Happy New Year, Happy Birthday

By Vic Zast

At midnight on the last day of the year, as the moon lays a blanket of light on the pastures and the wind stirs the needles on the pines that line their edges, nothing seems different than the night before or the day after. Yet, the horses will celebrate a birthday. 

The January 1 birthday is a custom, used by the registry to categorize the species simply. The event slips away undetected. In a quiet room where records are kept and matters like this may mean something, someone takes notice. But the horses don't. They sleep standing, bobbing gently when the burden of their weight on a leg makes the other leg numb.

Stars splatter the sky above. The night is unremarkable, otherwise.

Acknowledging a faint faraway sound, a mare paws the sodden Earth. She is heavy through the middle like an old man laying face down in a hammock. She shakes the dusting off her swaybacked spine with a tremble and lets out with a snort. Her eyes shut, her head dipped, the jagged movement in her back is subtle. 

Nature marks the seasons by the forming of ice on the streams and the flight of geese and a new circle in the trunk of a sycamore. Homo sapiens, the ingenious species, create history, define goals and make resolutions. 

As proof of this, the farm's owners are engaged in revelries.  Homes across the region are aglow. Strands of Auld Lang Syne can be heard, champagne's poured and there's kissing when the hands of the clock point to twelve. People are unique in maintaining a record of their lives. The past, present and the future merely happen for other life forms.

Animals comply with the natural order. Possessed with uncanny awareness, horses behave at the command of their instincts. Their sense of place and role is a result of a genetic disposition. Which of the many shall lead the pack through a figure eight in the paddock?  Which will enter a gate first when they're brought home from the elements?

Remarkably, within the fenced borders, myriad issues that escape the human experience are being sorted out. The equine universe is holistic. Hierarchy and purpose are the dictates of DNA, not the adherence to convention. There's a place for even the least of the beasts.

Why anyone allows cruelty in this kingdom is a mystery? Yet, men with a worldly motive have shown to be uncommonly heartless. Everything in nature deserves to be watched over. Rescue, sanctuary and euthanasia are choices.

When a living thing appears at the end of its happiness, humans who do less than they can to preserve its dignity face the sad fate of becoming diminished. The life of a creature exists at their biding. Horses ask little in return for their beauty, their loyalty and service. A person enters into a compact with a force beyond comprehension whenever a horse is bred, born and raised. At the very least, the manner with which people dispose of animals who suffer is a reflection of how they themselves wish to be treated.

There are men who can see invisible things, it is said. This night, on the occasion of collective accounting, a man of unusual insight approaches the arena.  He breaks the peace of the falling snow. The pointed flakes, each in their own composition, descend on the oil-treated shoulders of his Barbour. He is a shaman, whose mystical powers enable him to operate in nature's realm. 

Quietly standing in the circle of the herd, this man understands that his thoughts lack in consequence. But he's unable to escape them.  And he listens, and hears nothing. And the horses show no signs of wariness. Their acceptance of fate proceeds without complication, as if nothing in the past or the future, regardless of its influence, will intrude upon the stillness. 

Vic Zast is a Thoroughbred breeder and owner and writes the Saratoga Diary for bloodhorse.com. His first book, "The History and Art of 25 Travers," was named one of the Top 10 Books of 2008.


Leave a Comment:


Wow. May we take the line, "Everything in nature deserves to be watched over" and adhere our lives to it. The horses are blessed to have an author such as this. Happy New Year and Happy Birthday to all our equine friends!

01 Jan 2013 10:43 AM

Well-said. Eloquent and beautiful.

01 Jan 2013 11:21 AM

Beautiful, eloquent essay on our responsibilities as stewards of everything in nature.  Happy New Year to all and Happy Birthday

01 Jan 2013 4:27 PM
Karen in Indiana

Thank you.

01 Jan 2013 7:23 PM

That was well written and very touching! These beautiful creatures deserve our respect and care!  Regardless of their performance or stage in their career, they deserve to receive love!

02 Jan 2013 6:55 AM
Fran Loszynski

What animal in this world can outrun the wind more beautifully than a racehorse. Even when their time comes to sleep and leave this good earth a fleet of angels possess them and treat their hearts kindly into the heavens of Kentucky where the white rail awaits their spirit forever.

What a beautiful writing and tribute you gave to these wondrous animals.  We need never to take them slightly.

02 Jan 2013 11:56 AM

What is this rubbish, cloaked in frills and sweet sounding no substance phrases? It's message seems little more than a "permission" to euthanize while offering no insight into the complexities of such decisions. Proper oversight, with attention to safety and well-being (in life) should be our main focus. Our failures in providing this-inherent to this "sport"- cannot be excused by patting ourselves on the back when the too often rationalized/often purely self-serving option of euthanasia is exercised.

02 Jan 2013 10:15 PM

I share a birthday with thoroughbreds and have always been proud of that! and I share the great admiration and love for them that this author does! Thank you to all that share the utmost in concern and care for all creatures. May they be blessed and you as well!

04 Jan 2013 12:53 PM

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