Poet Jana Harris Showcases Equine Empathy
When esteemed poet, Jana Harris finally found herself with a large plot of land to call her own, she knew that her dream of raising horses could finally be tackled. After discovering a particularly promising Brood Mare in the form of a gorgeous horse named True Colors, Harris’ hopes were dashed when True Colors arrived a completely different horse from the one she had met not so long ago. The esteemed equine had been caught in a brush fire that mangled not only her coat, but also her psyche, and while Harris could not imagine abandoning this creature to an even worse fate, she slumped under the weight of a broken dream. As if by miracle, True Colors was found to be with foal and motherhood proved to be the perfect antidote to the horse’s suspicious and antisocial temperament. Now, this 34-year-old mare is the acting matriarch of Harris’ brood of top quality horses. Without needing to make a trip to the factory, True Colors has become the glue that binds Harris’ whinnying family together, and Harris could not be more grateful for the serenity, compassion, and fortitude that True Colors has all but forced her to develop.
To commemorate one life that has bettered many, Harris has penned the moving, Horses Never Lie About Love: A True Heart Named True Colors recounting her experiences caring for and growing closer to her equine companion. The book has been met with rave reviews. Acclaimed equine author, Barbara Burn has written, “What sets this book apart from the others is that the author also provides an enormous amount of practical information about her education in the art of raising horses. We struggle right alongside her as she copes with serious medical and behavioral issues and we share her joy in welcoming each new foal…this is a remarkable accomplishment.” With poet laureate, Maxine Kumin offering, “I lost track of all time and space once I opened this incisive, eloquent, sometimes lyrical, sometimes comic book. The story of True Colors and the raising up and training of her foals mesmerized me. Harris’s memoir won my heart.”
For Harris, Animals have always been a part of her existence. Growing up with a fluffy Samoyed named Pola, and a longing for a feline friend, Harris’ first experience with the equine set came along with an impromptu visit from the neighbors who had dropped by to kindly ask that Pola stop chasing and antagonizing their horses. After dabbling in the typical canine and feline venues of pet parenthood, Harris recognized in herself the need for a more demanding animal experience and found herself purchasing True Colors at her first opportunity.
Despite the shock of True Colors’ wild disposition upon arrival, Harris explains “I just knew that locked inside that feral animal was a good heart.” And so began the undertaking of a lifetime, as the renowned wordsmith, Jana Harris, began a pet project that few would dare. “I am an obsessive person by temperament;” explains Harris, “I don’t give up. There have been times when I’ve wished that this wasn’t the case; that I could learn when to quit. But I’ve never learned that and have often wasted a lot time on fruitless endeavors. In the case of True Colors: I didn’t know what I would do with her if I didn’t succeed. Or maybe I did know, and just couldn’t face the alternative. If I didn’t succeed, she would probably die and I would feel responsible.’’ Harris continues to note that the greatest challenge in caring for a horse is keeping it happy, healthy, and secure both mentally and physically, and that this process cannot be reduced to a single methodology, or manner, that every horse is different, and that the job is as demanding and complex as anything in the human world.
Of Course, Harris does not deny the brighter side of caring for such graceful animals noting, “I used to bring horses into the house before we remodeled. I didn’t care if their sharp shot feet scarred the black-and-orange 1970’s linoleum—it was so unattractive. But now that we’ve remodeled, I worry about what would amount to a herd of grand pianos rolling around and cracking the terra cotta tile.” Harris is not shy about integrating her horses into her life as they have become so intertwined with her own character.
In fact, Harris has been able to come to conclusions regarding her own identity, especially as a woman, through her relationships and experiences with horses. She explains, “In order to ride a horse, you have to trust that the horse won’t do something ornery and try to hurt you; and the horse has to trust that you won’t guide it somewhere dangerous. Horses are skeptical by nature and prone to panic. If a horse trusts you as his pilot, a horse can be a joy to ride. Riding a horse raises the bar on both horse and rider. After that trust can evolve into a kind of faith.” She continues, “I am always fascinated by what a horse pays attention to, what he/she focuses on. In the wild, horses are preyed upon. Women are preyed upon. Women are taught early to be on our guard, as are horses—they learn it at their mother’s side and from their equine friends in their herd or stable. Maybe this is why as women, our women friends are so important to us and the loss of one (human or equine) can leave us bereft.” And concludes, “As a woman, even a physically strong woman, I am always conscious that my strength is less than that of a man. But with a horse I have super human strength and speed. I am the brain and the horse is the brawn, together we make a formidable team; a force to be reckoned with.”
Horses have become a way of life for Jana Harris, and she wouldn’t have it any other way humbly sharing, “I hope to continue to have the opportunity and health to ride and raise horses. When you think about it, that’s a lot to ask for.”
And for everyone reading this who is starting to think that a horse may just make the perfect addition to their family, Harris warns that equine pet parenthood is not all fun and games, and is certainly not comparable to the traditional relationship with a human and their dog and cat, she explains in monologue, “A kept horse is more dependent than a dog. A horse will not fetch. A horse will not “sit” on command and probably not any other time, either. Sometimes a horse will paw and look as if it wants to shake hands. When a horse paws it is probably either pissed off and having a fit of temper or in pain. You wouldn’t want a horse to get up on your bed or your couch or in the front seat of your car. It is probably not a good idea to take a nap with your horse. If he rolled over on you, you’d get crushed and no one wants a hoof in the mouth. When a horse is not in its corral or stall, a horse must be leashed or tied at all times, otherwise it will escape and probably not want to be caught. A horse cannot be housebroken, though some equines are neater than others and poop in only one corner of their stall or enclosure; some horses poop anywhere and churn their “horse apples” into their bedding using their legs as if they were egg beaters.
Most horses weigh ten times what a human weighs, it’s not possible to lift them up on the examining table when the vet comes to give a vaccination. A dog could be happy eating only once a day, but a horse (because he is an herbivore and a grazing animal) needs three or four meals on a strict schedule; a horse’s routine is his life. Unlike a dog, a horse cannot throw up, so what goes in must be something that won’t upset his stomach; horses can become violent when they’re afflicted with stomach cramps. Horses need access to clean fresh water at all times, a constipated horse is a horse in pain. Like a dog, a horse adores treats. And like a dog, a horse can learn to bite if treats are offered from your hand too often. Though a horse’s mouth isn’t constructed to fell prey and rip flesh, his bite can be pretty painful—a horse has forty large sharp teeth.”