Tales from the Barn Boards ~ The Year of the Garden

Sometime in January, the thought came that this is the year of the garden. On any day, there is no more tranquil place than the backyard. The view out the kitchen is into a deep emerald glade. A trio of maple trees planted on the left side create a natural boundary cooling the space and giving a home to wildlife. After six years of care with natural enrichers, many herbs and grasses have emerged giving variety to the landscape. The russian olive tree sprawls in the sunny corner. The Rose of Sharon are mature enough to bloom. Low bush blueberries loved their winter mulch of pine needles but stalled at the lack of rains. The concord grape-vine way in the back has grown wild cascading up and over everything. A statue of St. Francis gazes out feeling the touch of chickadees at the feeder. There is everything to do back there or nothing at all.

Equine Rescue

Polly and colt at Huckins Farm Chepachet RI 1983
Polly and colt at Huckins Farm Chepachet RI 1983

It was a small advertisement for an equine rescue that caught my eye. In town? There is a rescue right here? Up until my late twenties, I made a comfortable living working with horses. Occasionally, an opportunity to be around horses came by but nothing quite worked out. A full-time job, continuing education, a house and ordinary life did not allow for horses. I thought those days are over. The text came that yes, a volunteer is sought for Sundays. Only a few weeks before, I had finally decided to join a local congregation and signed on as a member after sporadic involvement for ten years. The expectation is attendance routinely at Sunday services and participation as a member in some committee.  It bothered me a bit, but this could be the last chance in this lifetime to be with horses again.  The stable is only a ten-minute drive from home. Finally, something I cherish, something that was put aside is renewed. If there is anything in this lifetime I truly worship, it is horses.

After six months of steady volunteering, the skills, strength and stamina to be a caretaker have returned. Horses are large animals with minds of their own. As much as I felt tingles of excitement at the opportunity to be in their presence again, I had concerns about mistakes, accidents or something happening that would take this away from me. I expanded to Wednesday late afternoons at the barn too and started taking riding lessons. The month of June was a trial by discomfort as overexertion caused a lumbar strain that made life difficult. I had trouble putting on my own socks in the morning never mind hauling water buckets. It hurt but I remembered it does take time to get back in condition. The weather turned mild and swimming at the town beach along with physical therapy eventually eased the pain. When it comes to horses, I am no quitter. I kept going every Sunday to do chores.

There really is something magical about horses. The best moment at the stable is turning Geo and the larger horses out in the large field. The gentle hillside crests away from the field gate, so often we cannot quite see them anymore but we hear the thunder of hooves as they fly over the fields. Often they swing back and canter up the crest tossing manes and tails in complete freedom. Wow! Even our shy Whisper gives a swish and flash in the herd, Laissez Aller! Let’s all go!

Above the joy of horses, the lingering thought that if not for the rescue all would be dead tempers reality. An equine rescue can be the last chance for ponies, donkeys and horses. For many reasons, horses can end up for sale in an auction house. There are several throughout the United States where the buyer is only interested in pounds on the hoof. Clearly, this animal is on the way to Canada or Mexico to be slaughtered. Horse meat is sold in Canada and Europe for human consumption. There is a network of equine advocates who collaborate through the internet to “save” horses. Several of the horses in the barn were purchased from these auctions and transported to the rescue. Some of them were surrendered by the owners, mostly because of financial costs. Horses need space and a lot of food to keep going. Horses take a commitment of time and resources by people. Sometimes, things do not turn out as planned in life.

The ponies, donkey and horses have different health concerns. A few are simply retired but most struggle in some way. Mamma cannot forget her disappointment and is terribly shy of people. Greta has a pulled tendon that is slow to heal. She is a classic Morgan and the queen of the herd. Several have been adopted to new homes and take with them a new chance to belong somewhere. The donkey is recovering from white line hoof disease and shows so much character. Even he breaks into a frisky canter when the herd moves around the fields. What a delight to hear him hee-haw at the gate. How much he makes sure we never forget him. How fierce he can be when protecting his friends. How much fun he is to groom and pamper.

Riding Over 50

My age is somewhere beyond 50 now. When I was a teenager, the majority of people involved with horses were women. This has not changed. The volunteers are mostly older women. The median age might well be 55. The stories are similar, they saw a chance to work with horses based on memories of riding or owing horses when young and decided to get involved. My eyes have been opened to limitations based on beliefs that middle age meant being less able physically to do things. Every volunteer does what she can despite physical or time limitations.

Competing at Camp Marshall Spencer MA circa 1970s
Competing at Camp Marshall Spencer MA circa 1970s

Once I got into the routine of going to the barn, the itch came to get on a horse again. After searching for a place to take lessons, I discovered White Spruce Farms in the next town and about an eight-minute drive from the stable. Susan has an active boarding/lesson barn dedicated to dressage and catering to adults. It has taken a while to say that the old skill of riding is returning. The lumbar strain caused a delay in lessons while I healed muscles. Despite years of hatha yoga practice, a regular stretching program and being a great walker and swimmer, I was not fit to ride anymore. It takes a lot of different muscles and flexibility to go with the horses’ movement. A rider needs to have a lot of spring and give in the joints, mine are half worn out. The physical therapy exercises given to ease the back pain also helped in building abdominal muscles vital to a pleasant ride.

Despite a hot relentlessly dry summer, time constraints, and limits on resources, I manage to keep going. My goal is to get back in the swing of riding and have fun. When I was riding as part of my workday, I had competent equestrian skills. Of course, I had daydreams of becoming an Olympian and riding Grand Prix dressage tests someday. Realistically, it’s all about feeling the lovely movement of a horse once again. I love grooming, tacking up and going out for a ride. When it’s over it’s over too soon and I want to go again.

I get tired. I find bruises on me at the end of the day. I get big lumpy bug bites often. Yet, I cannot say no more. It wasn’t a hobby early in life and it’s not know. Horses get to something in my spirit. I liked working with horses as it meant being outdoors. Much of the work is in a barn and while they are a shelter from the elements, you work no matter the weather conditions. The chores take all morning to do. There is less an interest in time around horses; things get done. There are also a lot fewer people.

The Garden Waits

The garden doesn’t care if I am there or not. It is a haven at the end of the day. The cool green is healing and welcoming. Summer evenings are spent tending here and there. It has struggled through a long dry spell and waits for quenching rains. I did plant a tomato vine, grew basil and tend the strawberry patch. The winter took my grandiflora hydrangea unfortunately. The tall shrub suffered from several wicked winters. It was gradually diminishing in growth and turning spindly. This spring, it did not leaf out at all. I had to take it down and it has left a whole in the side yard. The winter birds will be confused. This is where the feeders and suet cakes are hung. I am undecided about putting in a new shrub or letting things be as they are.

Six years old. My first pony ride.
Six years old. My first pony ride.

I never thought in my life I would be back surrounded by horses. I hear myself say this at times to others as if still amazed at what’s happening. I am where I am and going with whatever comes. I didn’t buy my house until I was 50. I learned to manage all that comes with one and be happy about it. We’ve stood up through snow storms, heat waves, tranquil mornings and bright beaming moonlight. I didn’t travel to Europe until last year and had the time of my life in Sicily. Once I get myself sorted out and past a fear of the unknown, I do just fine. Dare I even consider adopting one of the horses for myself. I am saving up to return to Italy next year. I wanted to travel down to NYC and see an opera at the Met. The shed needs repairs. I haven’t taken a day off to sit by the sea-side all year. All to do. Some kind of karma is being worked out, maybe I need to get out the way and let things simply happen.

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