The Horse in Me
“So, Jess, I was just wondering . . . why are you so into horses? I mean, your parents know nothing about them, your brothers pretty much ignore them, and no one in your family has ever owned a horse before.” A typical question. The same answer. My best friend.
When I was five years old, my best friend was a neighbor who lived across the street. He was twice as tall as I, had hair as long as mine, and had the biggest nose I’ve ever seen. Joe was an old, dark bay gelding. For twelve years, I visited Joe and his owner, Bob, almost every other day.
“What’s this, Bob?” I asked, picking up what looked like a piece of corkboard. He chuckled, looked at my father, whispered something in his ear, and they began to laugh hysterically. “What?” I asked, wondering why I was being laughed at. After the two men had had their fill at my expense, Bob chuckled, “Let’s just say that was Joe’s lunch about two weeks ago.” I quickly dropped the item in my hand with a high-pitched yell. I realized that day I had much to learn, including what horse “poo” looks like after two weeks.
Joe was responsible for my love of horses, but Bob was responsible for my understanding of them. He told me millions of tips as I visited Joe: “Make sure you let the horse know you’re behind him.” “Brush the horse with the pattern.” “Clean the hooves out in a ‘V’ shape.” I loved caring for the horses and having responsibility for a creature much larger than I was. But my favorite times were when nothing particular was happening, when I could just relax Joe.
Once, when I needed to relax, I wondered what to do with the rest of the evening. The minute I dragged myself in through the sliding, boarded door, I was greeted with a soft nicker. Joy overwhelmed me. I smelled the grain, the hay, the horse hair, and was suddenly quite calm. I walked to the edge of the stall and reached through the rails. My palm was gently greeted with a velvet-soft nose. I looked up to meet eyes bigger, darker, and more expressive than my own.
I felt a connection.
My neighbors trusted me to care for their horses’ needs. I enjoyed going to the barn, feeding them hay, grain, and treats. I felt their warm, soft muzzles as they nuzzled me for attention. I felt their cool, wet tongues as they licked the salt off my hands and face. I felt the trembling of the ground as we raced from one side of the pasture to the other. But I vividly remember Joe in his last years when he started aching.
“Whuit, whuit . . . Joe! Where are you, buddy?!” I gazed around the pasture and found him lying in the back of the field. His head lifted only long enough to see me coming over. I sat next to him with his head in my lap as I stroked his neck. I knew his aches and pains were serious, but my eleven-year-old mind couldn’t contemplate he would be leaving me forever. I just listened to the whistling of the wind through the oak branches as my best friend and I relaxed in the shade.
Joe’s passing was hard for me to take then, hard to talk about now. Letting Joe go was not a positive experience, but I became Joyous for life, Overwhelmed with confidence, Enthusiastic about horses. Nowadays, I’m still hanging around the horses. . . .
“You think she can ride Lala?” Jessica asks MaryJoe as she tacks up one of the most expensive horses I’ve ever met. MaryJoe looks me over, pauses, “Yeah, she’ll be fine.” Jessica hands me the tack and points to my new assignment. I look deep into her big, dark, expressive eye and read her as I read my horses a long time ago. She is high-spirited. She is powerful and fast. She wants to please. She is a good horse.