Today was one of those days where all you can do when you get home is change shoes and go to the barn.
The leaves have begun changing colors, just barely, the air has a definite cool snap to it. It was still light out when I made it to the farm, so the dogs and I went up the hill to let the chickens and ducks out to scratch among the leaves. I grabbed an apple on the way down and saw the horses grazing nearby.
Horses are always hungry, all the time. They always want food, it defines there life. I think this is why I like them so much – I feel like we have an understanding of each other. The point is anytime you walk in the barn and start moving buckets around, they show up. They are there and ready, ears pricked, waiting.
I spent the weekend out of town on what can only be summed up of a literal time machine through the past 3 places I have lived in my entire life, 18 years, 4 years, and 2 years. It was wonderful, but I had not seen Tug since last Friday, he was plenty muddy and had been somewhere between the barn and the creek bed that was full of burs.
Today was the kind of day where I needed to be outside. I needed to smell like hay and dirt and horses. Bone tired, and with the sun steadily going down, I didn’t have time to ride. But the great thing about having horses in your front yard is that you don’t always have to.
I caught Tug and led him to the barn, his harem looking on, waiting to eat. Since I had left him alone for more than 4 minutes, he had dried mud on his neck, shoulder, hip and legs from purposely rolling in it. Since high summer has passed, his coat has darkened to a rich brown, growing woolly from the cool nights.
I fed him my apple core, which he ate in two bites, and got a brush from the tack room. As the sunset turned the mountain ridge a deep orange, the crickets replaced the birds and I brushed my horse. My phone wasn’t ringing because it the battery was dead. It was laying in the passenger seat floor where it landed after someone pulled out directly in front of me, and I realized my rotors need replacing when the steering wheel shook out of my hands as I slammed on the brakes.
Tug’s mane was tangled with burs, but burs can’t ask questions. They aren’t a bank statement or a cell phone bill or an orange gas light. Burs are simple. I brushed his mane, it lays smooth across his neck on the right side, a brown so dark it’s almost black. He only had a few in his tail, so I brushed it with long, silky strokes until I could run my fingers through it.
I started brushing his coat and Tug rested on his back leg, his ears going slack and his lip drooping. For a tough cow horse, he loves being groomed. His eyes half close and he dozes off with a sigh. I sigh too. I loosen the dirt and dried mud with a rubber curry comb, then flick it away with a stiff brush. After that, I smooth his coat with a soft brush, using long, slow strokes until he shines. Sometimes I tell him about my day, or the car that pulled out in front of me, and sometimes I don’t say anything. If I don’t bring an apple down with me, I let him pick hay or loose grain from the dirt floor of the hall.
Our barn was built in the 40’s, it looks like it might fall down the hill at any point. One day, it might. But for now, it’s a beautiful, warm and dry tobacco barn. Tobacco barns have gaps between the boards near the aisle, they are very tall and crossed with rafters of old saplings and 2×4 boards. Our barn has vents above each door to let the wind through. It has a tin roof, a tack room with a wooden floor and definitely mice.
My Grandfather farmed tobacco on the land across the street from ours. Once he would harvest the big, broad leaves, He and my Aunt and my Mom would stake them on Tobacco Stakes, then hang them to dry from the rafters in the barn. There isn’t anything in the rafters now, but we keep horse feed in metal bins there, our square bales of hay, and some additional lumber we will need for a really big, project in the future.
I finished picking the loose dirt and grass from Tugs hooves and patted him on the neck. The black and white cat emerged from the hay, rubbing against Tugs legs, purring. Tug raised his head and we both looked out across the field, the sun slipping away and leaving the pale twilight. We watched the colt move off from grazing near his mom, where he took off like a shot. He galloped up the hill, around and back down, snorting and tossing his head.
Happy horses run. They are, for the moment, fed. They feel safe, they are happy and so they run. The colt began to stir everyone up, the big copper mare snorted and lifted her feet in a trot, her tail waving like a banner. The black mare looked on, soon the roan began trotting too.
When the air gets cool, the horses get excited. They feel frisky, acting like the colt, despite being lame in one foot or having a gash on their leg. The trot turned into a lope, which sent the horses bucking, skipping and whinnying into a gallop. They ran around and around the field, looking like the best kind of carousel, like a calendar that you can hear and feel.
Tug whinnied, wide awake now. We watched the mares and the colt gallop around and around, snorting and kicking and enjoying being alive. I led Tug to the gate and turned him lose. For half a beat, he reached his nose over to me, checking for any more apple. We both knew I was fresh out. He gathered himself and galloped away up the hill. Casey gave chase, feeling frisky too, and Tug bucked and kicked out, eating up the ground until he made it back to his herd.
The group loped across the top of the hill and down to the valley, rushing away as the sun disappeared. Casey came back, tongue lolling, and we walked up to the house. My stomach growled, I hadn’t eaten since whenever. The horses, chickens, ducks, cats and dogs were happy, it was time for dinner. The porch light was on, shining across the yard. The back door slammed behind me and Casey, she slurped up some water and trotted off, dripping a trail of water across the tile. The calico sleeping on the chair stretched and sauntered over, wrapping her tail around my leg.
It’s good to be at the farm.