(Typical horses and carts here, not the horse we saw.)
Nicaragua Diary, Day 26
Today we saw a man beating his horse. It was a nightmare, the kind of thing you hope never to see, much less have your children see.
We were on our way home from church. We’d turned onto “the narrow road,” which is exactly what you’d guess–people frequently drive with two wheels on the sidewalk to be able to pass oncoming cars. As we turned the corner, we saw that vehicles were backed up. That’s not unusual; sometimes large trucks take the narrow road and the going becomes very dicey.
Today, though, we saw a horse cart ahead of us. Horse carts are very common here. When walking to school, I might see one or I might see five. Kim describes the cart horses here as “bullet proof.” Nothing seems to startle or spook them, in spite of how “lively” and unpredictable traffic can be.
This horse was different. It was balking and pulling one way and then the other. It kept turning sideways in the road. The driver of the cart had a homemade switch with which he kept striking the horse. The horse was not responding well. Now cars were backed up ten deep in both directions.
The man jumped off his cart and started whipping his horse with the switch, very hard. Another man, I’m going to guess drunk, walked up and tried to push the horse in the right direction with his shoulder.
Then we saw the horse rear. It stood on it’s back legs for three or four seconds. Kim said, “I’ve never seen a horse rear here. Ever.”
While this was happening, people on both sides of the street were watching, appalled. But no one seemed to know what to do, how to help, or whether to intervene. A few cars had honked at first–honking is very popular here–but the scene grew too ugly for petty impatience.
Then the man took a board from his cart, maybe a 12″x6, which he grabbed with two hands and swung at his horse.
Kim, in the driver’s seat, simply said, “That’s it” and jumped out of the car.
Now freeze the frame for a moment. My wife is hurrying toward the man who is violently attacking his horse. We’re the only gringos on the street. The street now feels full. Is the man drunk? She didn’t discuss with me what she should do, and now she’s twenty yards up the road, twenty yards from the man. I’m sitting in the passenger seat which doesn’t open from the inside.*
I shout, “I need to get out of the car!” I’m seeing bad scenes in my head of what happens next. One of my kids jumps out and opens my door. I go running after Kim.
She approaches the man and tells him, calmly, that the load on his cart is too heavy in the back and it’s causing the strap under the horse’s belly to pull up–it’s cutting him across the belly.
The man doesn’t seem drunk, at least not obviously so. The horse is small, young, and bleeding from multiple points I can see–two different places on her nose have been rubbed raw to open wounds. Oh, and I figured out the horse is female.
Kim is right and the man, to my surprise, responds to her instructions. She helps calm the horse, The man redistributes the load in his cart–it’s full of some plant I don’t recognize. They get the cart pulled over to the side so some cars are able to pass (after going around our car, abandoned forty yards back).
Kim talks to the horse. She helps calm it down. The man finishes getting the load balanced and climbs back into the seat. He’s blamed the horse, not himself, but he hasn’t been belligerent or even defensive. He thanks us, more or less.
And now this scene is ending, Nicaraguans on both sides of the road still staring, Kim’s hands and church clothes dirty, my adrenaline still blowing like a geyser. Kim says, “I had to protect the horse,” to which I respond, in my best we’re-married-a-long-time-and-respect-each-other-voice, “I had to protect you. A man who would hit his horse with a board might hit you.”
Our children all said, “Great job, Mom! Way to go,” when she got back in the car. We drove home, quietly debriefing what we just saw. That included this statement: “We should buy that horse.”
When we got home, it quickly became apparent we weren’t done. Kim told me she wanted to go find the owner. The narrow road is a little over a kilometer from our house. We know a few people there by sight, but our only friend is the woman who owns the fruit stand we frequent.
So Kim and I change out of our church clothes and start walking. Anytime we’re alone for even a matter of seconds, one of us will say, “It’s like a date,” because raising four children has trained us to seize any moment we’re not surrounded by kids. We have a little walking date.
We discuss what happened, and Kim says, “You don’t want your kids to see that, and you really don’t want your kids to see that and you not do anything.”
We talked about why the man responded relatively well to us. This is a machismo culture, and a woman coming up to tell a man what to do in a difficult and stressful situation often would not be well received.
We asked a few people, including a guard we know at the church on the corner, if they’d seen this cart. Then we reached the fruit stand our friend runs and, not surprisingly, she knew everything. She told us yes, he’d come by, and now he’s back home, drinking, of course. Kim explained what happened and what we were thinking and our friend told us that the man probably feared we would call the police, because “If a gringo called the police, on your word they’d probably come and arrest him.”
She then started shouting at a man down the street. The man turned around and walked toward us. He was either the horse cart driver’s partner or brother–we’re still not sure which. Our friend told him we are interested in buying the horse. Kim explained that it needs to rest. The man then told us the horse is young and named a price three times higher than reasonable.
Our friend looked away and gave this priceless expression, a combination of “That’s ridiculous” and “We’re not having this conversation anymore.” It’s a non-confrontational culture, so she didn’t say, “That’s ridiculous! Don’t be stupid!” But she communicated just fine. The man shrugged and left.
Freeze frame again: No, we don’t need a horse. No, we don’t have extra money to buy a horse; in fact, our budget is very tight and I’m hoping there’s money for me to get paid this month. With all the suffering around us, on one level thinking about buying an abused horse seems crazy. We would simply try to find a rescue or a farm where it would be cared for and, God-willing, nursed back to health. On the flip side, these things don’t always have to make sense and God can provide the money to rescue a horse. We see a lot of suffering we can’t change. We try to help where we can. This might be one we can change.
Kim thought “the horse is young” justified the outlandish price, while I thought it explained away Kim’s suggestion that the horse needs to rest. We all agreed that he had offered el precio gringo, the gringo price, i.e. “how much can I overcharge these rich and ignorant foreigners?”** She told us she would talk with the owner later, by herself, and let us know in the morning if he would consider a price we might pay.
So we’re praying about saving a horse.
There are three more things I need to tell you:
Being around suffering is dangerous because it can make you numb. Kim said, as we walked home, that she used to feel sick every time she saw a horse with all its ribs sticking out or a starving street dog, but she’s gotten used to it. On one level, you have to; on another level, we don’t want our hearts calloused to the misery we see.
Poverty inflicts suffering, grinds people down, and allows people no margin against disaster, but in itself it neither makes people evil nor saints. This man was abusing his horse, not because he is poor nor because he is Nicaraguan, but because his heart is hardened and sick. Judging by our friend’s description, it may relate to his alcoholism. Abusing animals is evil. Many Nicaraguans take great care of their horses, even though they have little money to spare. When I tell ugly stories in this diary, that means I’ve seen ugliness in individuals. Nicaraguans are beautiful people. They are people.
Finally, we know this man will probably buy another horse. Buying this injured, abused animal from him won’t mend his ways. But sometimes you just have to show mercy. Kim has always loved horses–she bought and trained one on her own when she was twelve, which still boggles my mind–and she really feels we should try to save this one. Maybe that’s how God speaks.
So we’re going to try.
*Our car has a LOT of personality since my accident. We’re hoping it hangs in there a little longer.
**Getting the better of a rich and foolish foreigner is a sport in itself here that will need its own post.