This will undoubtedly surprise those of you who know I hate horses, but I have been following the Barbaro saga very closely for the past couple of days. Something about this story is so intriguing to me.
Actually, there are five somethings about this story that have got me following it, and I know this because I felt compelled to list them this morning as I clicked through a slideshow containing images of the George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals and realized that I could no longer suppress the guilt and confusion I felt about my sudden need to know everything Barbaro. Why was I so into reading about this horse?!
Before I go any further, I should reassure you that this story does not involve me re-evaluating my opinion of horses and concluding that I love them or like them or even don't hate them. No, I still dislike horses for the same reasons I have always disliked them. But my attraction to this story is undeniable, and I believe it is because it involves the following elements/themes/phenomena that are common to myriad other topics I have been gripped by in the past:
1. The pregnant panda effect. Every so often I tend to hear
something about animals that shocks me. For example, when the National
Zoo was obsessed with impregnating Mei Xiang the giant panda last
year, I was incredulous at the difficulties presented by panda
insemination. Trying to get Mei Xiang to successfully mate was an
unbelievably struggle. On top of that, somehow--and I still do not
fully understand this--scientists still have no reliable way of
detecting panda pregnancy. What? This is unacceptable to me. 2006,
people. We've been to the moon. Like, 40 years ago.
I am (or was, until I read about a jillion articles on it) likewise mystified by why a horse's breaking its leg can be a death sentence. I mean, I understand that it might never be able to race again, but how would it be unqualified to live a life as a slightly gimpy but otherwise happy stud horse in a barn somewhere? More on this later on in the list, as it is tied to another important topic.
2. The Olympic effect. I have discussed before how I love the fact that the Olympics gives us a platform for hearing, in depth, about the rules of snowboardcross and skeleton and other sports. I never cease to be amused by the fact that whole complicated and elaborate worlds exist behind things that I could care less about. Likewise, Barbaro's injury has given me cause to learn about horse racing, horse breeding, horse medicine, and other complex and curious things.
3. The super-sized world of horse medicine. From the moment I glimpsed the equine ambulance that Barbaro was to be loaded onto, I was in awe of the logistical bitch that is horse medicine. Caring for these animals when they are injured involves gigantic ambulances, huge quantities of sedatives, special pools of water with big pulley systems located in warehouse-sized treatment facilities, Herculean efforts not to startle or distract the horse, and, of course, ginormous sums of money to foot the resulting medical bills. That's a lot of a lot.
4. I love infographics. As such, I have immensely enjoyed looking at the ones that have cropped up online to help me understand, for example, how a broken ankle can endanger a horse's entire life and livelihood. One I liked in particular can be found accompanying this article.
5. People love Barbaro. This is incomprehensible to me, as my litmus test for whether or not an animal is loveable is whether or not you can snuggle it. Dogs and cats are perfect for snuggling, and that's why humans love them the most. Fish are not snuggle-able, and that is why they are emotionally ungratifying pets. Horses are pettable and brushable and a lot of other things, but you simply cannot snuggle them. That is why I don't understand why people have been crying and sending Barbaro presents and being broken up about this in general. How can people be so emotionally involved in this story?
But hey, if you only take one thing from this article, please take the fact that I still do hate horses. I wish for that to be my legacy.