Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast
My niece walking my 110 pound Rottweiler, Mickey, many years ago. Mickey would normally drag anyone walking her, but she just knew to be gentle with my niece.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Comfort in the Herd

I’m not sure how old I was when I first rode a horse but I was young, very young -- probably only three or four-years-old. At least, that is my first memory being on a horse’s back.  I remember being lifted up by my mom and then handed to my dad who sat high up on his buckskin horse.  I recall sitting in front of him, amazed at how big the saddle horn was as well as how far off the ground we were. 

That was the start of my love and respect for horses, something that would grow over the years I spent on the ranch.  Though I don’t have regular access to horses now, the smells, the sounds, and the simple presence of a horse is a comforting thing to me.

From the time I was first allowed outside by myself, I would seek out our herd of a dozen or so horses.  In the winter I’d find them in the fields near our house, allowing us the ease of feeding them closer to home.  During the warmer months they would be further away, often in the broad expanse of aspen trees that followed Porcupine Creek as it cut through our ranch.  When I would get near, the herd never spooked, not if my intention wasn’t to catch them.  The horses knew the difference in my approach and could spot a lead rope a mile away.  If I was just there to say hi they would gladly welcome me into their fold, tolerating the small bipedal creature that wandered among them, petting their heads while trying to offer fresh-pulled grass. During those times with the herd, I felt a peace and contentment I still find hard to explain to non-horse people. It was such a good feeling that if I had time, I would commonly seek out the herd just for that enjoyment.  Yet there was one time that seeking of such comfort wasn’t out of enjoyment but out of necessity.
It was New Year’s Eve and my parents were holding a party at our place.  I might have been seven or eight-years-old at the time. Never being too comfortable in crowds, I typically retreated to my room to read books or play with Legos.  Perhaps it was the alcohol fueled revelry that drove me out of my normal place of solitude. Regardless of the reason, I went downstairs and put on my boots and coat as I prepared to go outside.  The entryway was empty as I donned the winter layers; the majority of the guests were in the kitchen and living room.  No one heard me walk out the front door, and with its closing I was blessed with the wondrous solitude of winter in the mountains. Though it was cold there was no wind, so I headed down our road for a bit until I could cut across the field to where the horses and cows stood quietly along the path. It was there we had spread a truckload of hay earlier that same day. The further I got from the house, the less the noise of the party could be heard until, finally, after several hundred yards, the only sounds I heard were those of my feet in the six inches of snow covering the ground.
As I moved closer to our livestock, the cows spooked and trotted a short distance to ensure that the small, blue-coated menace who approached never got close enough to harm them.  The horses though, like always, didn’t run.  Jane, my mom’s horse, approached me and sniffed deeply at my coat, searching for a treat I suppose.  A few others did the same as I walked among the forest of equine legs.  As I moved among the herd, petting them all, I talked with them. I don’t recall exactly what I said, but I do know that I spoke to them.  This was not uncommon for me, as having conversations with my animals was standard then and still is now. For over an hour I stayed within the herd, petting and talking to the horses. I enjoyed the comfort they provided and the respite from the noise and frivolities back at the house. It was only when my feet began to get cold that I was motivated, though reluctantly, to return to the house.
Once back home, I entered the front door and was in the process of taking my boots off when my mom came into the entryway.
“Where were you?” She asked, a bit confused that one of her children had been outside without her knowledge.
“Out with the horses,” I answered plainly, as I finished taking off my boots and coat.
“Well, okay, be sure to tell me if you go out again,” she requested.

“Okay,” I said, as I headed back upstairs to lose myself in a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Shipwrecked.
Despite my mom’s request, I rarely told my parents when I was going outside to be with the horses.  Perhaps it was a little of a rebellious attitude, but more likely it was simply that I didn’t want anyone to deny me the comfort of being with the herd, even if only for a short while.

Today I no longer have the opportunities to experience that same pleasure, but on occasion I do visit friends who have horses.  The smells and sight of those beautiful animals always take me back to that cold winter night and the solace I experienced when the herd had taken me in as one of their own.

If you love horses you will enjoy my second novel, Lost Horse Park.  It isn’t published yet, but you can learn more about it at my Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the final editing of it. 

Photos provided by Junia Wollman.

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