Joey: How A Blind Rescue Horse Helped Others Learn To See, by Jennifer Marshall Bleakley
At the core of this book is an inspirational tale of a blind and mistreated horse who ended up being a kind and compassionate therapy horse. It has long been recognized that the intuitive emotional nature of horses (and other animals) makes them particularly good animals when it comes to helping abused and neglected children be able to better connect on an emotional level. While I have never personally been involved with any program like the one discussed in this book, my own experience with horses has been sufficient for me to recognize that they are very good at helping to provide a loving and safe environment where children (and adults) can deal with their issues, and this book bears out that insight as well. Those readers who are particularly prone to weep at sad sights will likely need to have a box of tissues handy when reading this book because this is the sort of horse story that could easily appear as the basis for a melodramatic movie about a blind but spunky horse and the lessons that he teaches to the human beings who work with him and who happen to be around him.
This story is a bit more than 250 pages and it is told in 24 numbered chapters (with photos and discussion questions included at the end) in a way that is clearly aimed at demonstrating the factuality of the story even if some of the details have been changed to protect the innocent (and guilty). A few threads find themselves through the book, including the belief of those who run Hope Reins that providing free experiences for poor children, many of whom have intensely difficult life stories, to have close ties with horses can be of great benefit to them. In addition to that, the author examines how it is that a blind horse proved to be a great inspiration and encouraged the creativity and care of those around him, struggling with the need for a sympathetic lead horse to keep him from trouble as well as a clever wind chime design to keep him from running into walls. The author explores the pain of people as well as animals and how difficult it is to realize that animals are truly hurting and in pain when they balk at what is requested of them. And then there is the struggle of a small not-for-profit in staying open in the face of expenses even with a dependence on volunteers.
At some points, it feels as if the author is engaged in emotional overkill here. Not only is the story about Joey particularly poignant, but there is a subplot about the rescue farm running into some financial hard times that is abandoned at roughly the halfway point at the book, presumably when enough money comes in that the sword of Damocles is no longer hanging over everyone’s head. Frequently this particular type of book demonstrates that a great many people have the interest in taking care of horses but find it to be far more expensive and far less profitable than they plan on it being. There is not much as much distance separating the ones responsible for running the rescue farm from the horse hoarder where Joey was originally found, except that as a not-for-profit it was possible for them to raise money from other people that it was not possible for the original owner to do. On such small differences hang a great deal of serious matters regarding the treatment of animals and the obligations that are owed by owners of domesticated animals who are truly dependent on human beings for their well-being, even as they offer substantial benefits to the well-being of others.