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.