"You have horses? Oh, how fun." I hear that comment often when talking to non-horse people.
Yes, the world is divided into two kinds of folks: horse people and non.
With the first kind, they understand the happiness of silently watching peaceful horses while gripping a water bottle or a beer. They understand this will be done after a long day working to support normal living expenses plus horse costs, and after a long drive because horses don't usually live in the city or the burbs. This quiet moment will be after you arrive home, tired and with an already-constructed To Do list in your brain- because you'll have dinner to fix, always more housework to do (horses are dirty and so are their people), and barn chores to complete. You'll unload the car, change into washed-out barn clothes, and debate mud boots.
Instead of pouring a glass of wine, you'll gather up dogs, cats, and babies and head outside. Into the heat and dust and toward the work that awaits. You'll walk past the yard that needs mowing to the barn that needs sweeping. You'll automatically search for the horses in the pasture, making sure they're all upright and quietly content.
An hour or two later, after your dinner and theirs, your family may steal a few minutes for that water or beer overlooking the pasture while the baby plays under your feet. You are, without exception, dirty. Grubby. Sweaty, with hair sticking to necks and dampness in the small of the back. But everyone is here that's supposed to be. They are all fed, or quietly munching, giggling or swishing tails or chasing sticks. It makes for a good night.
Eventually, already past the baby's bedtime, she will be gathered up and you will go inside, and as you go you will turn off the spigot that's been refilling the water trough.
Horse people know this routine. They also know how it tugs and pulls to have that routine diverged by changes in the herd. We have undergone some changes here lately. Some have been good, some not.
We sold Goldie. She needed a job, needed a sweet family to love her, and needed to move on to her next stop in life. As much as we enjoyed her sweet personality, we had never intended to keep her as a "forever" home, and it was time to try to help her find that place. She now belongs to a family who needed a kind horse to bond with their teenage daughter and provide her companionship. We are thrilled with the match, and took great care to educate them and set them all down the path toward success. We wish them, and Goldie, happy years together.
There was another change, this one very hard. Last summer, I spent a lot of time thinking, praying, and even writing "Come on, Junior. You can do it." Our beautiful colt fought through a colic until we felt we had no choice but to throw financial sense to the wind and have surgery done. He recovered, came home, and has been on our minds lately as also needing a new home. We hoped to sell him, and that he would go on to have a successful show career where his insanely good looks and bold personality would doubtlessly earn him not only many ribbons but also a quality, caring home.
When he came home last summer after his colic surgery, we were relieved, and cautiously happy, and maybe a little triumphant. I thought he had done it, thought he proved he could overcome a life threatening illness. It turned out he couldn't.
Saturday night he suddenly fell ill with another colic. Until Monday he battled the exact. same. colic. as last time, attended at the same hospital. When his illness didn't resolve relatively quickly, it became clear that this was not going away. He wasn't a candidate for a second surgery, so we made the difficult decision to let him go. Cabbage went to the hospital to make arrangements and say goodbye. Junior was buried and we will soon receive a small box with a lock of his hair.
We feel confident in our decision, and after all our time, and expert management, expensive surgery and painstaking care... we know that this must have been caused by something wrong inside of him. He wasn't fixable, even though we tried and the vets tried. I still believe in good outcomes from colic surgery (after all, look at Sam). It just wasn't Junior's destiny, and we are sad. It is sad to watch a flower die on the vine.
So now both Cabbage and I feel a little tender when we look toward the pasture. It's strange to see just Sam and Cedar, and even stranger to grab just two buckets of feed and balance smaller piles of alfalfa on my arm. I try not to think about Junior's long forelock or his tornado-shaped strip. I push back the memories of the others lost for different reasons, and I remember to turn off the spigot when it's done refilling the trough. I drink a bottle of water, looking at our two horses, and watch them quietly munching their dinner. I'm grateful they are here, and healthy, and content. I'm happy my baby can plant kisses on Sam.
I'm lucky to have her here, with her constant "Up, Mama" requests which keep me from sinking into melancholy.
I love the distraction of having her help feed and carry buckets...
And I relish the chuckle I find in revealing a stash of stale crackers Cabbage has put aside as treats for Tabor.
In thinking about everything that's happened here over the past week or so, I find that I don't want to talk about it to anyone, but especially to those without horses. My reluctance is that those well-meaning people in my life just can't relate. They may not be able to close the gap in relating to the daily lifestyle choices, in the time constraints of feedings and chores, and especially in internalizing the unbelievable frustration of having a combined sixty-five years of horse experience and still burying four horses in five years.
I still choose this lifestyle, with its long stretches of quiet, its satisfying and fulfilling moments, its spikes of joy, and its sometimes broken hearts. I choose to be grateful for these two remaining horses, and to spend the few quiet moments afforded in my busy day overlooking the peace of a pasture bathed in long swathes of light.