In my years with horses I have met hundreds of people who say they would like to have a horse farm. I was certainly one of those people. As young as five years old I can remember having an imaginary farm in the palm of my hand. Each finger was a paddock and it contained different varieties of animals. Cows, chickens, sheep and of course the whole middle part of my hand was kept for a big open field for the all horses I was going to have. I was born in the year of the horse – and my spirit has always been attracted to them.
But not everyone gets to have their dream come true like I have – and for most us us the road is long and convoluted. Beginning with remembering who you really are…
What did you want to be when you were ten years old? they say this is a time in our lives when we are most aware an authentic. I have always wanted to live on a farm, in nature. It has been the call of my deepest longing – the one that has never changed.
I remember all the things I wanted to be; first an archaeologist as I was fascinated with old things. Then a vet, until I worked with a vet and saw what has to happen to animals. Next I did a 360 in university, I was only 16 – who the hell knows what they want to do at that age? So I settled on becoming a lawyer and was admitted into law school at 17. This looked like a reasonable career for me. I had a big mouth, a great vocabulary and strong opinions on just about everything. Then I worked for lawyers, and that was that. I would never fit into that world or be able to put myself aside – all those “strong opinions” at least had a basis in morality. I did not witness any “morality” with the lawyers and I knew it wouldn’t work out.
Next career option – manufacturer of humans – raiser of children – domestic engineer! At least that’s what my grandmother used to call it.
She was 96 when she died and had given birth to 5 children in her little “house on the prairie” in Manitoba before migrating to Quebec. She had never really learned how to read but this did not seem to stop her. She always said motherhood was the most challenging an rewarding of all careers. What other job makes it so you have to be a cook, a psychologist, a doctor, a nurse, a teacher…and on and on. And we do all that – for free.
I guess what happens is you go through your 20’s and forget yourself a little. Then in your 30’s, women can go through what I call “the crazy times”, when what you knew yourself to be when you were younger, and who you have become trying to figure out where you fit into the world can be two very diametrically opposed things. By 30 I had three children all under the age of 6. Forget law school and the big career in politics- I was just hoping for a long nap. By 34 I had seven children and by 38 I had completely disappeared and was replaced by an automaton housewife.
Seven kids and no room big enough for us to eat dinner in together so we began a mighty renovation on our five thousand square-foot house. Then one day everything changed all because of a cup of coffee.
The foreman in charge of our renovation was up on the roof when he asked for a cup of coffee in the early morning cool.
Fred says to me from the roof as I bring him out the coffee –
“Hey, you like horses?”
I hadn’t ridden since I was 25 and had a horrific accident chattering vertebrae ni my back.
“Yeah – I like horses”.
“I have a horse for sale you should come and see”.
I felt my stomach clench up.
I had a mare named harmony when I was 20. I had sold everything to buy her. She was a mental case. A four year old chestnut mare, plagued by heaves ( a chronic breathing disorder) and a bad bad attitude. I would ride her in the apple orchards because if she took off, which was a frequent occurrence, there was a straight line through the orchards where I could fall without killing myself too badly. I had many trainers come and look at her. The last one concluded that she had been oxygen deprived at birth and suggested I tie her up on the ground, cover her with a black tarp and leave her in the sun until she “gave up”. This wasn’t going to happen. But my heart was broken years of the “big dream” of having my own horse and then final let down of watching her be carted away in a trailer to go be a brood mare. As he asked me if I wanted to come see another horse, all I could think of was Harmony.
I went the next afternoon with my husband and we met “Harley” an unbelievably beautiful 4 year old black Arab gelding and being the impulsive people we are ( we buy houses impulsively too)…we said yes, we will take him on the spot.
I went the following Saturday with the money in hand, but when I arrived, Fred, the construction guy told me he had something else for me to see…two horses brought in together. They were “young” and unseparated. he figured since I had all those kids…I would rather have two for the price of one. So, half an hour later I was the proud owner of Master and Ranger – two of the sorriest looking skinny horses I have ever seen. I waved bye-bye to the hot little Arab, and back into the horse world I was propelled.
For years we kept them in boarding stables. Nice places with skilled owners who taught me a great deal about horse keeping. We discovered things about our two horses – primarily that Ranger was about 25 and master was 7 – not even close to the “they are about 10” that we had been told. Ranger was trained to English saddle at 26 and did his first show at 27. he won everything – cause he was so darned handsome 🙂 and sweet and all the kids and judges loved him. Then ranger got older…and at 32 years old, only one week after our last ride together, he lay down in a pile of his favourite clover and died.
I had never seen a dead horse, never mind conceiving that ONE of MINE would actually die. It was a terrible loss and I grieved insanely for 6 months.
Then one day I was riding master out in the field. it was a stunning sunny day, and I was slouched on his back, his head hung low and we walked out like a funeral procession. Then – I had a moment of extraordinary clarity and I could see with strange sharpness how my horses was totally reflecting me. He was my mirror…and everything for me changed from then on with horses.
From the moment of that decision to the moment we found ourselves at WillowCreek it was 6 years of turmoil. once you get your mind set on something like that, there is no turning back.
I always had in my mind what it would be like to “live on a farm”, but w2hat I imagined would never even come close to the reality of things.
We began taking rescue horses two days after we had the farm – Master needed a companion so we welcomed Lily (the pretty horse you see on our banner). Then Lady, then Princess, then Mia..then…. We turned over and rehabilitated about 40 horses – and have kept some that we knew would never be rehomed properly.
In our herd, five of the ten of my horses are ones that have been dumped here, unwanted by their owners or owners unable to care for them. I love them all like my family. Without these “dumpings” we would never have found out how amazing a little blind pony could be, we would never have learned about dealing with young untrained babies – I feel so rich in our experiences.
The crunch time is here though, and we no longer have the funds to run this farm. I can’t run the farm and work during the day, so I sing at night. but, singing until 4am an then getting up with the horses 3 or four nights a week is very difficult, and I have had to cut back on my singing so that I can take better care of the herd. A catch 22 …
I am producing an album to be released in the fall 2014 to help us with expenses and in February we will be holding a fundraiser in our attempt to raise the $3,000 we need to keep hay in our barn until the next cut.
Ah – so you wanted to be a cowgirl? Good for you. I say – just do it. Even the hard things…are good. 🙂 Say YES to the things that feel good…and no to the things that bring you down. Following childhood dreams is always the right move because it represents your authentic self.
Even with all of my fancy shmancy edjucayshun – I have never thought – “Oh, I should be in an office, with clean shoes and hands that aren’t freezing. I have never not once thought – “wow I wish I wasn’t doing this”. Not with the middle of the night colic, or the arena falling down, or the chaos or the expense. There is no where else I would rather put my money or my time than with my herd where my little horse spirit is quite happy.
I lean over to the turn off the water and my hands cover half of my left foot. I look down and a flash of memory with all of the twisting of the water, my foot looks just like it did when I was a baby. Small and soft with fun, flexible toes. I used to like bending them all the way back – just because I could. I try it again now and feel them lock half way protesting. Ouch.
I put my hand back to block my foot and tried to remember again. I have quite a history with my feet.
When I was a baby, and well up until the age of six, I sucked my big toe rather than my thumb like all the regular insecure kids. I had an incredible flexibility and when our nightly time came to watch television as a family, I would arrive in a nightgown, with my blanket, always barefoot, sit on my chair and my toe would just sort of “pop into my mouth, unbidden and unassisted by my hand. I could stay wrapped all around myself in a ball for hours. Eventually of course my parents put me into gymnastics before yoga was popular.
There has been a lifelong battle in my family to get me to wear slippers
But I am barefoot at every possible opportunity, in every conceivable climate.
I keep my eyes closed and let my hands travel along the lines and hard bones of my foot. I arch them upwards and feel along the ridges. Another memory as I recall my 14 year old basketball shoe clad foot, taking off in mid air on a court and coming down hard, sideways, and with a resounding crack that made the gym momentarily hush. My bones shattered my brain in denial. I played a few more minutes before my leg gave way. I watched as my foot expanded beyond belief as I was ushered away to the infirmary and finally the hospital. I remember my father arriving from two hours away, worried and drawn looking, there just to make sure they took good care of my foot.
My toes stuck out of a cast in the winter for nearly ten week. My cold toes, which now could not even wear a shoe or slipper if I wanted to.
I remember my feet high above my head as my horse does a well-rehearsed sudden stop and I am propelled at lightning speed through the air, high enough to actually have time to consider and concern myself with the tumbling of my body before I come crashing down with a resounding thud.
My first thought is can I feel my feet?
I remember my feet in different places now. Beaches and mountains and trails, oceans and rivers and lakes. Cold places and hot places. Boats, trains, planes. Horses, elephants, camels…in deserts and jungles. My feet have been in rich places and poor places.
I remember times when my feet were clean; in my graduation shoes, all beautiful and old pink lace, handmade and dyed to match my incredible dress. My feet looked grown up – ready to dance like Cinderella, only to revert back to their naked dirty ways by the first or second club we crashed after the formalities of grad were done away with. I have, more than once, given my shoes away to people on the street just so I can be barefoot again.
I remember my first wedding shoes. I looked down at them as my father and I danced to “What a Wonderful World” so he wouldn’t see me cry because I knew it would be the last time we danced
I remember my feet in the stirrups looking very far away as the doctor, a comedian, sat at the end of the hospital bed with a baseball glove and said
I pushed so hard; I thought my feet would just pop off the ends of my legs. But no – something else happened instead.
Just when they started becoming a little dull – my feet learned to play again.
Especially in the mud with my kids. These were the most special times. The first warm-enough day of spring when it was ok to take off the layers and layers that cover me from head to toe, kids in diapers, muddle puddles and wild abandon. Happy feet. Content feet. Completely in-love.
My husband’s scratchy toenails (see picture!) sometimes wake me at night, but mostly his feet play quietly with mine, unconsciously apart from us and comforting and warm like a rhythm we know so well.
Lately my feet have been sad. They have stood by my mother’s sick bed and her final places. I have looked at them allot – but they don’t tell me anything. They just give me a place to look when looking up just seems to hard. Often, they have walked alone and with too many people all at once. My feet have been covered mostly since then. There hasn’t been much time to let them come out and play.
When we lived in Africa, I would terrify her with my bare feet. This was not a habit of white kids – somehow the black kids were immune and happily I was too apparently. I loved Africa. My feet were so happy on its hot red soil, alive with a richness that has been long lost here.
Lately since living on a farm anyways, I have abit of an obsession with keeping my feet happy. Most farmers harbor a secret set of rules and protective methods for their feet. But this isn’t something we talk about except amongst ourselves I think. Talking about what to do to keep your feet warm in a barn that is minus thirty five degrees while you clean out stalls – is not talk for common folk I’m afraid. You’ll have to get frostbite and broken toes from snippy jittery horses on icy treacherous February footing more than once before you can get into that club.
Now, I have to admit, my feet are always in socks, and slippers. It’s January now and I am starkly aware that I can only visit my feet when I take a bath but then I understand that they won’t get to really come out and play until GARDEN TIME – of course this is the best time! Happy dirty toes busy in the warm sun.
My husband says often in the summer
“Ah, mom had a good day – her feet are dirty.”
It’s the truth.
Good thing I stopped sucking my toes