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Ground Work

We’ve been burning some of the logs in the barn lot, they are dry and old and much too big for the stove inside. It’s been burning for about four days now, I stoke it in the mornings and when I get home I turn the blackened logs over and the flames start up again. My neighbors come down after work and help, we usually brush or feed or work the horses as the fire burns.

The nights are getting cooler. The ridgeline still has a few green trees, now joined by red, orange and yellow. The grass all turned brown when we had the first frost last week, I already miss the green and I know the horses do too. As the fire burns and the sun starts to set I get Tug out and started brushing him. He’s getting woolly-er by the day, and his coat is now the color of dark chocolate. I lunge him to warm up his muscles, holding one end of the rope and guiding him in a circle around me. Round and round, like a carousel, his mane rising and falling.

I turn him and he jogs the other way. I stop him occasionally to pat his neck and he licks his lips, letting out long breaths and shaking his head. Natural Horsemanship, as it’s called, has gotten more attention in the past few years. The days of breaking broncos and mastering horses are part of the Wild West that was won long ago. Most people want to work with a horse, they’ve found the ways that they communicate with each other, using pressure and release, and model ground-work after that. Trust is important, especially with an animal that could run you down or turn tail and drag you with along with them.

Tug was raised on a ranch in Texas, I traced his brands back and called Tongue River Ranch, they have over 80,000 acres. Can you imagine? I can’t even see all of our 18 acres from one spot, much less that many. TRR breaks their colts through trust, groundwork, and rest. He’s had a lot of handling in his 12 years, you can see it. Just moving my hands a little, lifting the rope and letting it slide through my fingers, he turns and sets off the other way. Watching him move is memorizing, I can’t really describe it.

It’s dark when I let him take a break and we stoke the fire, feeding the horses and throwing hay out to keep them warm and happy. My neighbors leave to eat dinner and I pick up Tug’s rope again. He lifts his head, ears pricked, waiting for me to ask him to back or turn or walk or stand still. He’s a good horse. I pick the rope up to my right and he jogs off, back in a circle. The sun has gone down and the moon is up, almost half full. Shining down on the barn lot, I can see everything in a silvery, grey light. It shines on Tug’s back and shoulders, his muscles working like pistons. As the air gets cooler, his breath plumes away, making him look like a dragon.

In Job 39, God asks Job what he knows about creation. There are several verses on the horse, although it describes a battle scene, I think it sums it up better than I can:

“Do you give the horse its strength or clothe its neck with a flowing mane?
Do you make it leap like a locust, striking terror with its proud snorting?
It paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength, and charges into the fray.
It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing; it does not shy away from the sword.
The quiver rattles against its side, along with the flashing spear and lance.
In frenzied excitement it eats up the ground; it cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds.
At the blast of the trumpet it snorts, ‘Aha!’
It catches the scent of battle from afar, the shout of commanders and the battle cry.”

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