The Horse’s Prayer

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We don’t get much mail at The Special. So far this summer we’ve received a couple pairs of shoes, a schedule from the water company, some way cool CDs from Bob “the Music Man” Buika, a computer hard drive and a plain white envelope from Paul Asward of Waterford, N.Y.

We don’t know where Waterford is and we don’t know Paul, but apparently he’s a reader and he felt the need to send a note.

I loved the old-fashionedness of it. He didn’t e-mail or text or Tweet. He made a copy, wrote down some thoughts, included his phone number, put it all in an envelope and sent it our way.

In blue ink on the blank side of a piece of paper he wrote, “My girlfriend’s mother, Mildred Alexander, raced harness horses for many years in the Buffalo, N.Y. area. She is 90 years old now and still attends the races as often as possible. She had this on the wall of her stable for years and years. I thought it would be a nice article for your paper. Thanks.”

Printed on the other side was The Horse’s Prayer, run in its entirety below. The author is unknown and the language is a little dated, but the message is clear. Pay attention to this animal, this one who serves, who tries. He’s not just a number, not just a gamble, not just something to be bought and sold.

Mildred’s version was published by the Toronto Humane Society in 1876. Paul was right, it made a nice article – and an even better message.

To thee, my master, I offer my prayer. Feed me, water and care for me, and, when the day’s work is done, provide me with shelter, a clean dry bed and a stall wide enough for me to lie down in comfort.

Always be kind to me. Talk to me. Your voice often means as much to me as the reins. Pet me sometimes, that I may serve you the more gladly and learn to love you. Do not jerk the reins, and do not whip me when going up hill. Never strike, beat or kick me when I do not understand what you want, but give me a chance to understand you. Watch me, and if I fail to do your bidding, see if something is not wrong with my harness or feet.

Do not check me so that I cannot have the free use of my head. If you insist that I wear blinders, so that I cannot see behind me as it was intended I should, I pray you be careful that the blinders stand well out from my eyes.

Do not overload me, or hitch me where water will drip on me. Keep me well shod. Examine my teeth when I do not eat, I may have an ulcerated tooth, and that, you know, is very painful. Do not tie my head in an unnatural position, or take away my best defense against flies and mosquitoes by cutting off my tail.

I cannot tell you when I am thirsty, so give me clean, cool water often. Save me, by all means in your power, from that fatal disease – the glanders. I cannot tell you in words when I am sick, so watch me, that by signs you may know my condition. Give me all possible shelter from hot sun and put a blanket on me, not when I am working but when I am standing in the cold. Never put a frosty bit in my mouth; first warm it by holding it a moment in your hands.

I try to carry you and your burdens without a murmur, and wait patiently for you long hours of the day or night. Without the power to choose my shoes or path, I sometimes fall on the hard pavements which I have often prayed might not be of wood but of such a nature as to give me a safe and sure footing. Remember that I must be ready at any moment to lose my life in your service.

And finally, oh my master, when my useful strength is gone, do not turn me out to starve or freeze, or sell me to some cruel owner, to be slowly tortured and starved to death; but do though, my master, take my life in the kindest way, and your God will reward you here and hereafter. You will not consider me irreverent if I ask this in the name of Him who was born in a stable. Amen.