. The sight of American flags delicately oscillating in the wind lined the fronts of houses up and done my street. America going off to war is a unique experience to see.

I have never felt an America so connected since that time.

Instead, I have witnessed the waning of pride. People questioning our presence in a country that may not have needed our presence to begin with. A war in a country filled with people that have been fighting among themselves since the beginning of time. A war in a country that is the definition of war. Whatever it may have been, I have seen our country become less supportive of the war effort over the past  10 years. The patriotism of our country at war has slowly flatlined and the war has become almost an after thought.

I truly hope that I am not coming off as unpatriotic and disloyal to our country. I support our troops and our country as much as any other person. All that I am saying is that I believe this country is ready to gorge themselves on the fruits of peace and the tranquility that accompanies that. I have seen a country that has come together to show its’ patriotism in war, but would love to see a country that can find patriotism in peace.

But most of all, I want to be a generation that is not just defined by warfare. I like to think that this generation is a lot more than just war. I know we are so much more than that.

Newtown: A New Hope

images-1From the ashes of terror sometimes rises a new hope for humanity. Sometimes it is through ruthless violence that the twine that holds all of humanity together is tightened. It is in sorrow that the masses are brought together by a common feeling felt among everyone; uncertainty, fear, and anxiety over where the future is heading. In this togetherness, a togetherness that I sometimes wish would never have to be observed, new ideas are formed for the bettering of tomorrow. Sadly, this change is not initiated until innocent lives are used as an unfortunate example.

images-2In the wake of Newtown, 20 desks with scented erasers and Ticonderoga #2 pencils will forever be empty. 20 beds forever yearning for the warmth of a body lying on top of them. 20 children’s lives that have been stripped prematurely from this Earth, removing all the hopes and aspirations these children may have had. Turning out the lights on futures that until that fateful day had shone so brightly.

Six. Six teachers who will not have the pleasure of another first day of school. Six families who lost a husband, a wife, daughter or son. Six lives lost attempting to preserve the lives of countless five and six-year olds. People destroyed for doing a job that they loved; mentoring the youth of America.

imagesOne. One man with a desire to cause pain. One idea that was carried out in an average, small town elementary school; a school not so different from the one that we all attended growing up. One man who will forever live in infamy, not to be judged in this world by myself, but to be judged in front of the great creator whose scale is easily tipped by the heaviness of unneeded and uncalled for sin.

But there is more that has come out of Newtown.

Newtown has left the nation debating the use of guns. It has become a battle between the constitution and the people. American’s have the right to bare arms, but what kind of arms? It is an argument that may cause change, and it also may not, but at the end of the day, this is now a major discussion. America is beginning to reexamine its’ own values which for some is a long needed endeavor, while others remain happy with the status quo. Some ask, “why do you need assault rifles?” Others then answer, “It’s not guns who kill people, people do.” It is a debate as old as time, but after Newtown, it is a debate that is going to be settled. By re-examining gun laws, we may ensure that another 26 families will never again have to mourn.

Newtown has also brought mental health issues to the forefront. It is a topic that has been looked over almost my entire life. Barely discussed in the news, and not spoken about in government very often either. Adam Lanza’s mother knew her son was ill, but she had nowhere to turn. Having a mentally disturbed son could have the propensity of ostracizing them from the neighborhood. Newtown left America pondering the ways in which we view mental illness. We have begun re-examining the stigma we have often attached to it.

The role of the media has also been called into question. As always, with these kinds of events, the media is chastised for seemingly appearing to have no sympathy for victim’s families. But Newtown also revealed something else; the media’s yearning for getting the information first despite the possibility of this information being incorrect sometimes. The media continually speculated and put information on air or in print that just was not correct. The balance of timeliness and correctness has become a reason for the media to look at itself and decide which is more important and how to better balance the two.

There is no way of bringing back any of the lives lost in Newtown. Death draws a firm line in which mortality constantly walks along. Once this line is crossed, however, death rarely releases its’ cruel grasp. These lives live on though in this tide of possible social change. As society begins to look more closely at itself each lost life becomes more alive. With each new law or act of awareness, a life is symbolically brought back into our world. These lives live on as long as we ensure that their demise was not for nothing; that their loss of life will be the basis for saving others. Nothing will ever make it right, but we would be doing them a disservice if we neglect to initiate change in the memory of those lives gone, but never forgotten.

 

Poverty: America’s Undiagnosed Disease

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It was the end of my trip to Washington D.C. With my suitcase packed and mind occupied with the memories of  10 days spent in the nation’s capital, I set out for what would be my last trip on the D.C. Metro. It was about 5:30 in the morning, a time when most teenagers are still sleeping and most parents are either preparing for the day ahead or already on their way to work. 5:30 is also one of the cooler times of the day. This morning was different though. As I ventured out into the street, I was enveloped by frigid air and greeted by an unfriendly gusting wind.I could feel my nose stinging, and my ears burning. As the wind whipped my face I could feel the stinging of my eyes as tears began to form in the corner of my eyes and gently slide down my face. It was bitterly cold.

While lugging my over-stuffed suitcase to the train stop, I became enamored by something that I saw. In the ungodly cold morning air, there was a man standing in front of a small door that was set into a concrete wall. It offered some shelter, but not very much, from the constant wind. As I walked past, him I saw he was rubbing the thin jacket that was wrapped around his frail, thin body. He looked at me and with a gentle smile coming to his face he said, “good morning.” He was the face of American poverty.

This small concrete doorway was his home. This was where he lived. He did not have the luxury or the convenience of sitting inside a temperature regulated apartment. For whatever reason, something happened to this man that brought him to live without the comforts offered to many in America. It could have been one bad decision, a string of bad luck. Whatever it was, this is where he now found himself. Cold, homeless and all alone in a world inhabited by about 7 billion people. No one to turn to. No one to help. The world was harsh to him, and maybe some people were even harsher. He had so little, but he still had enough to say good morning to someone who probably would have never said, “good morning” to him.

While on the train heading back to the comforts of suburbia and the commodities that home offers, I was struck by what had just transpired. It was in the capital of the world’s richest nation where I met the all-too common face of poverty. It could be a mother, a father, a sister or a brother. It can be an entire family. The point is that poverty still exists. It’s easy to forget while we become enticed by the idea that more is better. More clothes and better cars. More, More, More. Me, Me, Me.We look to get more while others look to have some. Some place to call home. Some hot meals to eat on a consistent basis. Some hope that someone will give them the help they need to get back on their feet and start heading in the right direction. It is easy to tell ourselves that someone must be unfit, an alcoholic or disturbed when they are homeless and living on the streets. Sometimes this is not the case though; maybe they just need some help.

From the hills of West Virginia to the streets of our biggest cities, to the quaint streets of quiet suburbia, poverty is alive, and it is thriving. So as you sit inside today with your favorite sweatpants, largest sweater and favorite slippers listening to the wind howl outside, remember there are people out there taking on that howling wind. As you curl up in your bed, someone is curling up on a bench in the local park. As you ask for another new gadget, someone out there is asking for a warm meal, a warm bed and most importantly, someone is asking for someone to care. Anybody who cares enough to do something about this undiagnosed disease.

America the Beautiful

IMG_1325Only a few days ago, I attended a moment of American history. I watched as President Barack Obama was sworn into the highest public office in America. In the early morning hours before the inauguration began I saw the sun raising over a Capitol Building that was still shrouded in the evenings darkness. While watching I noticed that this was symbolic of new hope for the next four years. It was a day of hope, hope that the next four years will be better. Hope that the problems of today will be the victories of yesterday. The basic ideas that brighter days are on the horizon and the American people will continue moving forward. It was symbolic that although our political views sometimes divide us, we all still strive for the same goal; a better America and a better future. It was a day that did not matter whether you were Democratic or Republican, Conservative or Liberal. We were all Americans. All people with the common belief that as bad as things may be sometimes, we are part of the most magnificent country in the world. We are part of something beautiful. A country as beautiful as all the men, women and children who inhabit it; we are part of America the beautiful.

Hope is Blooming

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Among a row of otherwise barren bushes bloomed one flower. Just one. A single speck of color in a dreary winter world. Holding onto hope that warmer days will be ahead, that not all is lost. Alone, but not overlooked, down but never out. A flower not so different from the American people. Times look bad, the odds look poor and hope is fleeting. But like a mid-January flower, we will bloom.When the times seem hopeless, we will forever blossom despite poor weather. Like a lone flower in the depths of winter, America will continue to add a touch of color among a palate of grayness.