When I was a kid, I had an imaginary stable of horses in one of my Granny’s flowerbeds. There were horses of every conceivable color and breed, their names changing each day with the winds that swept the hilltop of our old homeplace. They were perfect, requiring no food or maintenance of any kind, always ready for any adventure that a solitary child with a vivid imagination could dream up. All I had to do was pick one from the “stalls” lined up in the beautiful deep purple iris beds that lined the fence in front of the house, saddle up and we were off to the far reaches of the farm, as fast as my pudgy little legs would carry me. Scraggly scrub cedars became a dark, forbidding forest. The large pile of moss-covered limestone remnants from an old rock fence was the perfect spot to converse with faeries and elves. I pretended that the barn was a haunted castle (complete with very real cows that would occasionally emerge from the shadows to scare the peewaddin out of me).
Now I’m on a farm that reminds me of the one I grew up on, and I have three real horses that require real food and maintenance. Lots and lots of maintenance. Iris blooms don’t keep them in their stalls these days, and patching the dilapidated fence around their pasture is often an adventure in itself.
One repair mission in particular produced a surprising result. Luckily, most of my neighbors are truly good people who alert me when there’s been a breakout, and sometimes even help capture the varmints. A friend’s son was on his way home and noticed a large hole in the fence, my three hay burners investigating the gap with obvious mischief in mind. He alerted his mom, who in turn sounded the alarm to me. So it was that at midnight on a 20-degree winter evening I found myself ankle-deep in snow with wire cutters in one numb hand and a stubborn strand of barbed wire in the other, seriously questioning the benefits of horse ownership.
Hooves and Hammers
The three potential miscreants observed attentively, crowding in way too close and completely ignoring my irritated attempts to shoo them away. Irritated is a gross understatement, and the printable gist of my grumbling was a caveat to my “helpers” that if they got knocked in the nose by a hammer it was their own darn fault.
It wasn’t until my grumpy muttering finally subsided that I began to notice the frigid tranquility of the night. In the ensuing silence hooves and boots squeaked in the snow, interspersed by the crack of hammer against fence post that echoed like gunshots across the frozen field. As anger’s heat dissipated, I began to feel the warmth of their bodies as they surrounded me, and appreciate their steamy puffs of breath as they peered over my shoulders. Squinted grouchy eyes widened to see the brilliance of a full moon sprinkling diamonds across the snowdrifts, rivaled only by the crystalline clarity of the stars. I was entranced, lingering even after the last strand of barbed wire was in place, just being present in that moment, trying to absorb such wondrous surroundings. After planting frosty goodnight kisses on three soft muzzles, I drove back up to the house, musing on what I’d have missed if I’d have continued to feed my initial anger. It’s extraordinary what our Creator sends us when we open our hearts and minds, and shut our mouths.
As I write this, my three red-legged devils are roaming loose in the yard, having escaped their pasture yet again to take up temporary residence with the dogs and cats. Between working full time in town and more pressing chores on the farm, there just hasn’t been time to remedy the situation. Truth be told, I’m dragging my heels a bit because I’ve grown to like having them so close. There’s just something about having a conversation with a horse through the back door that makes me smile.
Some of their antics are not so endearing, true, but I love them just the same. I love the way they smell when they’ve been warming themselves in the sun, and the calmness that envelops me while combing burrs from their manes and tails. They listen patiently without judging as I recount the day’s events, commenting only with soft nickers and gentle nudges. They don’t understand a word I’m saying, of course, but that doesn’t matter in the least. They respond simply to the love they feel in my touch and the tone of my voice. They also respond to the peppermints they get as treats when they hold still while being groomed, but mostly to the love thing. Really. It’s the love.
Even the mounds of “horse apples” that dot the yard (and the driveway – and the patio – and on one unforgettable occasion one of the cats, but that’s another story) are somehow comforting. They remind me of where I came from and where I am now, of childhood dreams that have come true. If I don’t watch where I step they’re also a fragrant, squishy reminder to fix that fence.