From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

B.J.’s Way

When you dig another out of their troubles, you find a place to bury your own.


Animals come into our lives to teach us important lessons. B.J. is one of those animals and when she dropped her big head into my chest, I knew the class had begun.

My big bay mare’s official name is Barbizon’s Jay and from her pedigree she turned out to be Thoroughbred royalty. I will always wonder why she was left to starve in a pasture after she had served her purpose. Horses need very little to survive—a bit of hay and water usually does the trick—but this was the first time I had looked into the eyes of a horse who had faced pure cruelty. That one look told me her story and it wasn’t good.

B.J. carried the genetics of champions and the desire to run like the wind. Slapped with a racing saddle when she was a year and a half, B.J. was whipped into submission and taught to run faster than the herd behind her. She obliged but she tried so hard that injuries soon took her out of the game. A bowed tendon and a lacerated leg from a horse trailer accident left her scarred for life and no longer able to run. Her only defense was being a mare capable of birthing the future of Thoroughbred racing. What appeared an ideal existence, full of green pastures and other mares, became her downfall. B.J. was bred for ten consecutive years, producing foal after foal that surpassed her numbers in the game. All she asked for was food and water.

Being new to owning horses and apparently pretty naive when I first met B.J., I found myself coerced by a friend to go search for a horse with three criteria; cheap, pretty and stable enough for CivilWar reenactment. On the agenda was a mare someone came across in a pasture that needed to be saved. What we saw was beyond imagination. Standing with great effort in the middle of a heat-ravaged field was a wound-laden bay mare. Her coat was littered with sores and not an ounce of shine, the vertebrae of her spine stood up better than she could. Her breathing was labored and she held her head down to the ground like a weak kickstand. My friend immediately turned around and left because although this mare was cheap, she was far from pretty. But I stayed put, mesmerized by what humans are capable of doing to animals. She looked at me with a sad black eye and tried to nicker but could not muster enough strength for the sound. As I moved closer, she managed to lift her head into my chest and rest it there as if she had found a home. She did.

It took months of careful nursing to bring B.J. back to life. While I wanted to stuff her full of grain and fresh alfalfa, her depleted stomach couldn’t handle this simple indulgence at first. I bathed her and soothed her open wounds with dressings, hoping for a miracle, hoping to see something that resembled my other big and healthy Thoroughbreds that stood next to her in the barn. The hardest part was remembering to be quiet around her and to move with determination but absolutely no force, because it became obvious that she had suffered several harsh beatings by humans and the memories were as raw as her physical wounds. Slowly her eyes began to change. They softened and began to glow from within. Her nicker, once a whisper, now sang with the best of them and over time her weight and health were restored.

So I saved her. But the question was, now what was I going to do with her? I worked her gradually, deliberately and very, very quietly in a round pen just to see what she could do. She moved nice, but not perfectly, because of her old injuries. She hated loud noises and crowds so showing her was out of the question. She allowed me to ride her but snubbed away other hopefuls, and I soon realized I would not be able to part with this beautiful mare that finally trusted a human being to be kind. She became the lady of my barn, as sweet and unassuming an individual as I have ever encountered. Soon her bay coat shone dappled and healthy in the sunlight and if a horse could smile, I knew she would. Her life was no longer about her production; instead, her worth was just in being. She allowed me to see that simple acts of kindness give back in return. She taught me to enjoy the quiet and to look inward for strength but most important, she showed me how to survive through suffering.

My humble old mare is now twenty-eight and I’ve learned a thing or two about life and how it treats you. It isn’t about where you came from, but who you’re determined to be. B.J. has taught me this along with one of the hardest of human emotions . . . humility. As she ages gracefully, all she asks for is my care and in her everyday life she remains quietly modest, yet she still runs like the wind in her dreams—I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her do it during many of her contented catnaps.

Vikki Marshall

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