I check in at the office, sign my name, put on my volunteer badge and then go to the barn.
More intense aromatherapy greets me, I hear nickers from the horses and Jewel the barn cat comes running for a belly scratch and petting.
I usually walk through to see who is in the stalls. I greet Sargent, a huge draft horse cross, his huge head nods up and down as I whisper hello and talk to him a bit.
Next I scout out to see if the Fjords, a solid stocky breed, are in from the paddocks. I notice that T Ball and Lightning, brothers, are side by side and "talking" to one another.
I continue to check to see if Chico and Lincoln are inside yet.
I check with the barn manager and if needed go out to the paddocks to bring the needed therapy horses into the barn. I am not yet experienced to be alone in the fields with the horses, so someone with more experience goes with me to show me the ropes.
I am a novice here. A new student, absorbing all the knowledge I can, trying to memorize the faces and personalities of each horse. There is much to learn: the difference between a halter and bridle, an ulti pad versus a medical pelt. New words enter my vocabulary: surcingle, rainbow reins, bevel pads, chestnuts, withers, girth, channels, lunge lines, long lines~ I take it in hoping to someday not have to ask so many questions.
I am guided by life long horse people whom I am sure secretly smile at the excitement of a middle age woman's joy at learning to "pick hooves". I ask lots of questions, they answer patiently. Some days I am sure they would prefer someone more experienced, but they seem to realize I am learning and dedicated so I sense them relaxing and giving me more responsibility.
Of all the horses, my favorite is Lincoln. He is smaller than the Fjords, a quarter horse cross. I call him my "mud bug". He comes in quite messy from the paddocks. The client who rides him for hippotherapy is allergic to everything, so Lincoln must be thoroughly brushed before his tack is put on and even then, he is covered in a sheet, pinned on around his neck and withers.
He is patient with me, really all the horses are. They are highly trained to be patient as they work with disabled and handicapped children and adults. But in the grooming bays, their personalities peek through. Wanda likes to nip, Chico likes to nibble at sleeves, Lincoln yawns, relaxing under the curry comb and stiff brush.
It is peaceful in the barn, no music blares, no sounds of traffic, just the twittering of birds, the barn cats occasional mewing, the nickering of horses and the distant sounds of a child's delight from the arena.
I curry and brush, pick the hooves, leaning into the massive warmth of the horse as they raise their foot. I hold it on my leg and clean around their frog, getting the muck and mud out. I lower their foot, give them a pat and move on to the next chore.