When it was obvious I couldn’t hold winter back with the force of my intention alone, I moved Merc and Ada to the back paddock. On the northern side, there are a strip of Gums that have bequeathed this patch of earth its title, the Bent Wood. The weather patterns, with all their wanton fierceness, have shaped the growing trunks with their hands and formed them into abstract sculptures. They weave like stiff strands of hair into the sky, the younger limbs belly dancing in the breeze, providing a landscape of both shelter and of interest for the young and curious minds that I’ve placed in their care.
Before Ada, this paddock belonged to Bear. Our log is here, where we would commune and chat. Or perhaps I would chat, and Bear would listen. I like to think it worked both ways. Bear passed away before he had seen a full stretch of seasons. Ada is now approaching her first full summer. I’m filled with gratitude for both; the one who stands with me and the one in the realm of my horse ancestors. Both extend care to me in ways that are felt and tangible.
At feed time, I place two buckets in the paddock. Ada takes her time. Snuffling her bucket, glancing up at the scenery. Occasionally she’ll walk off, do a brief lap around nothing in particular and return to her bucket looking happy and content.
Some metres away, I hold Merc. Part of the reason I had avoided the paddock switch for as long as possible. Now, without the luxury of yards attached, the job of feeding involves more manual labour, and ultimately time. To Merc’s eyes, Ada’s bucket is a Michelin star smorgasbord compared to his dry bread sandwich. So, I take my halter, and together we wait until Ada has finished her dinner and normal programming can resume.
Earlier, when I was considering the mealtime tetris and how to balance it, I thought of The Waiting as somewhat of a chore. When I actually did The Waiting, I recognized it as anything but. Things in life often go like that.
Each day, at roughly the same time, I stand in the same spot with my horse, and I observe. I think of the great nature writers whose words fall on me like incantations; my favourites are not those who necessarily travelled widely, but who travelled deeply. Whose closeness to the area of earth they came to know intensified rather than limited their vision.
I look at the same patch of gums each day and each day they are different and the same. I play with looking directly at them, and then looking at the spaces around them. I want to see them better somehow, I want to see everything better, even though I don’t know exactly what that means.
I stroke and murmur to my horse in between.
The sound of the Tuis, a native New Zealand bird, punctuates the background. Their song starts and then, a gap before the notes pick back up. I learned recently that there actually is no gap. That the notes just reach a pitch that the human ear is unable to hear; that the song is actually continuous.
I marvel at this. I wonder what else I am missing, without even knowing it. All this time, the Tuis have been singing their secrets around me. To hear them, I resolve, I need to listen with my full body. To catch the notes my ears aren’t designed to hold.
Many times, I hear from non-horsey folk, what a lot of work it must be to own horses. What a ball and chain they must be, or can be, especially during the moments when you want to go out, or holiday or take a break.
I understand these thoughts. They are surface level obvious for those for whom freedom involves an anchorless existence. Perhaps, at one point, I have also thought the same.
But for me, the truth runs deeper and wider. Horses anchor me to the seasons. They call me into the element’s morning and night when the comfort of the inside seems greater. They let me go deeper, and further. They require that I move my body in the way and amounts its designed for when modern life would have me do the opposite. They give me gifts like The Waiting, which I never would have conjured or taken for myself without them. They ask me to notice deeply and to wonder what I am missing.
So, while there are many things to be grateful for, perhaps one of the biggest is the one we lament the most; the commitment, the time, the energy.
I happily give it to them, and then some.