Warm at Heart

I walked down the hill to the barn where my horses are found – on a clear winter’s morning with fresh snow on the ground…

Snowstorm 2014

Snowstorm 2014

One of my favorite winter memories is riding my horse in the snow when I was much, much younger and living in Michigan. Now I live in Georgia and the opportunities to ride in a winter wonderland are much rarer. Every once in a great while I get to relive that experience. Those rides never fail to transport me back to those magic times. This past week when the rest of the world stood still during a record breaking winter storm and 6″ snowfalls, my joy was whirling like those flurries as I not only watched- but lived it- from the back of my horse. The following is a poem I wrote about this very thing in my book “Knowing Horses By Heart” .

 A Ride in the Snow 
I walked down the hill to the barn where my horses are found
On a clear winter’s morning with fresh snow on the ground
I heard the soft nickers greeting me from the stalls
I saw the halters all hanging from the hooks on the walls
I made up a warm mash to chase off the chill
And stood listening to them eating as hungry horses will
I really had no intention of riding that day
Just doing my chores then going my way
I suddenly felt an old memory deep inside of me stir
Was it really so wonderful? I had to be sure
I walked over to the stall where my favorite mare stood
And right then and there decided I would
When she had finished her breakfast and her belly was full
I snapped on her lead rope and gently gave it a pull
I saddled her up and we headed on out
Feeling that it is times like this are what it’s about
Just me and my horse the world silent and white
Quietly trotting out to meet the day’s first light
She was tossing her head and wanting to go
Excited to be travelling on the year’s first snow
At first I was worried, afraid she would slip
But she told me in her way, she was up for the trip
So, I loosened the reins and away we did fly
I couldn’t have stopped her – I didn’t try
The snow was flying and the sky turning blue
When I realized this ride belonged to her too
I knew she was having even more fun than me
We both felt the thrill you feel being free
Her mane was blowing back as she kicked up heels
I knew she was remembering how a young filly feels
The reason I know what I’m saying is true
Is because I was feeling like young girl too
It had been a very long time, a good many years
Since I had turned it all loose, put away all my fears
I trusted her to carry me safely that day
To the place deep inside me where old memories lay
To a time I was young, carefree and bold
Before I turned 50, before she was sold
Back to a time when my very first horse and me
Ran alone in the snow with me laughing with glee
It all came back to me on that morning ride
Tears of a pure youthful joy I could no longer hide
I slowed my horse down and as we wandered along
The crunch of the snow played out like a song
There’s nothing else like it, no music so sweet
As the rhythm beat out by my mare’s four feet
Add to the mix my dog running happily astride
I felt the grin on my face stretching ever so wide
When it was over and I quietly walked at her side

I silently thanked her again for the wonderful ride

I gave her an apple for the new memory I’ll keep

I buried my face in her neck and breathed in deep

There is no better smell anywhere on this earth

There’s no way to explain just what it is worth

I turned her loose and away up the hill she did run

Glistening and golden in the mid-morning sun

It’s a magical thing, a treasure I know
To have such vivid memories of a ride in the snow

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Farewell to a Friend

There’s no need for more discussion – The final decision has been made. There is no more hoping and praying – There are no more barters or trade.

Today is the day that Jeff made his ultimate journey from this world into the next. I had been clinging to every shred of hope but couldn’t deny it any longer.  It was clearly time and I had to muster my strength and make the appointment.

Jeff in his better days

Jeff in his better days

We spent our morning as usual with Jeff along side of me as I did the morning chores. As the time drew near, I got ready and called him to go for a ride – one of his very favorite things. I felt like I was betraying him as he excitedly tried to jump in the car. My heart hurt as I saw him fall backwards, lacking the strength needed to push himself up. I gently picked him up and placed him on the seat where he sat next to me. I brought a Lunchable with me so we could share our last meal together on that sad ride. As we drove along, I reached over to pet his sweet head several times. Every time he felt my hand on him, he would raise up his head and press into my hand and look directly at me as though he too was trying to memorize my touch. The reality set in hard when I pulled into the parking lot and it was all I could do to lead him coaxingly to his death. As we waited in the office, he was nervous and tried to hide his face behind my legs. I selfishly begged him not to be scared because I could not bear it if I thought he was terrorized. As if he understood me, he suddenly settled and lay quietly at my feet, in essence calming me. Finally, the door opened and the vet searched my eyes to be sure I was ready for this. I nodded and they scooped him up and laid him on the table. I held his head and looked into his trusting eyes as he slipped away without protest. I thanked him for choosing me to be his human all those years ago. I asked his forgiveness and hoped he understood how much he was loved and that I would be looking for him. When I felt the life leave him, I kissed his face and closed his beautiful brown eyes for the last time. I brought him home to bury him here on the farm that he so dearly loved. This is where he belongs. On the ride home, I thanked God for giving us “Jeff’s” and every other creature that we can love so dearly. I am grateful that I get the connection between humans and animals and can experience the beauty of it so richly. As much as it hurt me to be the one to make the decision and follow through with it, I know I did the right thing. But even so, the loss is real and painful. I bear that pain proudly because without it, I wouldn’t be one of the lucky ones who knows the boundless joys of loving – and being loved -so completely.

Behind The Barn

When he comes near me and enters my space, I kiss on his forehead – He knows it ‘s his place.

Jeff has been with us for about 9 years now and I am sadly seeing our time together quickly coming to an end. Jeff is a breed known as a Red-tick healer and he is a character. So full of life. His place is on the golf cart where he rushes frantically to get on board if he hears the motor start up. Ironically, it is due to this object of his utter bliss that caused his demise. Several years ago, Jeff took a flying leap off the cart in pursuit of a squirrel and caught his hind leg in the armrest. He didn’t break anything, but the injury set a series of hip problems in motion which has progressed over the years to the point that he has lost almost all control of his hind legs. He is not in any pain, however his inability to maneuver is quite distressing and before too long, it will be unbearable.

I just got home from running an errand and Jeff was right beside me in the front seat of the car – his other passion. I have to lift him up to help him up into the car or he fall backwards. I had my hand on his lovely head as we passed the spot where I first saw Jeff and the memory came flooding back to me. We live just off a windy mountain road in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Along this road are several spots along a creek where you can pull off the road. Jeff was sitting patiently at one of those spots not too far from our road. For three days in a row, he sat and waited in the exact same spot, staring at every car that passed but never moved. After seeing him several days in a row, I told my husband that I kept seeing that dog. He seemed to be looking for someone and was very loyal. If I saw him again, I was bringing him home. It was just too sad. The next day when I passed his spot, he was gone. I was feeling both concern and relief as I knew he wouldn’t have left on his own. I put it out of my mind for the next couple of days. On a very cold November morning two days after last seeing him, I was leading my horses to the upper pasture when something caught my eye behind the old barn. As I approached I saw it was Jeff along with another, much older Red-bone Hound dog. They just sat perfectly still and watched me. That, in itself was a phenomenon as Jeff NEVER sits still. But there they were, not making  a sound or moving  a muscle. They were both very skinny and shivering. Of course, I got them some food and made them a bed in the straw. Neither dog ever left and it wasn’t long before Jeff and Leon were a part of our family.

Leon and Jeff at Barney's Birthday Party

Leon and Jeff at Barney’s Birthday Party

I don’t know how Jeff and Leon hooked up or how Leon convinced Jeff to leave his post. I don’t know how any one wouldn’t be looking for these two special dogs. I don’t know how they knew to come to my house. All I know is that we are grateful that they did. Our lives have been all the richer for it. Leon died a couple of years ago at the ripe old age of approximately 17 and I see Jeff going down that path shortly. It will be the end of an era.