The Yoke Epiphany

The Yoke Epiphany

by Rachel VanKoughnet

On my vacation last week to Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, I drove by a huge statue depicting 2 oxen wearing a yoke with a man standing next to them, holding a bar, guiding the oxen I guess…

statue(photo by Steve Leake

I didn’t like it. My brain spun into a train of very important thinking, as it often does, and now I feel compelled to share my epiphany:

In the beginning, animals put on the first yokes and harnesses out of love. Animals love. Animals love that humans love. Animals love that humans will sometimes feed and water them, even talk to and pet them. Animals understand that their humans need shelter, food and water, too. Out of love, reciprocity, and an innate ability to understand human limitations, those animals put on the first harnesses and yokes to help their human friend(s) survive.

This is where the story gets dark.

Shortly afterwards, that mutual respect became perverted. Somehow the human forgot that the animal was in no way obligated to work. The human became confused by the intoxicating power of producing through slave driving. The animal is no longer a friend, but a burden who keeps trying to escape your captivity.

government quote


Yes, open your mind up and take another look at that picture of the statute. That man is certainly governing the situation, holding the tool of slavery in just one hand. That is not natural. Natural definitely involves ditching the yoke. Natural is about a willingness.

I immediately turned to my husband in the car and tried to tell him how struck I was by the statute we were driving by. My husband loves nature and animals, yet there he was with his brow furrowed shaking his head and asking me: what about the thoroughbred horses, you have no idea how well taken care of they are.


You don’t understand what I am saying. (sigh). Horses don’t want to be whipped or raced or shown for money. Horses don’t care about money or trophies. For heaven’s sake if you left the barn open the horse would probably run away and if it didn’t, I would argue we are talking about a horse that actually has the special relationship with the human(s) who takes care of it that I described above. Mutual respect.

Reciprocity. Horses can be our friends. They don’t want money though, come on. They don’t want to be whipped either. Geez.

All I’m saying is: animals deserve our respect. Animals can physically do things we cannot. Animals can emotionally do things that we are supposed to be doing (LOVE). Therein lies a capacity for meaningful relationship, if you can get past your ego.

How do I know?

Try it. See what happens. I have had plenty of animal experiences and relationships to know that what I am saying is worth thinking about. Take a good hard look at your animal relationships. Where do you stand?

Will your “pet” run away if given the chance?

llamaDo tasks such as feeding your “pet” frustrate you?

Animals are very sensitive to energy. So am I. And, as these things often go, my toddler is very sensitive to emotional energy as well.   We went to Thomasson Family Farm in Enumclaw to take advantage of the “Good Ole’ Family Fun” with our son and it far exceeded our expectations. There were some animals on display that you could pet and feed–kittens, 2 pigs, 2 calves, 3 goats and a miniature donkey. It was the miniature donkey that did it. Sign said he was 28 years old. He stood frozen in the back of the pen staring at the energetic children reaching their arms in to pet him.

“He sad, Mommy?”

“Why do you ask, baby?”

“He no like cage, Mommy?”

Um. Well…at this point it feels like my toddler is having a rhetorical conversation with me because we can both see it in the donkey’s eyes…he’s sad.

“I think the donkey is tired, sweetheart, the sign says he is 28 years old!”


“He sad, Mommy.”

“Blow him a kiss, baby.”

My son and I then blew kisses at the 28-year-old miniature donkey until a person dressed up as a cow came strolling by wearing overalls and broke all concentration. I was glad for the distraction because the answer to this one is actually complicated. My guess is, that donkey loves it at Thomasson’s farm, just not during the pumpkin patch season; I’m sure at 28 years old he knows what a kid hopped up on a sugared pumpkin donut can do.

When around animals, I always try to keep calm, go slow, and be respectful. If that goes well, I will usually move into kindness and love through words and action. I am not entitled to the love of an animal or a human being, but when I earn the love of an animal or a human being it is truly a beautiful experience. One worth thinking about.


~Rachel VanKoughnet

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  1. The reason I’m a vegan is that I love animals. All animals, not just the “cute” ones. We have enslaved them, tortured them and then kill them in ways that are ungodly. I’m with you. Animals would run away if they could. Wouldn’t you?


  2. Interesting…I saw this epiphany heading in a different direction…I thought of how the worker toils for the “man”…yoked…totally dependent on the “man” for everything…food…shelter..until he drops from exhaustion .and never thinks about getting out from under that yoke…never thinks for himself…it’s all he knows…until someone intervenes. We are all a slave (some people may not see it as such) to “something”, so we might as well be a slave to someone we love, or something we care about.


  3. Pingback: Rachel Vankoughnet

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