Here is another weird thing about my job. I never have any idea where I might end up. First, I get into cars with strangers and then they take me somewhere. I usually have the clinic address on an insurance paper, but it could be a quiet humble little farm like my home barn. Sometimes I’m ushered to an equestrian facility that takes my breath away. I never know what to expect.
The crazy but predictable thing is that the people who invite me are alike, regardless of discipline, breed, or experience. They want to do better for their horses. They want to learn, just like me. Somehow no matter where I land, I feel like I’m at the exact perfect place. It’s either magic or wild luck or some ghost-horse pulling strings for me. I just say yes. Now, about Australia.
I’ll start by saying there is a wild beauty to Australia, at least what I’ve seen so far, that wakes up some ancient part of me. No, I mean even more ancient than my literal age. It’s a primal place that makes you think you might see things in the shadows of visible things. Or maybe I need more sleep, hard to say. But wild and mysterious, even flying over it. The land is that recognizable.
Outside Adelaide, there is a red soil that will be sad to see US Customs officers wash off my boots. I’m saving it until then. There is a spicy perfume to the air that I can’t place but it might scare me, so I don’t think about it. And a paddock full of geldings that are irresistible. Sweet and complicated and willing and insecure sometimes. Which is to say, perfect horses. I also saw my first Brumby, a proud mare, and my first Kangaroos. They are just the color of sheep and sometimes in a pasture, you’ll see odd sets of ears, not like the others. Kangaroos who are sheep impostors.
Over by Melbourne, the soil is more like mine at home, but the trees are tropical. They’re gum trees; tall with branches set high off the ground. They make great paddock trees, lots of shade, and the horses thrive here. Here are more kangaroos, laying in fields, bounding onto the road and getting hit, and hopping around the winery that I stayed at. Yes. I stayed at a winery. Beautiful vineyards, the Southern Cross in the night sky, and a bottle of their wine. Just kill me. In the morning, there’s a path to the top of a hill with a view, they say. Just stay on the mowed part, they say, if you wander off, you won’t be able to see the snakes. Just kill me.
I got picked up in Sydney in the late afternoon, with not much time to get to Newcastle, over two hours away. Still, we took the bridge, so I could see the opera house. It isn’t unusual that people point out landmarks to me, but halfway across the bridge, there it was. THAT Opera House. It was a total surprise. It’s amazing and doesn’t look like any other building in the world. And clearly, I have lost any shred of an idea of where I am on the planet.
Finally, to Brisbane, and the last facility has more kangaroos than horses. In this photo, they’re loitering outside the covered arena. Because they usually lay around in the cool arena sand but we’re using it for the clinic.
A quick aside to my Kiwi friends, you exaggerated. I haven’t seen any bugs bigger than my hand, and no snakes at all. Or did I just jinx that?
You also warned me, and yes, Aussies do make fun of your accent as much as you make fun of theirs. Both countries’ accents are hard for me to tell apart but at least they share the same good-natured sport –making fun of the way I speak in my native tongue. They ask me to pronounce names of cities, I fail miserably, they laugh uproariously and ask me to pronounce it again. It never gets old. I totally destroyed them pronouncing “Australia.”
The clinics are all about Calming Signals, but each one is quite different. The horses make sure of that and we humans try to keep up. Standardbreds, Warmbloods, Thoroughbreds, Arabians, Station-bred Stock horses; they’re intelligent and sensitive and have had rich and diverse lives. And yet they speak with no accent at all. They are just like the horses in my home barn, eight thousand miles away.
I do have to admit to some previous knowledge of Australia. I’ve seen lots of movies and overall, the Australian movie characters are not bad representations of actual Australians. A bit of Dingo Took My Baby, a little Man from Snowy River, and some Muriel’s Wedding tossed on top. In other words, I fell in love with everyone I met. I made friends that I miss already.
Eclectic sage elders, red-haired babies, tanned riders with passion, and men who enjoy getting their minds stirred up. We laughed at ourselves, shared meals, and managed to remember those good horses who have gone ahead. We loved horses together. This weekend, we all put horses first.
Every few days, I move along to some new place I’ve never been. My ankles swell and so I wear the damned support hose. My voice is more than a little hoarse; it’s as scratchy as a Clydie in spring. Then there’s this part. I’m starting to be that person who hugs a little too hard and a little too long.
Thank you, Australia. I’m ready when you are.
P.S. A brief postscript: I arrived home after about thirty hours of planes and airports. The Dude Rancher drove stinky-me home. In my barn, all the horses nickered, beautiful under the prairie moon. Edgar Rice Burro, who has personal needs that only I can fulfill, brayed an opera. Arthur, the goat, gave me a headbutt embrace. We had sadly lost three herd members in the month before I left, and I was cut again by their absence. But the trips are hardest for my rescue dogs. Jack, the JRT/mix foster dog jumped up to eye level a few hundred times, defying common sense and gravity. Then another thousand times or so.
And finally, Preacher Man, the rescue corgi. When a herding dog goes to rescue, they think they failed at herding their human. Preacher has a mission this time, but he’s stuck with me and I wander off all the time. It’s always hardest for Preach, so he is mad and happy. Growling and licking. He must go to the bathroom with me, but he pouts behind the door. When I finally get to bed, he lays flat on my torso and moans and whines. Licks and spits. Wiggles and sploots. His eyes stare into mine. He can’t live without me. He wants to kill me. It’s good to be home.