Oh my you guys, I have to tell you a story …
So last night, I heard this rig roll in super late. I jumped up and out to Andre’s paddock … you know, to guard him 🤣 … not completely kidding. I am kind of a control freak when we haul with horses… I ALWAYS camp right beside them. And I love it. Even with three human kids I am a bit lost with an empty horse trailer.
The paddock I had reserved for André was not right beside the camping spot, but an empty one was. So I asked if we could have it and the lady said, “Sure the guy just canceled on me, go for it”…. so when this guy rolled in, I couldn’t help but think he might be the one that canceled and what if he put his horses in André ‘s paddock – not even knowing he was in there! It was dark and a big paddock.
So, I made my presence known and immediately pointed to the paddocks he could have, doing my best not to give him a chance to notice that we had totally taken his. He looked to be in his 60s, maybe 70. Even after he crawled down from the truck his large frame stayed a bit rounded over. Kinda like he was still driving. His bald head caught the glow of the security light and streaks of silver were bound into a ponytail – on his chin. In contrast to the manicured facial hair, his clothes looked rather lived in. Not unlike mine to think of it. His voice surprised me though, it seemed to come out of some other person, a much smaller, less bearded one. And he had a Boston accent. I guess I thought all burly male truck drivers were throaty voiced and from the south. He was quite nice really, genuinely grateful for my pointers to the open paddocks. He had been driving a long while and was past ready to crash.
I went back to the shadowed corner in André ‘s paddock, my new giant friend eating his hay in my ear. I liked ponytail beard good enough, but I was still not leaving André until he was all done and gone to bed. One by one I heard each horse scrambling off the trailer. I had this wierd visual in my mind of the man as a fishing pole, each horse flailing around like freshly caught fish.
I was still nestled in the dark, but the alley between the paddocks was lit brightly and so I watched as he led each horse by. The first was a slightly thin, buckskin colt. A rope halter with a short drag line hung from his face. He was put in the paddock adjacent to us and André left me, and his hay, to walk over and stand close to the baby.
The next horse looked like a Mustang, solid bay, solid feet, sensitive inside. But I did not see a brand. She went in the paddock with the colt. Maybe this was the baby’s mom? They looked similar enough, but he did not nurse so I am not sure. Maybe he had been weaned earlier then put back with her? Don’t know.
Then the third one. A slick red sorrel, with muscles flexed tightly across his body. His metal shoes hitting the rocks – clip clop ping, clip clop ping PING. Spoked by his own footsteps, each ping sent a shiver. This one went in a separate paddock. Which made sense, I doubt he was owned by the same person as the others.
The next morning I awoke to see André had a new friend. The sorrel with the shiny shoes was loose and sharing André’s hay under the fence. His body quivered as I approached. It felt to be just who he was, like being inside of his own skin was a bit scary. And he could not quite figure out how to escape himself. But he did not run, he felt corded to André in some unexplainable way, grounded with him in that space.
I did not have a leadline on me, or feed, but the horse let me lead him, with just a loose finger on the halter – even as we left André. I felt proud of the little guy. It felt like he had grown a little. Not bigger or taller, but just a little closer to something inside of him. Something that he found so hard to touch in his everyday life, in his everyday skin. He had touched it now and he seemed to feel a bit less alone when I put him back in his one horse paddock. But I did make sure to snap the chain around the gate as I left.
We packed up pretty early. The dogs, André, the girls, Mike and finally, I hopped in. We were looking at the GPS to figure out where to go as ponytail beard walked around the front of our truck and said, ” Would you mind helping me for just a second?”
He was leading the little solid bay, the one that looked like a Mustang to me. And he needed help loading her. Oh my …
I totally had a flash of that time I was pawed in the face while trying to load that sensitive race colt. And I had known better even then, well over 20 years ago. Surely I knew better by now?
But somehow, as if by magic the man had handed me the lead and I was now following him to the back of his trailer. The bay gently in tow behind – me! I had the fleeting thought of just loading her in with André, she was small enough to fit.
But as we made the turn to the back of his six horse trailer and I saw the ramp all laid open I quickly began to back peddle, my mind finally catching up to what was playing out in my physical reality.
I said, “You know we really have to get going, maybe I should text the owner here and let her help.”
He did not seem to hear me, but he did reach out and take the lead line from me. In the same sweep, he picked up a stick that was laying on the trailer ramp. It looked like one of those switches that children used to have to pick out for their own demise. I imagine some still do. I picked my own switch once, only once, but I remember it.
I was 7 years old and had blatantly refused to say ‘thank you’ to my grandfather. It might not have been a switch worthy refusal, if we were talking about a Christmas sweater or something, but this was a Shetland pony.
My grandfather was totally that strong fishing pole that could reel any horse in, no matter how hard they flipped and fought. But his horses never fought him. They understood him. He would haul 20 horses in one giant box, with one little pony at the end, Cap. He always put the 50 gallon drum full of bridles behind Cap, to give the big horses something to lean on, instead of squishing the pony.
On this summer day my grandfather had walked for hours in the horse pasture to find Cap for me. His pasture was so big that sometimes you could not even find them. It was hot, it was muddy, it was thick with humidity and my granddad was not into excercise. He only walked where he needed to go and that day where he needed to go to get this pony was way farther than he had wanted to walk.
It wouldn’t be long before I would be sent out on my own to find the pony, but at the time our relationship was brand new. I loved him already and I loved my grandfather too, but I was also a bit scared of him, or intimidated at the least. Not the pony.
So, when my mom asked me to thank him for going way down in the field and the muck and the briars to bring up Cap for me. Well my tongue went numb. I knew it was a big deal. I mean he had bought this pony for me and bought a saddle and a bridle and even caught him for me and showed me how to ride him and did all this just for me. All so I could have this pony. And it was the ultimate gift, to this day that pony, Cap, is the one place I can always go to find myself. To remember, when I start to forget.
But even then, perhaps especially then, in that space of being what I would later hold on to remembering. Well it was one thing to be something, it was another to speak from that space. My grandfather had given me this gift that was beyond words, and I had no words to thank him for it, not because it was bigger than words or I could not find words strong enough, but rather … the gift was almost like an entirely different dimension altogether. I would slip easily into this other dimension with Cap many times throughout my childhood, but somehow to be in that and then attempt to speak two simple words directly to my grandfather. Well, I just could not get them out. It was like my mouth would not work.
My mom always took my side, always stood up for me, always understood, but this went a bit too far. She knew all to well just how far my grandfather had come, to allow this softness he always had on the inside to be so fully seen and felt on the outside as he went to such lengthy measures to provide his granddaughter with her very own Shetland pony. I mean, he had not even complained about having to walk through the heat and muck, up hill both ways to bring this pony to me. Surely I could have just said “Thank you”.
And no doubt she was right. Surely I should have.
So, when we made it out to the end of their drive, my mom stopped the car, pointed to a bush and told me to pick out my switch. I imagine she was familiar with this bush.
I was shocked, no way this was happening I thought. But I picked out my switch and handed it over. My mom tapped me so lightly that I do not remember even feeling it, but I do remember sitting back down in the car and telling her, “You’re not supposed to hit little girls”
Somehow the whole moment just melted into a puddle. I knew she felt bad, she had never spanked me. Neither did my dad. And I felt bad for being so defiant. I wanted to just tell her I felt too shy to say thank you, but I could not figure out how. And it seemed pretty ridiculous, to not have been able to say it. Such a simple thing. I wasn’t even sure why it was so hard. Or why I felt so intimidated by my granddad, I looked up to him so much.
I remembered seeing a picture of me as a little kid rolling around on the floor, right on top of his round belly. Both of us smiling – together. How had I done that I wondered to myself? I would be so afraid to do that now, to be so completely relaxed like that so close to him. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just say thank you?
Somehow though, even through my lack of words and the failed spanking and the awkwardness of it all, my granddad had understood and my mom did too.
And my “thank you” would echo out to them each and everytime I stood in the center of me, right in that place Cap showed me how to be. And perhaps the echo would even reflect back to me, when I learned to actually speak words from that place too.
And here I was. Really needing to speak it.
As the bald man extended out his arm, asking me to please take his switch, I quickly noted the ridiculousness of this situation. This thing was incredibly short, not even as long as a dressage whip. It looked about like the one I had plucked from that bush all those years ago. I mean if one was to actually make contact with a horse’s hind end you would totally be within kicking range. This went well beyond just wrong, this was also just so very much, not smart. I felt bad for the guy.
Still holding the switch out towards me, wiggling it a little now in hopes I would finally take it, he said “Just give her a quick whack a couple times and … “
I took a physical step back, cleanly aware of my entire family waiting for me in the truck. And the words just fell out, “I’m sorry, I can’t. I’m not comfortable with that.”, as I held the palms of my hands up like some robber attempting to prove my innocence, or at least show I had dropped my weapon.
The words had rolled out from some place beyond where I normally speak. There was no defending my reasons for saying no. Nothing in me wanted or needed to prove anything in that moment. And somehow, I was detached from my pity for the horse too. I knew she had to go with him, along with the colt with the drag line and the sorrel with the shiny shoes. It was just, what is.
And the words “I’m sorry” usually trigger a place of smallness inside, but this time they did not. I really was sorry. I really was sorry I was leaving. No longer playing this game. Knowing I would be leaving this old man and these three horses all on their own. I was sorry. But I did not feel small.
It was in this very sliver of time, still within the exhale of my very last word, that the most unexpected string of emotions and events happened all at once. So overlapping that I have no idea which came first.
For one, ponytail beard said nothing. No ruffled feathers. No emotion whatsoever about my decline to assist. … No ego bouncing back at all and oddly, I felt no ego too. I mean, I kind of liked the guy. He seemed soft on the inside, even a bit naive really. He had reached out to me with the stick in this odd, almost gentle way. But still, it was quite wierd to not feel ego about it, my heart was not even racing. My heart always races over confrontation with humans. What is this I thought?
And two, which was also one, as they seemed to flow together – the horse, she just … walked in! Just like magic. No hesitation. No go a little then rush back out. She just loaded her own self up. I smiled and waved and said “Safe travels” as I quickly walked away while I had the opportunity.
I heard a high pitched “Thanks for helping” come through the trailer window as I walked by. Totally genuine, no sarcasm in the least. I mean, the horse did get in.
But as soon as I got in, I said to Mike “Ok, let’s go. Like now. Let’s go and figure out directions later. I don’t want this guy to come ask for help loading the next two”
And we left.