I’m A Recovering, Vegan Horse Mom
I’ve been vegan for about four years. And it’s been a constantly changing process– while there are those who would dispute the label vegan, I’ve held onto it and my views of animal product consumption during hospital stays with NG tubes “dripping” milk-based Ensure into my stomach. During residential treatment stays where my sheets labeled me as “vegetarian”, because the complexity of feeding 10-20 preteens, teens, and adults with wide varieties of eating disorders ruled out the option of making vegan options available. Because whenever the choice remained, the choice would be vegan.
Mental and physical health professionals were all pretty quick to shake their heads at me, challenge me that there was just no way “vegan” wasn’t another word for disordered food restriction.
So through the years that I have been vegan, there have been months at a time where I was genuinely forced to eat animal products, as part of treatment for the eating disorder I’ve struggled with for years. It’s a pretty unique situation for someone to attempt to maintain any sort of vegan lifestyle in the world of ED professionals, recovery, and treatment centers. But even through treatment and outpatient life– through the ups and downs of the past several years– my truth is that I care about the treatment of animals and would not choose to consume animal products. Being vegan allows me to connect to that. And as I’ve become more aware and involved in activism and social justice, it also has allowed me to connect to how I care about the fair treatment of all living beings.
That awareness, that connection to life, to the impact my life does have and could have, that drive I have to help and the connection I can find with others through veganism, helps me every day in my recovery. I have purpose; I have light and drive; I have shared values with amazing people and respect for the world in a way that has given me a voice and a strength I never had as a young teenager.
Now: rewind most of my life. My father always loved horses and for as long as I can remember I have shared that love with him. And from the very first time I sat on a horse, I was hooked. Two years later: horse camp. And then I had, as it is called, the “horse bug”.
It’s such an insanely huge privilege to be able to continue riding. And continue I did– I even competed– for thirteen years. When, last year, I was able to bring Rugrat (a stocky bay rescue horse, technically named Rugby) into my family, I was elated. My promise to him? He was, is and always will be my family: not my property.
Riding a horse is, genuinely, an amazing feeling– when you believe that you are working with them, not against them. When you remain ignorant to their pain. I of course wanted, and want, a good life and happiness for the horses I have worked with. I went to all expenses I believed necessary to make sure Rugby had fitting tack, a great farrier. I checked him for soreness, spent time with him, rewarded him, let him graze, took him for walks…but I was still forcing him to things I didn’t realize were force, were something I did not have the right to expect of another being.
Yet this year, the understanding that traditional riding and training is unfair, and at times abusive, grew. I began to feel guilt in work I’d always done.
And then a couple months back he pulled a shoe and we could not ride for a few days. Instead, I sat with him and grazed him. I decided it was a great opportunity to try some exercises at liberty, to encourage the understanding that Rugrat has a choice in his work with me. My Instagram feed, more and more, showed people who worked with their horses sans force, and I had been researching forms of liberty training & positive reinforcement (which I already use with dogs). I thought I could incorporate more liberty work and continue to ride. But I learned more about the ways traditional training can be so harmful to horses. And then, one night, I ended my 13-year dedication to horseback riding.
How can I claim to be passionate about horses and train in a way that forces submission?
At the end of August Rugrat will be coming with me to North Carolina, to live in a huge grass & wooded pasture with friend(s), the life I’ve dreamed for him. We will continue the liberty and positive reinforcement training we’ve started, where Rugrat’s participation in activities with me is completely his choice. No more saddles that could hurt his back. No bits. No using force, fear, discomfort or pain to “teach”. In their place? Love. Freedom. Choice. Play. Friendship. Curiosity. Patience.
Hey! I’m Rey, a queer, nonbinary vegan in recovery from an eating disorder, who also happens to be the proud mama of rescue horse Rugrat. We are starting down the path of training at liberty/with positive reinforcement.
My dream is to run a farm where rescue horses come to be rehabilitated, trained without any force, with both volunteers/staff/me and those who have struggled with mental illness, domestic violence/abuse, trauma, etc., as a form of equine therapy. (There is a lot more to the dream but that is the base.)
If you want to follow my 0-force journey with Rugrat, you can follow me on Instagram at @rescuedbyrugrat. [There, you’ll find photos and videos of my process with Rugby, often accompanied by some thoughts on our work, on liberty/R+ training in general, on Rugrat specifically, updates, and more. On that account you’ll also see plenty of dog photos– some of the dogs are mine, but I’m also just obsessed!]
If you are interested in my journey as a queer vegan in recovery and coping with other mental/physical obstacles, my other Instagram account is @reynbowrecovery. There you’ll find a more personal-style account, often alongside more captions about recovery, queer life, values, and more. My Facebook is Rey Weyler. Please message me through FB with any friend requests so I know you’re not a random stranger! You can ask for my Tumblr then if you want it. :)
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