10 February

“How Do I Put Up With It?” A Chronicle Of Sadness

by Jon Katz

When we woke up this morning, I read Maria some of the messages I had been receiving during Applegate about the dust I kicked up after writing what I thought was the most straightforward and purest thing imaginable.

“How do you put up with it,” she asks?

I gave a horse an apple.

He let me look into his eyes, a magical thing.

I couldn’t wait this morning. I stopped to see him.

I had no apple; I forgot to bring it. He didn’t come down to the fence.

Animals are animals.

But we did stand and look at each other for a while. I felt the connection. When he finished, he did his calendar pose and stared straight ahead.

He’s a friend, not a fan.

The connection was still there.

When I wrote the piece about making a new horse friend and giving him an apple, I re-read it before I published it. I thought it was special. I  thought it was sweet. I was proud of it.

I thought it might warm people’s hearts, the kind of piece every writer like me – especially a blogger like me – wanted to write. After all, the blog motto is “Love, Care, Hope.”

I told Maria I had written a piece I thought people would like and loved. I thought it was close to perfect, I said.

Maria read it and agreed.

In one sense, I was correct; it was one of the most praised pieces I’ve written. And it touched other hearts as well as mine.

How could anyone disapprove of someone stopping at a pasture fence to hand a horse an apple? It just felt good.

In another sense, I was wrong.

The piece was one of the more controversial pieces I had written in months. Some people – a distinct minority, to be honest – were not just upset by it but outraged.

As with these relatively constant flair-ups, subsequent posters came rushing to the fire and joined in without bothering to read the piece. They did manage to pee in my garden.

The fascinating thing about the Internet is that if you write in public, there’s boundless praise and eternal hostility.

If you’re someone like me, who thinks out loud and doesn’t mind provoking people into thinking, they tend to come simultaneously.

Social media is a global magnet for the angry, the broken, and the dishonest. And I never forget the good people who still know how to disagree civilly.

Some angry people said I had no business walking on someone else’s property (I didn’t walk on anyone’s property) and that an apple could make the horse ill or even kill one (my large animal vet laughed at loud that a farm horse would die from an apple. In 30 years of practice, he’d never seen it.)

They described me as ignorant, invasive, and arrogant. The tone was haughty and unforgiving. How would I feel if someone came to my farm and gave the donkeys a carrot or an apple and my dog Bud a piece of liver?

The people who know me would never ask me a question like that; they understand that I would be pleased and thank them, as almost always happens to me when I do that to an animal on another farm.

But they don’t know me, of course, that is the point. And they have no interest in learning who I am or why I do what I do.

Instant outrage is the national drink.

One woman even insisted it was her horse. A friend, she said,  had tipped her to the discovery, and she warned me to “cease and desist.”

People often think I’m dumb and fragile; they are used to bullying people.

I know I have a brutal and ruthless streak. I used to think I needed to get rid of it.

But I often need it now.

I know the horse’s owner; it’s a tiny town. Everyone knows who he is.

I’ve learned that these dust-ups often become a kind of class war, an extension of the deepening gap between rural, urban, and suburban life.

They can teach us a lot.

If you pay attention, and I do, they explain much about the class wars that increasingly define America and American politics and divide us.

Rural people don’t speak to wealthy urban and suburban people, and urban and suburban people don’t talk to rural Americans.

As a result, they know nothing about one another and have come to dislike, even demonize, one another.

I got a lot of mail from rural people farmers about Applegate. Every one of them, male and female,  thanked me for giving my new friend an apple from time to time by the side of the road. They saw it as a generous impulse, not a reckless intrusion.

I got messages from some urban and suburban people in a very different language treating me like a dumbass rube who wantonly trespassed farms with horses and didn’t know better than to give a precious and vulnerable horse an apple.

Since the two sides never speak to one another, I sit and write in the middle. It seems I am in the middle, thus drawing a fair amount of controversy.

The first time this happened was when I euthanized my dog Orson for drawing blood from a child’s neck.

It happened every time I shot a sheep or put a dog down. It happened when we euthanized the poor blind and ancient pony Rocky who was coming apart from the changes we were making at the farm.

And it happened within hours when I wrote about giving an apple to a horse I was drawn to and who seemed drawn to me.

Farmers and rural people, who tend to live around animals, understood intuitively. This was not a big deal.

Animals, like people, live in reality, not on a rainbow bridge.

We visit one another’s animals here all the time; it’s a rite of passage for rural children, who still have the chance to roam freely and walk to school and play out of sight of their parents.

Rural and farm people read the angry messages and see in them the wealthy and arrogant urban elitists they have come to hate for not understanding them, sneering at them, or helping them.

From time to time, I know how they feel.

Most of the messages criticizing me felt mindless, elitist, and incredibly heartless.  Snooty is the word. Some expressed their concerns civilly and interestingly. But only a couple.

These seemed to be mostly people who only knew one kind of horse, one who lives in a stall in an enclosed barn and whose diet is rigorously monitored.

I have seen many of these horses, especially around Saratoga Springs, a racing community. I don’t think I would ever walk up to one of them with an apple.

There are very few horses like that here if any.

One reader said I was probably making people angry because I called them Marmorant Stink Bugs. He wondered if they would like what I did if I were nicer.

He has never been criticized online.

Nobody ever changes their mind. And I’m only nice sometimes, never when people treat me without respect.

Another said that the hostility probably came because I often write that I am different from most people around me.

The sender doesn’t know that almost nobody where I live finds it outrageous to give an apple to a horse, mostly outside a fence outside on a huge pasture with all kinds of trees.

All the squawking was coming from the outside. It was like looking at a red-state-blue-state map.

You couldn’t know if you were not reading the messages repeatedly.

Where I live, nobody has special diets for working horses or horses that live on open pastures. That would be a joke.

Special diets would be impossible outside of confinement – fences,  barns.

And farmers can’t afford horses with special diets unless they are wealthy people who visit their farms on weekends in the summer and hire other people to care for them the rest of the year.

Or perhaps wealthy New Yorkers who have fled the pandemic have unique ideas about how animals should be treated.

I can see the gap right away by now; I’m familiar with the voices and attitudes and the certainty and arrogance of the rich. And the growing rage of the country’s ordinary people.

If I live here much longer, I might even like Donald Trump.

When Maria asked me this morning how I put up with this all the time, I couldn’t answer. I did go and think about it.

The truth is I love what I do, praise or criticism. I’m a writer who gets to write and read every day. Everyone has never loved me. I appreciated being loved by some.

I don’t mind stirring the pot; it’s my job to provoke thought. I don’t need everyone to love me, although I like praise. I accept the world the way it is, not the way I wish it would be.

I won’t argue my writing online with strangers; that poison would scar my soul.

And I can be hurt by some of these messages, although the success of my blog tells me I’m on the right course. And I rebound quickly.

The messages and controversy this time did make me sad. I was proud of that piece. I’d be lying to say otherwise.

I loved the feeling it evoked in me. A lot of people caught that feeling.  I set out to share that warm feeling with others. In that, I was successful.

The thanks were a lot richer and more numerous than the cranks.

It was a lovely image for me, a man stopping to make eye contact with a horse and give him an apple. I’ll never forget the depth and soulfulness of those eyes.

Unfortunately, some people could see no good in it, even if they didn’t like what I did.

That’s how I put up with it. I’m happy.

The freedom to think and write freely is sacred to me. I will never regret it. In a perfect world, I suppose everyone might like what I write.

In our world, that rarely happens. I can either ride with it or jump off the boat. I never think of doing that.

Many thanks to the good people who have not lost their magic and can still understand that feeding a horse at the fence of a vast pasture in the middle of winter is a good thing to want to do, at least where I live.

I’m eager to do it again.


  1. I loved your post about the horse and the apple. Now and again someone would stop to admire my horses as they grazed in the pasture. Sometimes a person would even tear a handful of grass from the edge of the field and feed it to one of my friendly horses. Today a neighbor took Edgar for a walk. She wanted a companion to walk with. What happiness can be had in sharing your animals with others.

  2. Mr. Katz, you gotta do what you think is best in all things. Certain people will try to suck all the pleasure out of life, and please don’t let them do that. Respectfully, d

  3. I appreciate the beautifully written blog post, but as a horse owner I’m in the “don’t feed other people’s animals anything” group. I have a horse with a metabolic disease. Her diet is TIGHTLY controlled. I’d love to feed her apples, and she’d love to get them. But anything with sugar….Anything…..sorry, no.

    And I also have had a horse choke on a treat. Only once, in 30 years of horse ownership and many horses, but it does happen, and it required a vet visit to dislodge it. I’ve also had a pony founder quite badly when a kindly intentioned person dumped a pile of fresh grass clippings over the fence for him to eat. That one didn’t end well.

    It’s very nice when people admire your animals, and if someone were to stop by I would make an effort to say, “come on in, I’ll catch him and you can pet him”. But don’t feed him. Please. No matter how kind it seems to be, unless the owner has specifically told you what they can eat. Or the owner hands you a specific tidbit and says, “here, he can have this”.

    99% of the time it will probably be just fine. But I’ve had some of those “not so nice” results. If I “catch” people feeding my horses across the fence, I go out and very kindly and politely thank them for admiring the horse and explain why it’s not a good idea to feed them. Most people take it very well and say “oh, I didn’t know that”.

    I appreciate the attraction such beautiful animals have for everyone. But please–don’t feed them. Just pet them and tell them how beautiful they are. They like that.

    1. Jan, horses like yours do not run freely in huge farm pastures with trees and woods. They are not “tightly” controlled or have special diets. Don’t live in your own bubble. A “tightly controlled” horse is not standing all day out by the road in a huge pasture hoping to greet everyone who goes by. I don’t go around into people’s barns or tight fences and feed apples to horses. I have lived around horses for years and even had one. It’s actually very issue to spot the difference. I appreciate your civility and love for your horse, but perhaps you might try to grasp that every horse is not your horse every circumstance yours. Everyone isn’t you and every horse is not your horse. Only an idiot would fail to see the difference, and I am many things, but not an idiot.

      1. Actually, Jon, this time of year (no fresh grass), my horse does roam freely around my farm. To look at her, she appears to be a “normal” horse. Because the pastures are next to the road…and the road leads to a public Forest Preserve, she gets a lot of attention. People are always stopping to look (and hopefully admire). I am fine with that and hope that it brings them some pleasure.

        Some try to go up to the fence, which is electrified and posted as so. Once I watched a mother send her probably 6 year old child out of the car up to the fence and heard her say “just climb through it so you can pet the horsey”. I know YOU would not do anything so ridiculous, but apparently lots of people would.

        I realize that I am not everyone, and my horse is not every horse. I don’t think I am an idiot either. I’m merely saying why I think it’s NOT a good idea to feed strange animals or to encourage other to do so. If you want to connect with the horse, go up to the fence, pet him and speak to him. As I said, they like that. And no one’s health and safety is put in jeopardy.

        I might add that horses learn very quickly. You stop by, you offer them a treat. After only a few stops, they very quickly become your best friend, coming eagerly when they see you appear. It just the same as training a dog with treats for rewarding a correct response. If you forget the apple, or don’t produce it quick enough, the next step is for them to paw at the fence which is what they do when they are impatient. If they are lucky, they don’t put their hoof THROUGH the fence, risking injury.

        I love horses above all creatures, but I have to say…..they are loving your apple John. Not you. Except as the Bringer of Apples. But I certainly respect your right to give apples to any horse you wish…just please, not mine.

  4. This is a sweet gesture, to be sure, to give an apple to a horse and people love to do so. I agree that eye contact with the horse can, indeed, be magical. And, if you know the owner, then you can communicate clearly with him regarding the horse’s diet.
    I’m wondering if anyone might have mentioned the horse’s health concerns. My horse suffers from Laminitis which can cause the horse to founder. It is extremely painful for the horse. She has a specific diet which does not include sugar, and she cannot be put out on a grassy field. She is in a dry pasture. Apples and carrots (and especially a grassy field in spring time) can cause her to experience an episode of laminitis. I constantly have to request that people not give treats to her. While one apple alone may not be enough to bother her, it can be a cumulative effect. Also, if the horse’s teeth are bad, they may choke on a large apple.
    I’m not writing this to take anything away from your meaningful experience with a beautiful animal, just a caution that there may be unknown issues, and if you can, it is best, to communicate with the owner.
    Thank you for your writing and the thoughts you so generously share. I do enjoy very much reading your stories.

  5. Jon. Don’t worry about these nuts. You did the right thing. I’ve been around cows and horses my whole life (65 yrs) It’s good to communicate with them.

  6. I have read alot of your posts Jon and for the life of me (unless it is just something to
    write about), I don’t know why you pay attentions to these kind of individuals……Why is that??.

    1. Because it’s important to me, Sally, I’m sorry it’s such a difficult thing for you to understand, but there are times when I can’t just stick my head in the sand and have to speak out. I actually do it very rarely, but sometimes I need to do it. It’s really as simple as that.

        1. Cindy, I’ve written countless times that I enjoy it, at least most of it. That’s not a revelation to anyone who reads my blog regularly. I am happy to be standing up to people who tell me what I think and play amateur therapy and tell other people what to do and what they think. I’ve been in therapy for years, and the real ones are much better. My therapist actually does know me, and she thinks I’m a pretty nice guy as far as men go.

          The part I love is calling out the people who are turning social media into a cesspool of hostility, arrogance, and inaccurate assumptions. This is why so many people are afraid to go online and speak their truth. I can’t say I love defending myself against giving an apple to a neighbor’s horse. I didn’t love that at all.

          But it makes me feel good about myself. It makes me feel useful and honest, and that makes me happy. If more people did it, we might be able to speak to one another again online rather than argue and intrude on others and be rude.

  7. 💙💙💙
    Love this response.
    Loved the story.
    Love your heart for animals and giving your readers a glimpse of the magic where you live, and the people and animals you interact with-
    Keep on keeping on. Cant’t wait to read about the next beautiful moment.

  8. I hope you can ignore those who upended Thumper’s Law. For them it seems to be “If You can’t say something tacky, don’t say nuthin; at all”. Thanks for the apple gift and the telling of it. The horse and I loved it.

  9. You go Jon! Thank God you don’t listen to all those cranky people. Keep feeding that beautiful horse apples. He loves them and is making a bond with you, as all the animals you associate with do.

  10. What really has happened to our world? You gave a horse an apple…what a lovely gesture. But let’s say for arguments sake those people that said the horse could have got sick .clearly they know nothing about horses. If a horse is susceptible to laminitis or colic, no farmer or owner would leave them in a large field, so chances are the horse is in good health and probably LOVED the apple, the sweetness of it, the juiciness and the crispness..just a lovely change from grass!!

  11. I had no idea that an apple could cause so much flack. As a child we would feed apples to the horse that my grandparent’s boarded. This is why I never started a blog. I’m more concerned about 21 thousand people lost to an earthquake or the idiot hecklers who don’t have the grace to listen to our country’s president while he delivers the State of the Union address. In other words there are so many real problems people could worry about rather than a post about an apple feeding writer.

  12. Do it again and again. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t be impacted by the mini-minds.
    You are you. You are beloved and appreciated by many, exactly the way you are. Don’t change a thing.

  13. I can’t imagine a piece more sweet and harmless than the horse and apple one. It was a perfect little scene of country life. I can easily imagine doing the same myself. I guess I am too easily hurt to write a blog!

  14. A neighbor told me the other day that she has been giving my horses peppermints. Your readers would have had her burned at stake. I told her thank you – my horses love them. Get a grip people.

  15. There truly is a gulf between the lived lives of Americans in rural vs urban/Suburban areas.
    Many of us left one for a more tolerant and accepting environment.

    But the rigid, self-righteous human attitudes that you describe exist and are revealed on both sides of the divide.

    Enjoy your apple, friend horse.

  16. Very well expressed. And I’m probably one of the so-called educated urban elites, but I love animals and I am just so tired of some of the comments made by some of the people that you mentioned. BTW: I also give apples to horses! All the best.

  17. The vast majority of us loved the feelings your piece evoked in us as well, Jon. This follow up is an honest and artful sharing of how ignorance can be hurtful when used to insult others. Thank you for writing it. And, forgive me, but to hell with the unapologetic ignorant!

  18. Oh Jon, I’m so sorry you have been subjected to the thoughtless criticism of those who find something wrong in giving a horse an apple. I thought it was a lovely thing to do, and was surprised when I read the critical comments. More surprised than you were! Keep on being you!

  19. I read with nostalgia and fondness your experience of feeding the horse an apple. It is a shame that people make an issue out of a sweet gesture. I may not always agree with you, but it is your experience, and I can’t look at things thru your eyes. I appreciate the opportunity to look at things differently, even if I disagree. So, I don’t understand other people’s need to disparage a lovely encounter. If they don’t like it, they could try being courteous and not say anything. Your blog is interesting, refreshing and unusual. And giving the horse an apple is perfectly normal in the country. I will continue to enjoy hearing about the horse and apple story!

  20. Keep giving the horse the apple! Heck give him a carrot too and really push some people over the edge. Haha. Don”t let people try to take that special connection away. I love the photograph.

  21. Both photos of the “Apple-loosa” horse are fantastic; his first lovely soulful eye-contact portrait and the above remote silhouette, for which he has appeared to pose. When one thinks of how long the species has had a working relationship with humans, it’s no wonder their acceptance of a stranger’s attention and kindness. And, horses being intuitive individuals, if they didn’t like the look/scent/demeanor or intention of an approaching human, he’d have just walked off. And yes, if an owner were to become aware of too many instances of over-the-fence treating, or even to prevent any, then they might post a sign instructing not to, as there is on a pasture nearest me – but now that I think of it, that might be to “not pet” them – likely more an insurance liability issue, set forth by a sub-set of the Marmorated Stink Bug species, furthering the divide between man and beast when we most need to get back to those collaborative connections to show us how to be better humans. Please give him a pat and a sweet apple from me.

  22. My friend, when I read any negative and sideways comments I stop and let that go. Delete, hide post, unfollow, snooze for 30 days….etc. your beautiful experience of writing about the horse was just that. Your clear sight, creative talents and personal joy are to be cherished. Keep going outside and feel nature and this gorgeous earth…it’s the best thing I’ve found for cleaning off some of the muck out there…and connecting to pure love.

    1. Thanks, I do the same thing except when it’s important to me to make a point. I don’t want to ignore the hostility and divisiveness or well on it…a tricky balance sometimes..it’s part of life.

  23. People love giving their opinions without knowing the facts. I for one loved that piece. We lived down the road from a horse and my daughter and would give him carrots. No one minded. Thanks for your wonderful stories.

    1. Thanks, much Laurie. I should say I heard from the farmer who owns the horse last night, as I suspected would happen, he thanked me for giving his horse an apple and asked me to drop by and say hello. I will. He was absolutely stunned to learn that this was a controversial thing in some places. What is it with people, he wondered? I don’t really know. The horse is a rescue, his cousin in Kentucky bought him at an auction, and he was probably headed to a slaughterhouse. He doesn’t use a horse for work, and he just likes seeing him on the farm. He seemed to love him very much.

      1. You’re making my point for me, Jon . You’ve spoken with the horses owner and now you know that there are no reasons or issues why you shouldn’t feed the horse. But without this knowledge, you have no way of knowing if somehow your actions could be harmful to the horse. Now you know.

  24. “Ride with it,” Jon. This essay is excellent, as was your wonderful initial story and photo, including the one today, of the horse to whom you have given apples. I love your writing and read your blog daily.

    “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” – King Richard from the great play “Richard III by William Shakespeare

  25. I’ve been blessed by five horses throughout my 77 years and your beautiful story and photo brought back so many warm and magical memories for me of quiet times spent feeding an apple to them and sharing conversations that had no need for words. As always thank you for sharing.

  26. I am sure you have read this poem, but it speaks to your contact with a horse. I used to teach this one to seventh graders as part of my “poem for the day” method of teaching kids to read what was in front of them without assuming anything Even the too-cool kids would respond at the poem’s end with some silent seconds passing before they would say “Wow…” Check it out, Jon! and keep writing, please. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46481/a-blessing

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Email SignupFree Email Signup