Maybe it’s because I go to a place in my mind – Where the best things are kept – Things only I can find.
I will never forget the last time I saw my mother. It was Christmas week of 1995. I live in Georgia and she lived in my childhood home in Michigan. She had been failing with congestive heart failure and was very ill. We all knew this might be the last Christmas with her, so we made the trip even though I was very much under the weather myself. The closer we got to home, the sicker I became. The plan was for us to stay at my sister’s house during the visit but my mom would have no part of that. She insisted that I stay with her under the pretense that I wouldn’t get everyone else sick. I knew it was because she felt the need to do what she does best: be my mother and take care of me. Even though it should have been the other way around and I should have been nursing her, she rallied herself around to see to my every need and comfort. She died February 1st, 1996. I thought of that last visit with my mother this past week when my 6 year old gelding, Eddy-O suddenly became very ill with a displaced bowel. I remembered how soothing her touch was, how cared for I felt, how important I was to her. I knew he was scared and hurting and so the first thing I did was go get his mom, Dixie. I put them in a separate pen together for the next 4 days while we weathered the storm.
A mother’s watchful eye
True to form, Dixie did what good mother’s do – she stood watch over Eddy-O and comforted him. She never went more than 10 feet from his side and constantly murmured soft encouragement to him. Even though Eddy has been weaned off her for 5 1/2 years, they remain constant companions. They can eat out of the same feed dish or pile of hay and stay in the same stall. I was determined that if Eddy-O wasn’t going to make it, he was not going to spend his last days with strangers who didn’t know or love him. He was going to know he was loved to the very end. There would be no trailering to UGA, no days of observation in the hospital, no major surgery (recommended by vet), no weeks of recovery in a sling hooked up to IV’s. It was a hard decision to make, but all things considered, I knew what was best for him, even if it meant losing him. Dixie and I kept vigil, 24/7. I really believe that this outpouring of love and encouragement is what helped him pull through. And pull through he did, with flying colors – albeit with alot of effort (he hardest part was having to starve him for those days – the mom in me wants to nurture). I have never had children of my own but I learned my lessons from two of the greatest mother’s that ever walked this planet. I learned that when you love something or someone, you will do whatever it takes and always put them first. They will always be your baby, no matter how old. Many, many thanks and much love to mom’s – mine and Eddy-O’s. Once a mom – always a mother.
Or maybe it’s because dreams get buried in sleep – They only can reach me when I breathe her scent deep.
I spend the majority of my horse-time with my youngster. He is 5 now and we have so far to go yet. I love him dearly and wouldn’t trade him for the world. However, when I really need an understanding ear and a sympathetic heart, it is my mare, Guilty, that I turn to. I realized that more than ever last week when I had to put a beloved dog down. As soon as I got back home, I just had to get to Guilty. I wanted to bury my face in her neck and take in that intoxicating smell that only she has. Guilty has the best horse smell of any horse I have ever had the pleasure of smelling. Guilty is my 23 year old smoky dappled buckskin quarter horse that I couldn’t get a nickle for but wouldn’t trade for a million bucks. She is just that kind of horse. Over the years, in my darkest hours, it has been her shoulder I have wept into and her back that carried me to a place of tranquil peacefulness.
My Go-To Girl
As I look back, I remember her soothing more than one broken heart over the loss of a loved one – two or four legged. I counted on her to support me as I took my first tentative steps without crutches while leading her with one hand on her shoulder. She broke up my boredom and gave me joy while I brushed her while recuperating from a broken ankle. Guilty was the only horse I trusted wholeheartedly to take that first “back in he saddle” ride to rebuild my confidence. Once again, last week she proved to me what a great friend she is. With tears streaming down my face from saying goodbye to “Jeff”, I saddled my trusty steed and let her carry me into that secret private world only we share. The day was a perfectly beautiful crisp and clear autumn day. The sky was azure blue with just a few white fluffy clouds. As we rode in silence along the path by the lake, I felt the sun on my face and the breeze in my hair. I focused on her steady stride, filled with purpose and solid, beneath me. The rhythm gave me strength and with every step I felt the pain of my loss easing as I became of the natural order of things- one footfall after another. Yes, I will still miss my dog. That won’t change. What has changed is the utter dismay I felt. I am not alone. I have my friends to help me through my valleys in life. Life goes on – with or without us – one day at a time. Or should I say; one hoofbeat after another.
The problem lies in the fact that he doesn’t seem to need me at all. He doesn’t seek my attention and is content left alone in his stall.
Breeze and I never connected. A fact that is very uncommon with my animals. I have always been a magnet of sorts for animals and my horses are no exception. I never understood it at the time and even grew to resent him somewhat for his lack of interest in me. Breeze was by far the best horse I have ever owned as far as looks, kindness, work ethic, ability etc. Everyone who met him always oohed and awwed over him. He was everybody’s favorite. A very distinguished looking and fabulous horse who always performed beautifully – but he didn’t like me. He never did anything bad, he just didn’t care if I was around or not.
A Lonely Breeze
I had a friend who fell in love with him the first time she saw him. I ended up selling him to her and she kept him here and boarded with me for awhile so we could ride together. The change was unbelievable. All she had to do was call his name and he literally ran to get to her. He adored her in a way that I never thought he was capable of. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t witnessed it over and over again with my own eyes. He lived for her visits. So what did she have that I didn’t? I have pondered this many times over the past few years and can’t deny it any longer. I gave him no reason to give me his affection and his heart. I didn’t give him mine – it is as simple as that. From the moment he was given to me as a birthday gift, I had my mind and my sights on another horse. When I bought his tack, I bought it with the other horse in mind. I was forbidden to get the horse I wanted and he was chosen for me even though I protested. Although Breeze was a far superior horse in every obvious way, he was not the one I had my heart set on and he knew it from the start. To top it off, for the first couple of months I had him, every single time I saddled him up for a ride, before I could get on him, I would get a phone call telling me my father had taken a turn for the worst and may not make it through the day. It happened so consistently that I got afraid to even think about riding him. I made the association of bad news with him. It wasn’t his fault- none of it was- and it wasn’t fair to him, so he just tuned me out. I deserved it. I knew he needed more than I could give him, which was the only reason I sold him to someone who adored him. Everybody thought I was crazy to do so because he was such a great horse – a really wonderful horse. But I knew I had to – for his sake. Do I regret it? Yes, sometimes I do. I understand it all now and know what to do that could have changed things between us. On the other hand, I wasn’t ready for him. Things come full circle and this week he is coming back to board with me again. He has his special person and now it will be my turn to be the one on the outside looking in.
But if you think you’ll convince me to be changing my ways – You’ve got another think coming because I know what pays
We were standing looking out over the pasture at my horses and discussing my mare, Guilty. She had come a long way since I found her and made her my horse against everyone’s advice. She had been a pasture ornament for the prior 6 years and was quite a project for me to take on. She was overweight, her feet were in bad shape from lack of regular trimming and her attitude was off the charts – Stubborn, smart and pushy. not to mention the fact that she hadn’t been ridden in years. Still, I liked her – a lot – and I was determined that we could work all this out. So, I was talking with my stepdaughter, who was my biggest adversary when I decided to buy this horse. She was on the show circuit and had another big handsome “turn-key” horse selected for me. Something “more suitable” and was upset that I had my own ideas about it. I was proudly telling her about the progress we were making when she made the following comment: “It was that horse’s lucky day when you found her”. My surprised heart soared with what I thought was a compliment on my horsemanship skills. The moment was short-lived when she finished her statement with: “Anyone else would have gotten rid of her a long time ago”. I will never forget how that comment made me feel. Sure, Guilty is not show horse quality, but she is a registered gorgeous dappled smoky buckskin quarterhorse with more personality and kindness than any other horse I have ever met. At first, my high took a nose-dive and my ego crashed and burned with disappointment. I was hurt and humiliated that she gave my opinion no value whatsoever and turned up her nose at my beloved horse. Then, over the course of the next few months, whenever that conversation came to mind, I started to get angry. Guilty wasn’t perfect then and certainly isn’t now but she reminds me a lot of myself. She is the safest horse I own. I do not hesitate to put my 2 year old grandson on her bareback and lead her around. I have put an 82 year old grandfather on her who had just had a hip replacement and literally took almost a full minute to pull himself up into the saddle and get situated. Guilty stood perfectly still while he struggled. She is the one that I get for small children or frightened adult riders. She is the best teacher for beginners because she demands respect and courtesy before she will comply. Guilty was the patient mount I rode to pony my young colt. When I shattered my ankle (an injury I endured while riding that same step daughter’s high dollar prize show horse, by the way), my first steps without my crutches were leading Guilty because I knew that if I stumbled she would bear my weight calmly and not panic if I fell. My first ride after that life-altering injury was on her back while I was still in my cast. She was the only one I trusted in my most vulnerable condition. It was Guilty who rebuilt my confidence.
I trust Guilty
It is Guilty’s eye on the front of the cover of Knowing Horses by Heart The heart in her pupil is real and not photo shopped. She has the most incredible smell.
Now, when I think about that comment, I can smile. Yes, maybe it was her lucky day when I found her, but really, who is the lucky one?
Years have gone by now and held so many wondrous ways – Hardly a day has gone by that he has not been in my sight. He is one of life’s greatest gifts and brightens my days, but nothing compares to how I felt on that magical night.
It was 6 days before my mare’s due date when I got the call. My father was dying and would not make it through the day. I had to leave and head home to Michigan immediately. All my careful preparations to make sure it was a safe delivery were no longer the issue. I still had to scrub the birthing stall and put down fresh straw. I had collected an arsenal of items that I may need in the event that something went wrong at the last minute. I had rubber gloves that went to my armpits. I was “going in” if that is what it took. I had waited for over 35 years for this opportunity and now it looked like I was going to miss it. I was so torn with emotions. My only remaining parent that I adored was leaving this world. I was devastated and heartbroken. At the same time, I was worried sick about leaving at this crucial time. I was also disappointed that I might miss this event that I had planned on and imagined over and over. Why did two major life changing events have to be happening to me at the same time and pulling me in two entirely different directions? I made a call to my best friend who was my accomplice in researching and preparing for the birth of the foal and gave her the news that I was leaving town and it was up to her now. I could hear the panic in her voice as she assured me that she would handle it if it came down to it and not to worry. Like that was possible. But, I had no choice in the matter and trusted her almost as much as myself. The next few days were spent making whispered phone calls to check on Dixie’s progress in between making my father’s funeral service plans and greeting fiends and family members. Those stolen minutes completely took me out of the grief that I was immersed in and injected excitement and nervous laughter as my friend gave me minute-by-minute updates. My prayers that my mare would wait for me to get back to give birth were only eclipsed by my friend’s – who was terrified that it would happen on her watch while I was 700 miles away. As it turned out – I did make it home in time, just barely. I arrived late on a Monday evening and she went into labor on Tuesday and had my colt in the early morning hours on Wednesday. Ironically, I was there but I still missed the actual birth. I fell asleep and when I woke up and checked on her, there was my new colt.
Just 2 hours old.
Everything went perfectly without me, which is a good thing. I felt somewhat guilty that I was feeling such joy and wonderment at a time when my father’s death was still so fresh but then I realized what a gift it was and that my father wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. My package was delivered exactly one week after my father died and one week before his birthday. My father’s name was Edward but his children called him “Poppo” and he lived in a small town called Owosso – hence, my foal’s name “Eddy-O”. It couldn’t have been anything else. One of my life’s greatest joys followed on the heels of one of my greatest sorrows and somehow it made perfect sense.
For when I am around horses, I have to say –
My troubles all vanish and the world goes away.
Tuffy came into this world fighting an uphill battle. He was the tiniest kitten born to my cat out in the barn and struggled valiantly. When it became obvious that he needed some help, I brought him into the house and bottle fed him. My white lab, Molly, helped me nurse the little guy along and for awhile we made good progress. Then one day, for no apparent reason something went terribly wrong.
Tuffy was in his basket where I had left him but he was having trouble walking. It was like his back end was disconnected from his front end. I wrapped him in a towel and took him to the vet. It seemed that his back had gotten broken and I had to make one of those terribly tough decisions. I said my goodbyes to little Tuffy. He had fought so hard and it broke my heart to watch them take him away knowing his short life was over before it even got started.
I instinctively knew that they were the key
to making me whole and getting on course.
Feeling better all the time.
I knew something was terribly wrong with me when I started avoiding the barn. I just wasn’t feeling well and even though I still did the daily chores, that was all I did. All I could think about was getting them done and going back to the house. I had no interest in riding my horses, grooming them, hanging out with the other boarders while they visited their horses or doing anything extra at all. Red flags were popping up everyday. Usually, if I wasn’t at the barn with my horses, I was reading books about them, watching DVDs on horse handling or planning an activity to share with my barn kids. This was not like me.
I live for my time at the barn and especially for time with my horses. That has been my refuge, my haven, my therapist office and where I find my most inner joy and my greatest challenges. Suddenly, nothing. The chores became just that – chores. I started wondering if it was time to give it all up and sell the farm and find homes for my horses and a couple of the dogs too. They became just another job for me to do that was draining all my energy. I felt like I couldn’t keep up anymore and didn’t want to.
I questioned whether my sudden lack of interest was because I had dreamed of having all this for my entire life and now that I did, was it time to find something new to spark a new direction? Was it because I was getting older and just didn’t want to work that hard any more? Was it because I felt like I was letting myself go and not keeping up a glamorous image of always being meticulously dressed with newly done nails and hair like so many other women my age? Was it because of the constant arguments I had with my husband about what a waste of time and money it was to keep horses like I did? Or was it my old nemesis – jumping around from thing to thing just because I like to experience everything to be sure I am not missing something. After all, we all want what we don’t have and the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence – no matter which side you are on.
Turns out, it wasn’t any of the above. The answer became clear after several weeks after a couple of rounds of antibiotics and recovery from what turned out to be pneumonia. I can honestly say that I am “back in the saddle again” and happy to be there. I woke up one morning, feeling better and my first thoughts were to get to the barn and make up for lost time. I did not have the strength for the first few visits to saddle a horse but I wanted to. That was the key point. I knew right then and there that that pull would get me back on track and I was going to be just fine. I was where I needed to be.