Caring for the Lead Mare

It was a perfect day. There were just enough clouds to soften the heat. The front gate didn’t open once all day long. No emergency vet calls. Best of all, I had some fence to repair. Perfect.

There was still dew on the grass when I loaded up my yellow wagon with the t-post driver, post hole digger, and a bucket of hand tools, headed for the north pen. Like usual, I had to go back for the wire cutters. A few days before, I’d come home to find one of the geldings over the fence in my neighbor’s pasture. He was banged up and limping, posts bent with chunks of hair, and part of the fence pushed over.

I’d been thinking about a reader request: “Did you ever write a blog on the gossip/nit picking that goes on at boarding stables and from barn to barn especially in small communities? It never seems to end…”

I started cutting down the old field fence, laying it down, folding the end piece over, and walking on the edges to flatten it, and then repeating the process. Taking out perimeter fence is always unsettling. I depend on that line of demarcation as much to keep others out as to keep mine in.

I know what she means about the gossip. Horse people are a passionate and opinionated crowd. We all have that neighbor whose horses are just too thin. That barn that sold to new owners. Who’s laid up, who’s got a new horse, who’s struggling to get by? Those jumpers or reiners or dressage queens or trail riders who make us squint and whisper. The truth is almost all of us have been on both sides; gossip blows in the wind. It’s how we know to send a sympathy card and find the best trailer repair. It’s how we let people know we’re smarter than them.

By now Edgar Rice Burro is snoring. The gelding herd is scattered flat in the morning sun.  I sink down on a tire feeder and take a long drink, surveying the work I’ve done, feeling strong.

Most of my days are over-scheduled with training and lessons and writing. Crossing out days for fence repair is almost like a vacation. The work is simple and I can keep an eye on the pond while wondering what it is about us humans tearing each other down.

There are always litters of ducklings on the pond but this is the first time there are Canada geese hatchlings –four little ones and two relentlessly protective parents. They move in a tiny gaggle searching for bugs in the prairie grass and then waddling back to the pond. The parents constantly scan the horizon, so aware of the treasure they protect. What is it about us humans?

Time for new t-posts now. I eyeball the line, lean one way and then the other, and judge it straight enough. It’s never perfect, string guide or not. I’m just straight enough.

Some clients of mine have a new fence, professionally built with huge gate posts, tight corners, and as pretty a line of wire as I’ve ever seen. I’ve had offers of help, too, but I like to hoard this time for me and my land. The birds are so loud that I can barely hear the fence post driver.

Another hour passes and I stop for lunch and a small nap. I’ve read that countries who practice siesta have better health. Some folks prefer a blanket but I use a Corgi for that. I nap for my health. Really.

Back out after the sun has peaked. Nickers follow me, I throw more hay, and then grab my fork. Mucking is a time-honored ritual for true horse lovers. No complaints while pulling the cart from pen to pen, celebrating healthy manure. Never trust a horseperson who doesn’t muck.

Finally, I make my way to the west pen where the ancient donkey leans into her scratching post, slowly rocking with her neck stretched low and her eyes closed. I almost feel like I should look away; her sublime bliss is too naked. But I keep my wits about me. She’ll still kick if I startle her and bray with impatience if I’m late with her mush. This little donkey isn’t burdened with the need to be a people pleaser. I’m learning it from her.

I scrub some water tanks and try to fill them without flooding the runs. My mare lets me know it’s time to come in from turnout; she wants me to bring her in first. That way she can nip at the geldings as they pass her run. I check my watch; I’ve lost hours tinkering through chores and the afternoon is gone. She’s right.

There’s something about early summer. The light lingers in pastel color. Hours later, as I carry the last bucket of mush out to the ancient donkey, the grass is cool again and the prairie moon illuminates all the best and worst of the world.

I have no idea what to do about all the negative chatter. It wears me down, too. We’re an imperfect species and sometimes we need to build better boundaries to keep our hearts safe. Give ourselves time to rest and time to nurture our hope for the future. And the strength to find a truthful, yet kind, voice to lift the quality of gossip.

Some women have salon days but some of us practice self-care by spending the day being part Canada Goose, part Corgi, and part wise old Longear. Miracle cure.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

38 thoughts on “Caring for the Lead Mare

  1. “I nap for my health. Really.”

    Only 15 more working days till retirement, when I will begin to nap for the health of those who come in contact with me. I think naps will make me nicer to be around.

  2. Laurie

    Perimeter fence lets me sleep better at night…but naps are the best!
    How is the escapee gelding doing?

  3. Sarah Jackson

    I’m pleased to hear of your self-care rituals… I’m taking a day like that for myself today, so your blog is timely. I will muck at a leisurely pace, and just hang with my two black geldings, taking the day off from my job in town, which requires a long commute I just can’t face today. The pull of the horses, the kitties, the peace of my little 3 acres is just too strong today. I am interested to hear that you don’t have the answer for the gossip and judgments in the horseworld either. It has at times made me crazy- so unkind and meanspirited, and alas, I’ve done my share too. I think one cause is related to a blog you wrote awhile back- the knowledge that our precious horses are truly fragile, and so we get hysterical and judgmental about the care that others are or aren’t providing for their horses. I have pondered this a lot, and I think for me, it makes sense that the Horse and our relationship with horses, exaggerates and brings into stark display all our character strengths as well as our shortcomings. That’s my two cents worth of input, and I appreciate that you wrote a blog today on self care and on the question that was posed to you about gossip.

  4. Sandy Sibley

    I could feel myself relaxing and getting more centered just reading your blog. I do self-care days, too. Sometimes it’s going out to the barn to just see my horse, groom, clean tack, whatever… and not ride; sometimes it’s going down into my studio to work on a painting. “Never trust a horseperson who doesn’t muck.” Truth. I board my horse, but whenever I’m at the barn, which is four to five days a week, I pick out Tully’s stall. There’s something satisfying about doing it, plus I get to make sure all is well with him, digestively speaking. 🙂 When my boys were in school, I used to give them “mental health days,” just a day off from school to chill. They had to stay home, of course, but they were free to do whatever they wanted that day. I think it made them happier, better students and people in general.

  5. Judy Huelsman

    Oh how I loved reading your thoughts this morning! Thank you for sharing them! I look forward to more…

  6. I loved this!!! I nap for health. Really. That’s my story and I’m stickin to it! Me too. 🙂

    Simple pleasures are, and always will be, the best. Whatever that is. I’m with you, just being outside on a warm day, listening…hangin out with my horse, giving a scratch here and there to anybody who appreciates one. Walking with my dogs, listening to the birds. Hey, I still like a pedi – heck, who wouldn’t? But there’s just something so peaceful and rejuvenating about being out in nature and with our animal friends. They really know how to live.

    As far as the gossip, the seemingly human need to tear others down (in order to build ourselves up?), I don’t know why. Life is a fine line we walk every single day. Making choices, and then living with those choices. It takes self-care to bring out the best in us, so hopefully we can be our kindest, and treat others (all species) with love and acceptance. Tolerance, to me isn’t about accepting all kinds of behavior, or necessarily agreeing with everything. It just means giving each other space to be our very imperfect selves, and to realize that we’re all just trying to get through each of our days, the best way we know how. God never said it was gonna be easy, He just said we wouldn’t be alone doing it.

    Thank you so much for your inspirational words Anna. I SO appreciate you!

    Oh, and my fences aren’t pretty or even close to straight either. I think tending fences is kind of like laundry or doing dishes, it just never ends.

  7. Laurie

    My paying job is in a service profession where I’m dealing with humans in crisis all the time. My non-paying job is our property where the work never ends. The fence, the pastures, the water tanks, the barn and its inhabitants demand endlessly and this is where I restore myself so I can continue to serve those in crisis. My chores are meditative, peaceful, and inspirational……I do my best work here.
    Two thoughts on the lack of kindness exhibited by our species:
    We rarely know the whole story behind what might motivate a persons behavior.
    And,
    I try to find comfort from the fact that a persons unkindness might simply be an over zealous application of their strengths.
    Thanks for your wonderful writings Anna, they too are a source of Zen for me.

    1. We never know the whole story… no truer words. Horses teach that so well, too. Thanks for the work you do, we need “mucked out” pros in so many ways! Thanks, Laurie.

  8. Last Friday I jack-knifed my work trailer, crushing the back end of my nearly new truck. I was distractedly multi-tasking at the time, (not on a phone, but nonetheless…) a behavior which I have now sworn off of, at least while backing trailers – but that’s a whole other blog topic.

    It only took one morning of driving my damaged vehicle around town in my tiny community for the gossips to get activated. I was asked to give details of the incident at least ten times that day…

    One fellow, who I don’t recall ever meeting or knowing who he is actually, asked what had happened. It took all of my self control to respond civilly. I do not understand the impulse to delight in spreading stories about what is often someone else’s misfortune, especially someone you don’t even know. Laurie’s comment above is more charitable than I can muster.

    My rule of thumb is – believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear…

  9. Alice

    So VERY beautiful, your writing, Anna! A joy to read – brings one back to the really important things – noticing and enjoying every moment. Thank you for the gifts you bring to the world.

  10. Barbara

    Nothing can lift my spirit like mucking stalls and grooming some fine equine friends, then retreating to the couch in my furry ” dog pile”…(sigh)…just doesn’t get any better. Heaven on earth! 💖. Wonderful to know I’m not alone.

  11. Karen

    Boy, can I relate to all that you have said, Anna, BIG TIME! Thank you for saying it! Time with my horses, mucking, just ‘being’ brings me a sense of peace……though sometimes aware of the gossip, and try to stay apart from it. I hear great horned owl babies screeching, coyotes in the distance, see ibis and spoonbill flying overhead. Yes, it is grand.

  12. Susie

    Reeeeaiy makes me miss having my horses at the farm. It’s summer and we are stuck at the boarding stable. I know there are bonuses to it because I’m healing and learning. Doesn’t stop me from tearing up with the longing for the sun on my arms while mucking and filling water tanks and mending fences. The satisfaction in hard work is a blessing. Thank you for the beautiful jaunt into nostalgia.

  13. Lynell Abbott

    Yes, indeed. There’s something about a healthy load of poop that makes my day…and the rest of what you said!

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