Well, this whole blog didn’t start out here. It started out with the Dolores Claiborne movie and Vera Donovan saying, “…sometimes, you have to be a high-riding bitch to survive. Sometimes, being a bitch is all a woman has to hang onto…” Environment, right? How our environment shapes and molds us.
I ride dressage, and many dressage riders will purchase a large, nice moving horse even though they can’t ride or manage the horse. They buy these great big horses that are called warmbloods. They are athletic. I’ve seen more than one professional rodeo cowboy walk away from breaking a warmblood. As a rider of these beasts, you gain a level of caution to ensure you survive.
Back in the 90’s, I was riding at a dressage barn in Southern California. One of the trainers was riding a big Belgian cross who was just gorgeous and quite nice under saddle. He had that big, poofy, white mane and tail and was a bit darker than a Belgian. Almost a brown. Well, of course, everyone was enamored with him and wanted to pet and ooh and ahh over him.
Even I wanted to do that. So, I walked up to his stall. He saw me coming to his stall, he bared his teeth, charged the door, and slammed his chest up against the door. Ugh, that was intimidating. So, of course, I didn’t pet him.
He wouldn’t stop. As long as I was in front of his stall, he had his head high, teeth bared, swinging back and forth. I was intimidated and confused. He seemed like such a charming little pistol under saddle who loved people.
The trainer came up to the stall door and started petting him. He immediately stopped. And then she told me what the deal was. This guy was raised by humans and learned human signs instead of horse signs. He learned to smile from humans which is positively threatening on a horse. And humans like running up to things they love and hugging them. Well, at 1300 lbs, charging up to hug me was just as threatening as baring your teeth.
And to find out he was actually trying to get you to come up and pet him by mimicking humans was disturbing. Over the years, as this expression backfired on him, he tried harder.
I just found a little kitten. She is so tiny, I thought she was maybe 2 months old. She is hilarious. When she plays she is all in. 100% she is going to complete her task from taking down an imaginary bird to standing her ground. It’s amazing. She’ll jump two feet up in the air to catch something, grab it and hold on tight never thinking of trying to right herself before hitting the ground. She hits the ground with a thump on her side and proceeds to try and rip apart whatever it was she caught. She makes a running dash towards my big Spicy cat who is easily 20 lbs and quite fast with the claws, grabs ahold of his neck, swings around, hits the other side, lets go, and takes off.
She’s fast and she likes the all-out attacks. If she gets one of the cats to engage with her, she immediately spins around and faces them, ears pasted back against her head so flat you can’t see them anymore, back arched and front paws ready for action just taunting them to try and take all two pounds of her. They usually back off.
I explain this because she doesn’t play like the house kitties I’ve raised. There is nothing gentle about her playtime. Although, she is really good about not using her claws with me, and I’m really good about not over-stimulating her because I don’t want her to use her claws. But there is just this fierceness to her that I’ve never seen in a house kitty.
And here was the other thing. She is a well-balanced cat. Emotionally, she is bold, but new things frighten her. If you just stand by her, she figures it out. She isn’t needy. She doesn’t have a grudge to pick or a hierarchy to follow. She is indifferent to other cats and just wants someone to play with. She gets a little jealous at times, but not bad. And, as long as I stay even-tempered with clear boundaries, she is o.k. I’ve commented to my husband since the day she showed up in our backyard what a well-balanced smart kitty she is.
Well, and then she went into heat, and I realized that she was not two months old. She was probably four months old, and she was so small because she had been a wild kitty. I also realized she was such a well-balanced cat because she had grown up as a kitty without human interference. And her fierceness was learning to hunt for food to survive. She had that ruthlessness that you see in the eye of a tiger, but never in your everyday house cat.
The thing is, these examples are about meeting someone where they are at. Not where you would like them to be. Because the other thing about the environment, you are not going to change it.
That brings me back to Vera Donovan, who wasn’t really the start of the blog, but her statement came to mind when I was thinking about somebody in my life who was doing similar things. This person, their life is pretty good. They have everything they could ever want except their health. Like Vera, they have slowly barred the world from entry.
“…sometimes, you have to be a high-riding bitch to survive. Sometimes, being a bitch is all a woman has to hang onto…”
We do things all the time based on our environment and these things do the exact opposite of what we want. Vera being a bitch. Sammy, the Belgian cross, baring his teeth and charging the door. And then there is George, my girl kitty, who actually grew-up very well balanced and does exactly what she means to do. George grew up in an environment of other caring cats who watched over her and introduced her to the world.
About a week after I let George into my home, I finally saw the mother cat. I knew she had been around. I was waiting to catch her. I came home one day and there was George sitting under the front tree trying to catch birds who were coming to the bird feeders to eat.
She looked exactly like George. Same eyes. Same expression. I couldn’t quite figure out how George had gotten out of the house as she stared at me, unafraid, with that curious look George always has. I told her to wait right there while I put my stuff away, and I’ll bring her in.
She waited until I had gone inside. Then she got up and walked across the street and away. George was inside, and I realized it was the mother cat I had been trying to catch. I ran across the street and asked the neighbors about her. No one knew her.
I spent the next week trying to trap her, but she never came back. I caught the neighbor’s fat cat. Twice. But, I’ve never seen her again. It was almost as if she just wanted to be sure about me, but she didn’t want to be a pet.
Funny how accepting who each of them are doesn’t change the desire for a different outcome.