A horse’s eye is the second largest of any mammal’s after the whale. They say eyes are gateways to the soul. Judging by the size of a horse’s eye, this mammal must have a grand-sized soul.
Being a horse lover, I’ve met many a horse’s eye, but this adage particularly strikes me when I gaze into the large hazel surrounded pupils of Ike. He’s a tall Thoroughbred stallion, formerly of the race track and descendent of racing great Affirmed (last horse to win the Triple Crown in 1978). His real name is Ike Can Like It and a year ago one would never guess he was related to greatness in any way. He and nineteen other horses in varying states of decay were rescued from a cruel woman who was attempting to breed them for monetary greed. I met Ike and the nineteen others on my first rescue with an organization I’d been volunteering at that takes in abused, abandoned, mistreated, and neglected horses.
Looking into the forlorn eyes of this once stately creature, I am filled with shock, disgust and a sickening awe over how any human could treat an animal this way. Ike and his herd mates have been reduced to stick like figures of bone. Their hides are afflicted with a fungus that makes their flesh rot and skin fall off. To make matters worse, the already barren landscapes of their backs are littered with bite marks and fleshy pink wounds from fighting each other over scarce remnants of food. The conditions we arrive and find them in are deplorable.
Over the course of a year or more, we renew Ike and our other new equine friends back to health. Like spring breaking through the crusty gray brittleness of winter, the horses slowly shed their rotting hairless flesh for fresh, silky patches of fur. Blankets of roan, burnt sienna, mahogany, and rust appear on their backs like bountiful carpets of alyssum & phlox in May. Their former conditions held them imprisoned in a state of despair and gloom like seedlings frozen beneath an Arctic tundra. As their health improves, so do their moods. Colorless monochromatic skies dissipate in eager anticipation of spring’s fresh hues. Rainbows of hope now glisten in the horses’ eyes; their boisterous personalities reappear like curious creatures exiting the hibernation dens of their winter homes.
This lively infusion of a horse’s soul into its eyes spurns a new thought in my animal lover’s mind: is this why humans try to convince themselves that animals don’t have souls? Or feelings? To make it easier to consume and eat them? As a vegetarian, I imagine it must be easier to chew on hunks of meat if one regards the meal as a feeling-less, meaningless robot. I stand before Ike, a massive creature consisting of sinuous tendons, hardened muscles, and calcified bone. But rather than see him as the cousin of a piece of meat a human would like to eat, I see an elegantly sculpted piece of art. A beautiful living breathing creature that speaks, sleeps, snorts, eats, breathes, drinks, poops, thinks and feels, much like I do… albeit maybe not in exactly the same ways, but a living breathing fellow mammal nonetheless.
Greeting my eye’s gaze back is a captivating orbital full of soul. I shudder at the thought of sinking my teeth into the blood and flesh of this or any other creature —clearly this is no mindless boxed meal intended for consumption at the dinner table. I’d no rather consume a horse, cow, chicken, or any other farm animal any more than I’d rather run out into the field and start gnawing on its leg. Rather than seek nourishment from its body, I’d rather provide nourishment to its soul.