Circus Tricks

On one of the equine message boards I frequent, someone posted a video of a person doing tricks with her horse. Basically, she was getting the horse to mimic her own movements (walking, trotting, lifting high her legs) and after each successful maneuver the horse got a treat.
Discussion ensued over whether or not the horse was “happy” doing these things, or just tolerating it to get his treat, or if he had actually trained the human to give treats. I tried to stay out of it, but finally posted that judging from his ears and body language, he didn’t seem real happy, but regardless of that, “if my trainer ever caught me doing such stupid sh*t with my horse, he’d rip me a new one.”
Why? Because unless I plan to run off with my horse and join the circus, these tricks serve no earthly purpose. They don’t give the horse a useful job, they often have the effect of teaching him bad habits, and they serve no purpose except to inflate the rider’s ego. And, it demeans the dignity of the horse.
On the Rachel Maddow Show a few days ago, she showed a clip of a baby orangutan waking up from anesthesia. Upon awakening, the little thing was frightened, pulled off the oxygen tube and immediately threw her arms around the guy holding her, asking for comfort. (See clip here: ) I’ve written before about the sentience of [other] animals, and if you can’t see it in this clip, there’s probably nothing that would convince you. So why do we take our fellow beings and force them to perform circus tricks for our amusement?
We all need meaningful work. I need to know how to cook and do the laundry, my horse needs to know how to navigate the trails and chase a cow, and a dog needs to know how to protect the livestock or fetch a downed bird for dinner. I’m not talking about teaching and learning that kind of work. We’re all happiest when we have a job and can do it well.
How often do we ask God to perform circus tricks for us? Or think that God wants us to perform circus tricks for God? “If I pray in just the right way, with just the right words, in just the right frame of mind, then God will heal me (or you).” The trick and the treat. Although who is performing the trick isn’t clear; is it me or God? Like the person with her trained horse who thinks that she and her horse have a “special relationship,” such prayers indicate that the pray-er has a special relationship with God (and you don’t).
I would rather have an honest relationship with my horse – and with God. All the parties involved are respected, we know our limits, we do our best, and we work at getting better at our usefulness. Such a relationship involves – indeed, requires – failures, mistakes, setbacks. I won’t always get what I want. Maybe today Angel won’t do well on the trail; tomorrow he will. Maybe today I don’t get my prayers answered. But tomorrow I might understand a bit better about the workings of the universe and my place in it, good fortune or no. I’d rather have that than a circus trick any day.
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