From Thanksgiving until the week after New Years, I have always felt a disjoint from my day to day routines, and primarily from my horses. Yes I do see them, feed them twice a day, but the regular riding part just doesn’t seem to get to happen. There is all the family time and getting together and all of those distractions, but also, this time of year is when the weather begins changing in significant ways, first turning hot, sticky, and humid and then stormy, cold, and blustery, followed by a few nicer days, in repeating weekly patterns. This year, I think the last time I got on one of my beasts was the week before Thanksgiving, until yesterday.
Horses are not like cars that one can park for months, get in and turn the key on, and drive away. They revert, they become less broke, less engaged with human interaction, and here this means me. They get a look in their eyes that is distant as though they were observing life out in the beyond. They get a bit disrespectful of my space as I lead them to feed, or take out to pasture. Nothing rude, but I just become a non important part of their world for a while. The coming back from “Christmas Break” is part that I dread. I know ahead, from experiences passed, that I will have a bit of reintroducing myself to do. I usually have to pick a duel, or do something to get them to notice me again. The weather looked to be taking a break so yesterday I intended to get reacquainted my horses finally.
Yesterday was one of those January days that bloomed as the remnant of a cold front that had come through and gone, leaving behind a pleasantly cool, dry, crystal clear blue sky, with only a slight breeze. Out in the pasture before I brought them in to feed, all three of my mares stood together with hind legs cocked each resting a massive hip, ears relaxed, and lips loose. They were mentally asleep soaking in the sweet feel of the warming rays of morning sunshine.
I heard the scream of a Red Tailed Hawk overhead and stopped to look up. Against the backdrop of the dark blue cloudless sky circled, not one, but three hawks. Their white bellies glowed from being lit by the low January sun, their red tails showed a pale pink, and their wings were strongly rimmed in black. Slowly they circled together until drifting from my sight, a signal that spring thoughts are already happening in their world.
After they had eaten, I took Kitty out of her stall first. She is the oldest and the self appointed queen of the herd, of royal lineage doing time in a south Alabama barn with little to do than cart me around the ring when I saddle her up. I bought her and broke her when she was three, and in the fourteen years since she has never done anything in bad intent to me. Her one and only bucking episode was once when I was walking her through some very tall grass near the pond. Out of no where, she suddenly welled up like a rising balloon, and jumped into the air with a very unexpected explosion. I desperately grabbed every and any thing I could and miraculously stayed somewhere near the saddle as she came back to earth, all the while mulling the what just happened thoughts and whys. Later, when I ran the tractor through that tall grass to cut it, I revealed what she had jumped from. A huge, big fat black, water moccasin was laying there arrogantly defying my tractor and the cutter behind it. She must’ve smelled it and jumped away from it nearly unhorsing me in the process. It’s a very good thing that I did not land on it. Anyway that snake did not live to scare her or me again after being fricasseed by the bush hog.
We had a short and very pleasant ride, picking up pretty close to where we had been, given that she is older and is not as fit as she once was, but neither am I, so it was good. Next to go was Sunset, Kitty’s pasture mate and ardent admirer, a heavy girl, and a strongly opinionated red mare with lots of chrome and a partial blue eye.
I had had my come to Jesus ride with her the day before when I had ridden her up to the front field and we were confronted by the sight of my neighbor’s cows grazing what they could of the dry brown grasses that remained across the road. Her head came up and she turned to stone as she gazed in horror at these strange black aliens. I was oblivious to her at this moment, of course, and planned my response at what I already knew was coming, the part where she takes a direct flight home. As she turned to leave I pulled a right rein and there she found herself in a circle, going nowhere. Once that activity became boring, and the cows had ceased to be the focus of her universe, she turned an ear towards me and life was good again. We finished with a nice ride with the cows giving us casual glances from time to time and we strolled on a loose rein back to the barn. I had guessed that, after our previous day’s warm up ride, I might have a nice ride with her yesterday and did, covering the basics and a few tricks too, and were done.
My next real surprise ride was with my youngest mare Cistine, who I had anticipated to be full of beans and who might need some quality time on the lunge line before I put my toe in the stirrup. I took her out to the ring to let out the gas, and she responded by quietly doing my bidding, with no bucks, pronks, or silliness. I got on and had the most pleasant ride with her I have ever had. Who would have thunk it?
As I turned the horses out after our rides I opened the stall gate for Kitty. Instead of walking out, she turned and gently placed her entire head on top of mine softly resting her thick jaw bones there, cradling my skull. I obliged by scratching her under her jaw. We stood there for many minutes communicating in that special way that two totally different species can do through strong silences and touch.
It is my close interaction with my horses that has always kept me grounded and sane and is the thing I miss the most when it is interrupted by holidays, weather, and distractions. Yesterday just came as an unexpectedly wonderful time catching up and getting reacquainted with my mares. As Steinbeck once wrote, “Life was back in greased grooves again”. A balance regained, a day enjoyed, and the sunshine absorbed. Maybe my horses liked it too.