Anne Palenske was a childhood friend with whom I’d stayed in contact over the years. We didn’t talk often, however, when we did speak our conversations were lively, full of laughter, and great memories. Anne and I shared a love of horses. In fact, she was one who introduced me to horses when I was 10 years old. When she hoisted me up onto the huge western saddle on her palomino, Trigger, I was instantly thunderstruck and blindly and helplessly in love with this huge and gentle beast and that love has lasted me a lifetime.
Anne made one of her rare but significant phone calls to me in the summer of 2020. I was inspired to write up the extraordinary story she relayed to me in this last conversation with her. Anne died suddenly in September 2020.
As we chatted that summer, I asked her if she saw the YouTube video of the therapy horse that, with its trainer, would clip-clop down the halls of nursing homes and nuzzle the chests of bedridden patients. Anne said, yes, she had seen it and loved it like I did. Then she said, “Let me tell you my own story.” She described a time when she and her boyfriend loaded up their horses in a trailer to go for a trail ride. On coming home from the ride they stopped at a bar for a quick beer.
A man sitting at the bar noticed that they were wearing riding britches and he asked, “Have you been riding horses?” He followed up by telling her how much he hated horses. She asked him why and he said because they are big and dumb. She asked him if he had ever met a horse and he replied no. She then proceeded to get up off her barstool, go outside, unload her beautiful chestnut quarter horse, named Profit, from the trailer, and proceeded to lead him into the back door of the bar. Anne had total confidence in the ability of this most kind and gentle horse to act in a proper manner by observing the rules of the bar. Of course, all the people present were stunned and amazed as this four-legged beasty sidled up to the bar. She led him up to the man and asked him to look into the Bette Davis-like eyes of her splendid equine. Then she asked him to kiss that very, very soft place just above the nostrils and surprisingly he complied. Just like me when I was 10, he fell in love instantly. She then had the man lead Profit back out to the trailer and he was a new horse-lover convert for life.
Anne acknowledged to me that she knew it’s impossible to change someone’s biases and preconceived notions by arguing with them. She confessed that the only effective way to change someone’s mind and heart is for them to have a positive experience of “otherness.”
I thought this was a wonderful example of a creative action to de-escalate hate and prejudice and can be an example of a most ingenious action in these polarizing times. The whole experience gave the man a visceral contact with what he thought he hated. I don’t know how we can help one another get over our prejudices except for us to find gentle and creative ways to be of help to one another rather than blame and judgement. This moment of sharing was sweet, direct, and effective.
Thank you Anne and Profit!