Building Bridges: Amish Communities and Horse Advocacy

A word from a long time Heart of Phoenix officer, foster and volunteer:

People are really quick to judge.  We also lump folks into boxes, whether they belong there or now.

A baby gets killed by an alligator at a Florida resort park, and we immediately rally against the parents who let him put his toes in the water.  A police car is turning into a donut shop, and the jokes begin about wasted tax dollars and how he must be getting ready to stuff his face instead of enforcing justice. 

We, as a society, are pretty rough on our members. Sometimes our members deserve it. Sure. Sometimes, though, they do not.

What I am writing today may spark some outrage if you refuse to pause and consider that we are all sometimes wrong. However, I implore you to read the whole thing through and think a bit upon it first.

I live in the 3rd largest Amish community in the United States.  I have lived here for over 5 years and interact with the Amish on a regular basis.  My farrier is an Amish fellow, and he is also a very good equine dentist.  We have taken several rescue horses to Rood and Riddle after he has floated their teeth, to be certain the job being done is a quality job, and as expected, it is.  I greatly appreciate him and his quality of work. And his kindness.  He has trimmed horses that other farriers have been unable or unwilling to touch.  He has floated teeth on horses that previously required twitching and heavy sedation, without anything at all. A week ago I helped him float 36 of them at my work.  36.  We sedated 4, and one of those was because we discovered a problem and wanted to look a lot closer.  He is respectful, he is patient, he listens and he is knowledgeable.  But what I like most about him is he is willing to learn.

The Amish (and if we are to be honest, many old time horseman or horse people who have been taught horsemanship by old timers) do a lot of what they do out of tradition, you know… because this is the way things have always been done.  The Amish aren’t the only ones. Yes, they are a slow moving society with many good qualities and many bad qualities. Amazingly they are a lot like “englischers” (the American Non-Amish) in that.  Much of what we perceive as wrong happens within their communities because they are doing what they have been taught.

Around here, if you want to build something or buy sawdust or get your bridle fixed, chances are you are going to be dealing with an Amish.  Chances are, the work being done will be a good quality. I have had the opportunity to build a relationship with many of them and effect some real change because of these things.

You see, when we judge people without knowing them as individuals, and then we make our disapproval known to those people, we shut doors and ruin the possibility of getting things done differently. We lose the chance to make things better. If we live out what we are trying to change, and we interact graciously with people, pretty soon we might get one question that turns into three questions, and then we get conversations and maybe those lead to opportunities and sometimes, more often than one would realize really, that leads to change.

And so it started here. 

When I moved here, the only feed that I could get that wasn’t a sweet feed was one of still mediocre quality. It is a rural spot, after all. 

After living here 4 years, an Amish who owns a hardware store about 20 miles away from my farm started dealing Tribute Feed. I was ecstatic to learn this because that feed is way better than what was available before.  A Tribute dealer talked him into carrying it, and pretty soon he talked him into trying it.  Shortly after that, that one fellow decided he sure did like the results from that feed compared to the sweet feed he used to feed.  So he started learning the science behind why it works so much better and why it was healthier in the long run.  His community members started noticing that his horses were much shinier and just better looking than theirs, and they started asking questions.  Now he has converted most of his whole entire community with the exception of about 5 farms to Tribute Feed.

Well, I had a conversation with my Amish farrier (who lives in a different sub community from the other man) about Tribute Feed and brought him the literature.  Low and behold, he has switched over and has begun converting his community and also when he sees a window of opportunity, he tells his englischer clients about it, too, so some of them have switched over. The hardware store delivers Tribute to my farrier once a month in bulk, and that is all he feeds now. 

Baby steps, but think of the impact on the horses with just this bridge?

Around here, the Amish blanket their horses when it is cold, even when they are standing tied to the pole at a store. They invented a neck ring apparatus so that they can easily remove the bit when their horses have to stand tied.  They petitioned Walmart and TSC to ask them to install water tanks alongside their hitching posts (we have those at all of our stores locally).  Walmart has complied with that request.  It was an Amish who told me about using white stick deodorant under equipment to prevent saddle rubs.  No Amish around here will leave any type of halter on their horse in a field.  There are clearly many people in my Amish community willing to be kind and to learn.  They have proven to me they are a community willing to change certain things if they can be made to see the reasons why.    Though some still have a long way to go, they are progressing.   

We all – as people – have a long way to go, after all.

Both the hardware store owner and my Amish farrier have written letters to their folks back home (in Ohio and Missouri) about the benefits they are seeing from feeding Tribute feed compared to sweet feed, and they have explained what they have learned about the negative effects of molasses and corn on horses. 

Lots of HOP followers will remember Alfie was fostered here on my farm to be put under saddle by Raven, my daughter. While here, my farrier’s two sons came with him when he was trimming one day.  I was telling him Alfie’s story, and it was actually the first trim ole Alf received without being sedated.  He has told me 2 years later that his boys still talk about Alfie and are incredulous that any one would ever board a pony into his stall on an unoccupied farm and leave him to die. The Amish didn’t board that pony into a barn, regular American folk did.

If we want to change anything, whether it be the welfare of horses or the way your neighbor treats his dog, we have to look for opportunities to make a connection.  You might be building bridges with all kinds of people who aren’t like you when you decide to not build walls. You have to be willing to do just that when you want to make things better.

To place a label on almost anything or anyone and say that it is categorically all bad is to surround it in cement and make sure it will stay just like it is.

The Amish are people. Sure, some (or many) have a long way to go, and I’m sure many of us can think up a terrible story to add to the good stories I’ve just told you, but then again, all of that can be said about people across the world. 

If we want to see improvement, we must build bridges, not walls. If we decide whole communities are without merit, we decide the animals therein do not deserve us extending ourselves on their behalf in the hopes that things can become better.



2 thoughts on “Building Bridges: Amish Communities and Horse Advocacy

  1. Good article! There are good and bad in every community. Our Amish here are mostly all really good to their horses. Their horses work but are well cared for. The Amish near me are pretty progressive and I actually drive them into town for shopping etc. and they are mostly all kind and considerate people. Are the Amish near you of the Schwartzentruber ( Old Order) type?

  2. You are fortunate to live among Amish that have caring and respectful attitudes towards their animals, and pride in the work that they do. Sadly, in my experience,this is not always the case. Sometimes even years of being neighbors and having mutual friendships with people, cannot change their attitudes about how they treat their animals. The Amish that lived here weren’t that bad, when it came to the treatment of their animals, but neither were they that good. Nor, can we ignore the puppy mill situation in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where these poor animals live in certain hell, perpetrated by the Amish community, and their lack of empathy for our furry friends.

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