Saturday, July 5, 2008

The gift horse

I have been horseback riding almost every morning this week.

The farm is quiet at 7 am. Sometimes, I can hear the new horse in the far pasture scrapping with the mustang gelding who is none too happy that he has competition for the sweet chestnut mare he used to have all to himself. The mustang may be tiny next to the new thoroughbred but he is proving what anyone who ever saw The Outsiders learned from Ralph Macchio. "Mustangs, they're tough" (for the uninitiated).

I can always hear the guinea hens, raising their guinea racket. Often it seems they lie in wait for the right opportunity to jump out of a tree line and startle the herd as they wander around the pasture. Those little hens can start a mighty stampede.

Every once in awhile I can hear a dog in the distance, or John, the caretaker on his John Deere. Mornings like this, I can never tell where John is, the tractor sounds like it’s everywhere all at once. When I catch a glimpse of John through the trees, one-hand steering his way around the farm, I think of my brother on his lawn mower. Mark had stickers on the hood of his and once, he wrote a poem about it, the poem was so popular that he was photographed standing next to it for a possible book cover. There’s no similarity between John and my brother other than the mowers, but I like the reminder, the feeling that if I close my eyes, I can tell myself it’s Mark.

I let myself into the creaky, dusty tack room, pull out my equipment, brushes, fly spray, and treats, and then head for the pasture. Most days I have to stop myself from running, so happy I am to be there. I undo the chain that holds the gate closed, and just twenty feet inside the pasture there is a large patch of buttercups. I stop in the middle, think about twirling, with my head back and my arms out, reconsider, and instead put my hands up to my mouth and yell “HEY BOYS!!!!!!!!” “HEY BOYS!!!!!!” Usually just two times and I’ll see them, Taz in front, moving at a trot, coming right at me. Once I spot them, I usually turn my back, drop my head and wait. It’s hard not to peek, to check and see if they are still coming but patience pays off, and soon, I’ll hear their hoof beats, them blowing through their noses. The rhythm slows, and it will get quiet. Then I’ll feel it. Taz will approach alone, his nose at the level of my shoulder, he’ll rub on my cheek, and I’ll turn. There’s a spot on his neck, up high by his ears that he loves to be rubbed, but just for a minute, and then he starts looking for my right pocket. I never disappoint him. After a treat or two, he’ll lower his head for me, I’ll slip on the halter and we’ll head for the barn. Sometimes I’ll run and he’ll run by my side, in serpentines, straight lines, circles, and then I’ll stop, suddenly, and he’ll stop right with me. Already in sync.

Grooming Taz tells me what he’s been up to since I last saw him. I’ll find tender spots from kicks, bite marks, and fly bites. I’ll know if he rolled around in the pasture. Today there was yellow pollen all over his lower limbs, looks like Taz likes the buttercups too.

Groomed and shiny, saddle on, we head for the mounting block. I mount, and start a warm up. The saddle creaks when we pick up the pace. He stumbles a bit, we go over a small jump or two, and I ask him to pay attention to those feet. We push to the rail, out to the center, increase our pace and slow down. Each exercise is designed to ask him to pay attention to me, to all my cues. The requests are subtle. Pressure from both legs, or just one, then the other, more weight in one stirrup, me rising from the saddle or sitting firmly down. He’s a slow starter, so we take our time.
By the end of two hours, we’ve moved out to the pasture, gone over a few more jumps, turned our pace up; our circles have become figure eights. We’ve crossed water and walked the perimeter of the largest pasture at least three times. I hear the crunch of gravel under tires, horses nickering, it is breakfast time at the farm.

In two hours, I have not thought about money, boyfriends, lawns that need cutting, work deadlines, car repairs, unpainted walls, eating right, working out, or bad family relationships. I have been completely mindful only of myself and him as he gathers under me, fully aware of his strength and power, it's in every twitch, every stride. I know where every uneven spot is in the pasture, because he has shown me. I have not examined much beyond the greenery just past the tip of his ears. I have talked only to the horse this morning, and that is perfectly fine with me.
I always hose him down after a ride. He arches his back when the cold water hits it, moves into the spray. We walk down the road back to his field; it's shadier there then going across the pasture. We share an apple and I thank him again for the ride. He answers only by asking for another bite of the apple. We are not perfect together, but he keeps working as long as I keep asking.

When I return him to his field, his friends are often well out of sight. He’ll spend several minutes with me at the gate. We share a few more words and one more quick rub of the spot up high by his ears, and he’ll turn, listening for his herd, and when he’s heard what he needs to, he heads off, head and tail high, at a trot. Watching that, gives me goose bumps every time.
I don't know if there was something I should have done with my apparent affinity for animals - something I missed. I hope I have not wasted a gift. I am a better listener and a better communicator when it is an animal on the other end of the conversation. I have joked about this for many years. I am not complaining.
I am grateful.


kenju said...

Absolutely beautiful! I have never been close to a horse in that way; the last time I tried to ride one, he stopped in a creek and refused to move. But the way you describe it is marvelous and I wish I could have that kind of relationship with one.

db grin said...

Dude. What a way to start a day! You almost convinced me that someday I might want to ride a horse again.


Magnificent story for a magnificent beast.

Her Roo-ness said...

i love this.
i really do.

i don't think you missed anything. i couldn't have gotten through my own buttercup stuff nearly as easy without can't know how much you helped.
and i don't think i would have had the nerve to get a hank without you. i would have done something much more sensible...

i think i could get into to horses...except mat would shoot me if i tried to let one sleep on the bedroom floor...and you know how i am....

No Celery Please said...

Oh.. that sounds just lovely

tiff said...

Sounds nice, but I'm with db on this can keep the horses.

I'll just go over there and play with the guinea hens, thanks.

Cravey said...

kenju, anytime you wanna come visit, you know where to find me!

DB - you don't have to ride them, to like them - They can be fun from the ground up too.. sounds crazy, but it's true.

Roo - I just love you. You know?

NCP- and so it is, almost as lovely as a purple violin!

Tiff - more for me! To each his own and all that.

Mojo said...

*shaking head, grinning*... you know the first thing that came to mind when I read this? "Long lens stuff here, my 200/2.8 ought to be just about perfect." I could so photograph this scene. I can compose the shots in my head just from your description of it. And that time of day, the light would be practically perfect too.

But I'm with Roo on this one. You didn't waste anything. Whatever you have done or will do to pay the bills, you'll always have your connection with animals. And no matter how much you might deny it, you'll always have your connection with people too. I don't know 'bout anybody else, but I owe you big for all the support you've given me.

Kingfisher said...

Your life is fuller than any twelve of the rest of us.

rennratt said...


I can't find the right words to match your description.

What a great way to start the day!

Jobs pay the bills, hon. GIFTS pay us in other ways.

I'm slightly jealous of your morning routine.

Quiana said...

Thanks for writing this.