We didn’t have a particularly hard winter, but I’m still can’t seem to wrap my head around the fact that the sun doesn’t really set until around 8pm. I get off at five, let the dogs out, check the chickens, then mentally I’m ready to be done. But Spring is in full swing (hah) and Summer is on it’s way! There’s a lot to be done after winter finally disappears. If you have plenty of time and a few dozen extra able-d bodies, you can clear the fence rows and the creek beds before they explode in dense thickets of tangled, neon green growth.
Unfortunately, I have neither at the moment. Although since we have stopped feeding hay to the horses, I don’t have to break ice on water buckets or fumble with gates through gloved fingers, chores go much more smoothly. In general. There is always the exception where the horses won’t come up to eat, the chickens have knocked over their hanging water container or the dogs get out.
Now when I get home from work, I hardly know what to do with myself. Should I mow, catch my horse, take Zoe for a walk? Fix fence? Let the chickens out? I usually try and do all of the above, then find myself halfway through a project and the sun is gone, I’m hungry, and Sadie get’s home.
It’s like a game show: How much can I attempt to do before the sun sets? Who knows! Today I played fetch with Zoe, then headed up the road to help Uncle Rick clean stalls. He has three of the most beautiful Tennessee Walking Horses I have ever seen: Threat, PW and Reba. His barn is low with gravel in the hallway, two wash-racks, a closed tack room and three raised stalls.
He’s been helping Sadie and I cut and stack logs, he fixed the door that the wind got a hold of, and he and Joe Romine changed the oil on the mower and repaired the ATV. The least I can do is shovel some poop for him, plus his barn is always immaculate. He could charge admission to let people visit.
Threat is his stud, he is massive and a big baby. We cleaned his stall and spread some more shavings out. Rick measured his feed and I poured it in his bucket. PW is a jet black mare that Uncle raised from a filly. Cross my heart she hates everyone but him. As soon as I stepped in her stall she pinned her ears back. Rick told me she was bluffing, but I only halfway believe him. He walked over and rubbed her face, her neck and patted her side. She perked right up for him, looking as innocent as ever.
He walked out and told me to try. I took one step and she was back to wide eyed and angry. I’ve been around angry horses, but PW is big – she’s built like a locomotive and I was on her turf. Since Rick was standing behind me, I figured he could drive me to the hospital. “Step right up there,” he said. I swallowed and walked right up to her face. “Let ‘er smell you’re hand.” I raised my arm and she blew warm breath on the back of my hand. “Now pet ‘er neck.” I reached out and stroked her silky neck. She tilted her head at me, then went back to munching her hay. I started breathing again and I heard Rick chuckle. “Told’ya she was bluffin.”
We finished with her and I began cleaning Reba’s stall. Reba is the exact opposite of PW. She pushed her face right against my chest and sighed, letting my stroke her neck and scratch her ears. She is also my favorite because she has a designated corner in the stall for her toilet.
I dumped the shavings and we sat in the hall, listening to them munching away. Rick will tell you a good story if you don’t pressure him. You kind of have to act like you’re not expecting it. He sat on the step stool outside of PW’s stall and removed his ball-cap, scratching his hairline. I waited. He dug in his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He lit one and took a drag, squinting out the hallway to the 60 acres across the road, the old barn and the river bending away to disappear between the rolling hills.
After a while, he pointed a thumb over his shoulder to PW’s stall and said “That mare right there, she’s all heart.” I nodded, I was afraid to say anything. “I’ve worked her before until she was as white as she is black. When I’d stop fer a break, she’d wanna keep goin.” He told me about when she was a filly, when he first broke her to ride and how she would body block anyone else coming around him. The shows they have been to, and that during the training months, he would ride her 6 days a week until she was 900 pounds of muscle.
We watched the sun reach the far horizon, listening to the birds quiet down and let the frogs and crickets sing. The horses finished munching their hay and settled down for the night. With mud on my boots, shavings on my pants and dirt under my nails, I couldn’t be happier. Barns are the best places to end the day, to swap stories, and to enjoy the company of horses.