Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Is That a Starfish Atop Your Holiday Tree?

Thanks to my friend Ellen Harvey of Harness Racing Communications, a project of the US Trotting Association, for reminding me of a great parable that is so symbolic of the renewal and reflection that should mark our days over this holiday break.

Ellen occasionally drives out to the New Holland (Pennsylvania) horse sale where she methodically buys a few youngish Standardbreds. She and a few investors fund rehab and retraining on a couple of ex-racehorses a year until they are ready to go to homes as pleasure horses. When one is placed in a home, they go get another.

Ellen's efforts save the equivalent of a very small drop in the bound-for-slaughter bucket.

She calls her project "Starfish Stable" and there's a good story behind the name.

No one knows the source of the starfish metaphor. It is attributed to the late anthropologist Loren Eisley, but even he admits that he is just retelling a story told to him. And here it is:

The Starfish Story
as told by Loren Eiseley

A young man was picking up objects off the beach and tossing them out into the sea. A second man approached him, and saw that the objects were starfish.

'Why in the world are you throwing starfish into the water?'

'If the starfish are still on the beach when the tide goes out and the sun rises high in the sky, they will die,' replied the young man.

'That's ridiculous. There are thousands of miles of beach and millions of starfish. You can't really believe that what you're doing could possibly make a difference!'

The young man picked up another starfish, paused thoughtfully, and remarked as he tossed it out into the waves, 'It makes a difference to this one.'

Sometimes starfish have four hooves and a mane and a tail. Starfish aren't just at the killer auctions. They abound in the hoof world, and they are all around us.

They're the foundered horses you brought home when the owners gave up. They're alive and well in those bills that you "forgot" to send out, or the ones where you dropped a zero off the total. There are starfish among the kids you let follow you around. That 28-year-old Cushings horse with laminitis who can now trot in his new booties proves that you're never too old to be a starfish.

Maybe we can't save all the foundered horses in the world, or prevent every racehorse from breaking down or fund all the research that needs to be done. But each of us can--and, I believe, based on what I see, does--help make a difference by helping out a few starfish now and then.

Looking down this long, long beach, I hear splashes, all year long.

Merry Christmas to all the lucky starfish in the sea and to all of you. Cheers!