Saturday, July 26, 2014

Lincoln 600

When I arrive at the barn, I head for Lincoln's stall. He raises his head from the flake of hay in the corner, sees me and bobs in greeting. I spend a few minutes whispering to him, calling him "Mr. Handsome" before I head off to check the list and prep for the afternoon lessons.

After a few other horses have been groomed and tacked, walked to the arena for their waiting child, brought back, cooled down and led to the fields, it is Lincoln's turn.

I go into his stall, hook the lead rope onto his halter and lead him to the grooming bay. I secure him and begin to brush him down. His coat is sleek and shiny, a dark bay with a black mane and tail. As I curry and comb I talk to him softly. I brush his mane and he turns his face to me. We are on eye level with one another, his huge eyes staring into mine. I gently scratch his ear and sneak a kiss. I lean into him, smelling the aroma of warm horse and hay. I get the tack on, preparing to tighten the girth. Lincoln is a "girthy" horse, meaning he hates when the girth is tightened. I have been warned to watch out for him as he has been known to nip when his girth is tightened. I pull the leather straps slowly and evenly, watching his head out of the corner of my eye. He swings his head around and I begin to murmur, "It's OK, Mr. Handsome, Good man, what a good horse..." and he turns away, never even attempting to nip me.

I finish tacking him and take him to the leader who walks him into the ring. I stand at the wall watching while they warm him up. His stride is beautiful, fluid, graceful, he is easy today, not spooking or distracted. Lincoln is patient as the child is helped up onto his back. I leave so as not to distract the little girl who is giggling and happy to be on "her pony".

At the end of the lesson I go to help untack him. I am informed that Lincoln is going to get a bath by his little girl. I lead him to the wash bay. I am asked to hold him by his lead rope and halter so the little girl and her physical therapist can bathe him. Lincoln tries to walk out of the bay, without thinking I press my shoulder into his chest and back him up. He rests his chin across my shoulder, his head against mine. I stand there, interlocked as the little girl squeals in excitement, as the PT and OT get the bucket ready with sudsy water. I ease away from Lincoln holding onto his halter with one hand. He raises his head in alarm as a spray of cold water lands on his back accompanied by a high pitched squeal from the little girl.
I reach up and rub his cheek and he looks at me, those huge eyes again boring into mine. "Steady boy, good man" I say.

The little girl nearly topples into the bucket in her eagerness to sponge off Lincoln's legs. Her PT grabs her tighter as she struggles to take the few steps closer to Lincoln's side. As she and PT began to scrub him Lincoln bobs his head, when they hit an itchy spot he suddenly begins to rub his nose on my shoulder. He head butts me like a cat and rubs his face against me as I lock myself into a stance so he can't push me over. It is the first time he has made physical contact with me to this degree. He continues to nuzzle me, his nose both silky soft and prickly with a few coarse whiskers. I find myself looking into his eye again. Today we seem to have reached a new level of trust and communication and I am again amazed by this animal.

After he is soaped and rinsed and dried off a bit, we put his fly mask on and I am told to take him to the pasture. We walk out together, his tiredness fading as he realizes we are heading out of the barn and the workday is done.

We walk along the paved pathway to the field, his hooves clip clopping steadily, a rhythmic beat that lifts my own tiredness. Before we go through the gate, I allow him get a few bites of clover by the fence. I open the gate and lead him in; turning I close the gate and take off his halter and lead. He stands for a minute, his eyes hidden behind the fly mask, but I sense he is looking at me.

"Thank you" I say. "Thank you, Lincoln". He bobs his head, and turns to amble in search of more clover.

I lean against the gate for a brief time, watching him, his coat gleaming, his neck arching to graze and realize, once again without my knowing, another being has worked its way into my heart... and I am so grateful.

Thank you, Lincoln for trusting me, for not biting me, for letting me into your world. Thank you from the depth of my soul, thank you for healing me in ways I didn't know I needed. Thank you, Mr. Handsome.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Loving the horses

I was at the barn for the first time in over 6 weeks.
I had missed the smells, the sounds, the sights of the horses.

It was hot and muggy, the air stirred by huge fans in the aisle of the barn.

I greet the familiar horses, feeling the connection flow between us. Looking into those huge dark eyes, seeing a sentient being who can communicate without words is always breathtaking.

I lead out Lightning, a feisty Fjord who was feeling very "lippy". He is a large draft breed, a pale dun color whose hooves still have glitter on them from a recent fund raiser. He is mischievous in the grooming/tack bay. I find him peeking at me as I curry him. He tries to sneak a nip at my sleeve while I am combing his forelock. I stop him with a sharp "NO!". I cannot bring myself to swat him as I see others do. I rely on my vocal tone and stare to make him behave. I swear he winks as he lowers his lips.
He is led out to the arena to work with a client and I hear childish squeals as he enters...

Next up is Lincoln, my favorite and a "mud bug". He likes to roll in the dust and comes into the barn at a good clip, ready to be out of the sun and away from the biting flies. He wears anklets filled with bug repellent and twists himself into a funny stance to nibble at his itchy legs. I am  the lone human with him in the barn, so I can sneak a kiss on his soft nose while no one is watching. I talk to him the entire time I comb and curry. I call him "Mr. Handsome" and feel him relax beneath my hands. He yawns and sticks his long pink tongue out, shifts his stance and leans into me as I brush his back with long firm strokes.

After he works with the client, he comes back and is untacked. I "hot sponge" him, meaning I wipe him down with cool water and a large sponge to cool him down before he goes out into the pasture. The heat rises off him, the rich horsey smell fills my nostrils and again he leans into me. He is my favorite. I cannot pinpoint what makes him different and special to me, other than he is who he is.

In between horses, I muck stalls and put them up for the night. I surprise myself at how improved I am at scooping large piles of manure and getting them into the muck bucket. I remember how to push the shavings back and look with pleasure on how even I get the rows against the stall walls. I take the muck out to the large dumpster where clouds of gnats and flies rise as I stride up the ramp. I lift the bucket and dump the contents, remember to keep my mouth closed and to squint to avoid the pesky black flying dots.

I feel my body move and stretch and my muscles work to lift and carry and shovel. It is at this moment I finally find a reason to motivate myself to get into shape and hit the gym. I want to do it for the horses. I want to be able to help them and keep working with them for a long time. I want to keep feeling this strength I am feeling. I want to get better at mucking stalls, grooming horses, carrying water and guiding a ton of warm horse flesh into a small confined space. I want to sweat because I am in the sun with Lincoln. I want to laugh at Lightning and be able to pick his hooves.

I want to keep loving the horses because they are helping me find my heart again...


I just read a blog about grief:

And it hit home.

There is no timetable for grief. I always thought there was an end, at some point, that I would accept the loss and be done with it. Yet, I have found it does not end. It slips away at times, only to reappear at odd moments.

Grief is in the sudden burst of memory when finding an object that reminds me of a lost loved one. It is in the single tear running down my cheek to fall upon a photograph of my parents. Grief surfaces when I touch a letter written by my father to my mother on paper so old it has turned golden with age.

Grief is a quick pinch of the heart; a flash of joy that bubbles into laughter at the remembrance of a funny story. Grief is both sweet and bitter, love that hurts and soothes.

I have learned not to fear the pain, but to sit with it, remembering the one that is gone.

Grief does not end, but then, neither does love.

Friday, July 11, 2014


Like a tongue poking at a sore tooth
I keep pricking myself
with memories.

My heart is a pincushion
of sorrow with
self inflicted wounds.

Why can't I let go?
Why do I torture myself
over a past that I cannot change?

Memory is both a blessing and a curse.