Once upon a time, there was a horse named Bocephus* who lived in a stall, and who hated standing in his own pee. If you’ve never been around horses much, you might not know that when they pee, it basically smells as if someone has upended an entire bottle of ammonia onto the ground. Horse pee doesn’t smell as bad as, say, human pee, but you can’t miss it.
Anyway, Bocephus was particularly bothered by the smell of ammonia and every time he peed, he would throw a screaming tantrum, whinnying and kicking the walls of his stall and just basically making a federal case out of it. He couldn’t believe he could really be expected to stay in the stall that smelled so strongly of ammonia. He figured his owners were lax or sadistic.
In fact, the owners of that barn took very good care of the horses, and the stablehands cleaned up Bocephus’s stall every day, and shoveled the whole thing out weekly and replaced all the old shavings with fresh. Bocephus lived very well for a horse, and this was because he, like a lot of the horses in that stable, was a grand prize winning show horse. In fact, he was the most famous horse in the state.
One day, Bocephus was kicking up his usual ruckus, and an old goat who lived in the stableyard passed by. This goat’s name was Lyle, and he’d actually grown up in the mountains surrounding the stable, and one day, he’d wandered into the stableyard and helped himself to some hay. He’d lived there ever since, trying to keep a low profile, and everyone at the barn assumed that he belonged to someone else. In this way, Lyle had clung on for a long time, and he’d seen the rise and fall of many prized horses, but none of those horses had what Bocephus had. Bocephus was a real star.
“You know,” said Lyle to Bocephus. “You’re being a real ass about this pee business.”
“I’m sorry,” said Bocephus. “But maybe you don’t realize that they have me just standing around in my own pee until late morning, or sometimes even afternoon! It’s inhumane.”
“Well, maybe you don’t realize a few things,” said Lyle. “Do you realize that your stall gets cleaned out weekly, and all these other horses’ stalls only get cleaned out monthly? Do you realize that you get nicer hay than everybody else, extra grain, more carrot and apple treats, you get bathed and brushed more, and you have nicer tack that fits better? Do you realize that no one else has their own fan? Do you realize that everybody else tiptoes around you, that the horses on either side of you are barely allowed to breath for fear of disturbing you? Do you realize that there are horses here who live out in the paddock and have to stand in the rain and cold and ignore the flies and only eat whatever old dead grass is out there, and never get any grain or get any petting or brushing at all? Do you have even the first clue how incredibly fortunate and spoiled you are?”
“Hear, hear!” hollered the horses on either side of Bocephus. They kicked their stalls in celebration. “Oooh-hoo-hoo, someone finally said it!!!”
Bocephus hadn’t realized any of this. He was very embarrassed. No one had told him.
“Well,” he tried. “I train a lot harder. And my winning brings prestige–”
But this attempt was quickly shouted down, and Bocephus hung his head.
“Listen,” said Lyle. “You’re a nice enough fellow, but it’s about time you realize that, rockstar or not, you’re just a horse who pees between his feet just like every other horse. And you have it pretty damn good.”
After Lyle left, and the snickering of the other horses died down, Bocephus thought long and hard about what the goat had said.
He thought that it wasn’t his fault he didn’t know how other horses had it. No one had ever told him. He hadn’t been allowed out to see. He also thought that it wasn’t his fault that he lived in the nicest stall and ate the nicest hay. He had no choice in the matter.
And then, although he would never have admitted this to anyone, he thought that if he’d had any choice in the matter, he might have preferred to be one of the plugs who lived out in the pasture. Sure, the weather was probably uncomfortable, but they could run and play. They never had to know the anxiety of show day. No one ever expected them to perform, no one was ever disappointed in them when they failed. They weren’t subject to petty jealousies. Other horses weren’t too intimidated by them to be friendly. They didn’t know loneliness.
And when they peed all over the ground, they could just walk away.
Still, Bocephus would hate to eat grass exclusively. A mouthful on a trail ride here and there was all well and good, but to replace grain with grass entirely? No thank you. He didn’t even think he could survive on that. And what happened when one of those horses lost a shoe? How long till anyone noticed?
…Did those paddock horses even have shoes?
Bocephus decided Lyle was right. He was very lucky. He should count his blessings and never complain. As if to underline the thought, he suddenly peed a steady stream, which bore into the shavings at his feet, creating a small, pungent lake.
“That’s okay,” thought Bocephus to himself. “That’s okay. It smells, yes, but it’s nothing compared to what the paddock horses have to deal with. It’s no big deal. Think about something else. Breath through your mouth. You’re very lucky. You’re a very lucky horse. You’re much luckier thaaaaooooh, MY GOD, IS NO ONE GOING TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT THE STINK IN HERE? I CAN’T STAND IT! I CAN’T STAAAAAAAAAND IT!!!!!!!”
And Bocephus kicked his stall and screamed until the stablehands interrupted their lunch early and came running with their shovels to accede to his demands.
*Well, Hank Williams is in the news all of a sudden for comparing Obama to Hitler. This morning when I wrote this, I just thought Bocephus would be a funny, random name for the horse, and now it seems like I’m trying to be topical. Anyway, lest there be any doubt, this isn’t about Hank Williams at all.