From Australian kangaroos sleeping in the dressage arena to Scottish castle ruins by the side of the road to the infinite shades of green in New Zealand, to the wild of extremes of the U.S., Alaska to Arizona. Then there were Andalusians, Kaimanawas, Standardbreds, Warmbloods, Brumbies, Scottish ponies, track horses, rescue horses, purpose-bred horses, old horses who carried wild little girls, and I even spent a day with a herd of Przewalski horses. Some clinic groups were small and intimate, and some were large like the crowds at Equidays in New Zealand, but I experienced kindness from everyone I met and I made friends I will keep with me forever. I simply had the most incredible year.
Finally, 64,000 miles later, I’m home mucking. My little farm is on the high prairie of Colorado, in the distant shadow of Pikes Peak. In the winter the land is monochromatic, mixed shades of tan and beige spotted with a few evergreens. The pond is frozen-quiet with no birds migrating through. The nights are long and deep, and during the day, the sun stays low in the sky, throwing more shadow and glare than heat. There are some tourist-beautiful places in Colorado, but I don’t live there. Like all things we love, they become dear to us seen through the rosy lens of our hearts.
We have some beautiful and dynamic horses here at Infinity Farm, but I’m in the Deplorables pen. I snort with wicked glee when I say the name, this is the pen of cantankerous misfits and I feel right at home. This little herd is lead (as if that was possible) by Bhim, a believer in domination training and showing me who’s boss every day. It’s him, thirty-six inches of I-will-not-pander-to-you willful autonomy. His winter coat is unflattering, and he can pop a hoof out without breaking stride, should he need to make a point.
Edgar Rice Burro is here, our longstanding moral compass. He is kind and patient and shares with everyone. He’s twenty years old now and a bit worse for wear. We have that in common, but Edgar is unfailingly kind and the rest of us routinely flunk that test. Not too old to play, he has a moth-eaten coat with patches of bare skin showing. Most recently, it’s Pearl, teeth clamped on his neck or rump.
Pearl came in the early fall, too frail to stand for long. She was failing in the special-needs pen at the rescue, and coming here is one step down from that. She stumbled out of the trailer into a small run and hit the ground. It was hard to tell what all was wrong because she was so malnourished. She’d lay down much too often and couldn’t walk straight. Her spine curved and her hind end was so frail that she couldn’t balance. But she did nibble some hay and a bit of miracle mush. Her eyes came back to life.
Pearl’s neurologic, her prognosis is horrible. She runs now, and either misses her target by ten feet or crashes into it. She grabs on to Edgar and gets towed around the pen, tufting out those pink bald patches. Pearl pulls Bhims tail relentlessly. When she sees someone with fingers, she slams into them and flops her ears flat for a rub. Her ground manners are so bad now that if she wasn’t terminal, she’d be unadoptable. We’re happy to take the blame for that, me and my barn manager, who she recently chased around a tree. Pearl’s bray might be the best I’ve heard. It’s foghorn loud with whole gasping yodels of such lyrical quality that the prairie wind falls still, and then at the very end, wait for it, she adds on two or three chewy little moans.
Pearl had a bad incident while I was in New Zealand, frantic messages back and forth, she couldn’t stand, and we thought we were losing her. Have I mentioned how much I appreciate my barn manager? We held our breath and hoped.
On my way home, during a layover in the bar at LAX, I read that the rescue was over-full and hay prices were jumping, I knew we’d have room for another foster soon. I’m pragmatic that way. That’s how Cupid came, from the special-needs pen to my Deplorables pen. He’s old and swaybacked, both front knees are trashed, and he has little pig eyes, one clouded over. Not all that friendly but he’s got a good appetite. Being a good eater should always be put on the plus side of a resume, regardless of cost, and it isn’t a crime to survive this long. Besides, it’s like old times to have a lame half-blind geriatric Appaloosa in the pen.
Meanwhile, Pearl didn’t die. But don’t go all weepy on me. It just wasn’t her time, but all our stories will eventually end the same way. Dying is ordinary. Living our best life is compelling drama and adventure!
The barn is full to the brim of brilliant athletic horses and this equine pickle-platter of shamans and misanthropes with a scandalous lack of decorum. And so, I muck, the best job I ever have, wandering here and there, chipping frozen manure with the heel of my boot, breathing in air so thin and cold that it cuts my lungs. It’s especially slow business in the Deplorables pen, getting every forkful to the cart is like running an obstacle course.
All this outlandish abundance and it’s winter solstice. Anyone with any sense knows it’s really the first day of spring. Is there a luckier gray mare than me?
European countries have traditional stories about animals magically talking at midnight on the solstice. It’s oxen and donkeys mainly, and in the least romantic versions, animals take revenge on their owners for poor care or over-work.
No worries, I’m safe. The only one over-working is me and I get special dispensation because I’m the one who buys the hay. I’d never presume to think I was a member of this elite group, I’m just a bi-ped with a muck fork, celebrating the past tense of all the blessings of the year. Manure is the smell of a happy barn.
My advice for the new year is to get out there, we’re not dead yet. Plan an adventure and depend on the kindness of strangers. People are so very much better than they are portrayed in news reports.
With gratitude to all who read along on Relaxed & Forward, I hope we get to meet in the new year and come together for our horses and each other.
And from our herd to yours, wishes for a barn family less dysfunctional than most, a durable sense of humor, and the seasonal bliss of new socks.
Planning our 2019 clinic schedule now. Email email@example.com for hosting details or to be added to the email list.