I can't believe we've been in New Orleans a week and we're already going home tomorrow. I am looking forward to seeing all our pets and getting back to the barn and the horses but I also will miss not getting to spend more time with all my in-laws. We haven't seen my parent-in-laws yet though which has actually probably helped. They are the only in-laws who don't particularly like me. I don't actually know the extent of their not liking me and in fact I think my father-in-law probably likes me just fine. And my mother-in-law doesn't really like anyone - especially not some chubby, tattooed Yankee with no fancy college degree who can't seem to lie and make nice when bullshit is flying around. Oh well. I'm sure it irks her to no end that despite my rich-white parents I come from a long line of rednecks (wonderful rednecks but still - Montana homesteaders on mom's side and poor immigrants on dad's side) and then there's that side of the family who are =gasp= terrorists!!! (or as we realistically know them: Arab. Well educated, much nicer than my parents-in-law but still ... Arab). But then we are talking about people who still believe that any day Obama is going to reveal his ties to Al-Queda and they know for a fact his birth certificate is fake and he was born in Kenya and is line with Bin Laden's followers (because of course Kenya and Bin Laden have such deep ties ...????) Anyway, the rest of my in-laws are great and my nephew is now three years old so it's fun to be able to really get to know him now that he can really talk and express himself.
Yesterday I dragged my poor husband down to the French Quarter so that we could get a souvenier for my daughter and that is the best place to get souveniers in New Orleans. He doesn't have a problem with the French Quarter, but we got there late in the afternoon and stuck around until dark which he found very annoying. Our daughter was annoyed too because her feet hurt and she was hungry, but then we literally almost walked into a hot dog cart and bought her a giant hot dog and suddenly the French Quarter after dark was fun again for her. I could see how it might be fun even if you're not drinking. It reminded me of an entire neighborhood that resembled some of the dance clubs (like Neighbors) I used to go to with my friends in the late 1980's/early 90's. We did succeed with the neat souveniers - a beautiful, hand-made voodoo doll made by a local artist (who never makes the same doll twice) and a catnip filled voodoo doll for the cats.
I got it into my head I wanted a tarot reading so my family were really good sports and went and wandered around the quarter while hung out at one of the local tourist voodoo shops for about an hour waiting my turn. It was a small shop so after looking around at everything and checking my email on my phone and I wandered over to the retail desk and started chatting with the woman working. At first she was polite and not really engaged but somehow it came up I missed the horses back home and she said she used to be a carriage driver in the quarter and started telling me about her mule she was assigned to and learning to drive and how attached all the drivers get to their mules. It was really cool to hear how previously non-horse people learned the joy of connecting with an equine partner.
She also told me about the dark side of being a carriage driver in the Quarter - which is not what you'd think. The company that trains and keeps the mules is very good to them. They follow strict regulations so that mules do not get over-worked, especially in the summer when it's really hot out. They are very careful to make sure they are not lame, or dehydrated or malnourished and they have local vets consulting with them on how to keep them the healthiest and happiest. They have limited shifts each mule is allowed to work per day and they are only allowed to work five days a week maximum and they are checked every day to make sure there is no strain on them and if there is even the smallest strain in their back or legs they take the day off. The lady I was talking to said the drivers were just as conscientious and the trainers because nobody wanted to have to use a different mule than their own because they had all developed a rapport and the mules were their partners and it was ideal to work with your partner you knew and who knew you and knew what the noises you make meant and what the slightest movement of the reins or tap/tickle with the lunge whip meant.
The dark side, she said, was that without fail she always passed some - as she put it - "ignorant person from the towns" who didn't know what they were talking about and would scream profanities at her about how she was a "slave driver" and "animal abuser" and one woman even threw her drink up onto the carriage at her screaming "Animal abusing bitch!" at her. She said it usually happened when her mule would decide it wanted to go a different direction or not stop at a stop sign (remember - this is on streets with lots of drunk people stumbling around and cars driving on the same streets) so she'd crack the reins above his back (without actually hitting him) because he'd know that sound was a correction and know to focus his attention back on her. She also said if they were really bad they'd throw the lunge whip down to tap their belly to get their attention (and when she says tap I know what she's talking about - it's like when we tap the back of the horse's hind leg with a lunge whip - it literally does mean "tap"). As she said "Because if you don't correct them and let them take the lead you're dead! You need to make sure they know you are their leader because these are giant animals and they need to know you are leading. You don't just let them do their own thing - especially not in a crowd of drunk people!" She said horse people never flipped out on her, it was always people who are ignorant. And I've seen the same thing. People tell me I'm evil because I sometime carry a dressage whip when riding (my trainer doesn't let me much though because she says my hands are quiet enough yet and she doesn't want me spooking the horses with the dressage whip flying in their peripheral vision). They have no clue that we don't *whip* horses with dressage whips (and when people do they are abusing their horse) just like we don't *whip* them with the lunge whip. They are tools for training - basically an extension of our arms. If we aren't going to beat the horse with our hands, we're not going to beat them with our whips. But I will tell you - if a horse is about to rear and strike out at me, I'll whack them on the chest with a dressage whip as I'm getting out the way to let them know that's not ok. Trying to kill me is not ok.
It was nice to hear the story from behind the scenes of how the mules are treated because I see them around the Quarter and they look healthy and happy but you just don't really know until someone tells you what really goes on. I wish people who wasted their anger screaming at people who are advocates for animals would get some education and put that passion in advocating for animals who are actually abused. It always blows my mind when people think I'm mean to get up on a horse and ride her and don't even pay attention that I volunteer for horse rescues and just spent 15 months of my life and thousands of dollars to rehabilitate Toadie. I guess it's easier to just spout off about ill-perceived injustice than actually get educated and involved and make a real difference.
So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving I wonder if I can write down everything I'm thankful for? My family of course, our financial security right now which is a huge blessing in this economy, my wonderful friends, all the horses and animals in my life who teach me so much, this great new opportunity for a new job that starts on Monday, just my life in general. I'm very lucky to have so much love and happiness in my life. I hope that I'm able to share some of it with others - I'm trying to at least.
What are you thankful for today?
This is a photo of Jacob, one of the tarot readers at Yesteryear's on Bourbon St. Definitely stop in and give him a visit when you're in New Orleans.