Sponge in hand, I dipped it into the sink water and washed another dish, allowing my gaze to drift beyond the window, to the small grass field my three boys played in for so many years. Beyond that field and a small grove of trees sits our eight-stall horse barn where I spent most of my days, and sometimes nights, with brood mares ready to foal. Memories come rushing through.
Even though most of these memories are joyful, I long for my love, a horse named Clyde. It’s been several years now since he passed away, and I can still see him standing at the fence, his big bald face staring directly at me through this very window as I’m doing the exact same thing, washing dishes. He was asking me, “Are you done with the boys? Can you come feed me now?” I would wave one finger, as if he knew what “one minute” meant, and when I put the last dish down, I was on my way. He wasn’t the only horse I had in this barn. I raised quite a few. However, he was the one that spoke to me with his heart and knew he had mine.
A year ago, my parents asked me to take care of two mares for them while they moved, so for the past nine months, I’ve been taking care of two wonderful pet horses. Why do I call them pets? Because besides companionship, they have no purpose. Non horse people will ask, Why? They aren’t working horses, either serving a purpose in farming or ranching or having been competitors in horse shows, etc. Until you’ve taken care of a horse or two, you really can’t understand the depth of companionship they reward you with.
The memory of finding Clyde’s lifeless body in his stall swallowed me whole every time I walked through the large hanging doors of our empty barn. My body ached with such sorrow it pained me to take another step inside. But I’d promised my parents I would take care of these mares, and preparing their stalls was a big commitment. My eyes swollen and my nose stuffy from the dust and dirt caked in the vacant tack room, washroom, and every stall, I cleaned and cleaned. The filth laughed at my efforts and my broom begged me to stop. Cobwebs and critters had settled in, so it took days of cleaning until the barn was ready for our visitors, Rosie and Holly.
The sound of the truck and horse trailer coming up my once gravel drive followed the four-board black pasture fence to the front of the barn. The mares stomped their hooves and danced with fear and excitement. The horse trailer ramp was lowered, and one by one the mares were led down the ramp and put out in the large pasture. They didn’t take off to explore, nor did they whinny for near-by friends. I noticed they didn’t leave one-another’s side. It was an odd reaction for two horses in a new place. However, once Rosie and Holly figured out they were getting two meals a day, they listened for the house door and whinnied their hellos. They even cantered, or trotted, over to the fence once Rosie was sure of her space. They showed me their strengths and showed me their weaknesses, but best of all, they showed me how to love again. Holly will stand for the scariest horse-eating fly spray bottles if you give her a carrot or rub her blaze between her eyes. Rosie will not try to stomp you out like a bug on her right side if you talk to her and keep your hand or even a finger on her while you are on her blind side. She will fall asleep or turn into a love puddle, if you lightly rub her whole face with your fingers. After I clean and fill the water tub up, Holly takes her bath, getting in with both front legs and then splashing her whole body with her head. She’s the smartest horse with arthritis ever, and the water must feel so good on her knees. I’ve tried to record it, but she’s very camera shy.
They are heading back to Kentucky this week, back to wonderful grass pastures they will love eating. My time with them has reminded me how much love a horse gives and how much fun it is to communicate with them. A simple hello, and they nicker. A scratch on their belly, and they nod their head with delight. While brushing them, how they argue who’s turn it is and if I don’t switch off from one horse to the next, they let me know how displeased and aggravated they are. Most important, if I don’t have a carrot, I must have lots of time to scratch and rub them!
I’m sharing some notes I wrote for their next caretakers because I thought some of them were funny:
Favorite treats: Carrots!!!
Very friendly – pets!
Both come when called.
Rosie must follow Holly, but once in a secure location, Rosie is lead (alpha) mare.
Lead together is highly recommended.
Separation of these two mares not recommended!
Rosie is a colorful sorrel paint mare and is blind in right eye.
- Check both eyes for any drainage daily. If right eye gets infected, she could lose that eye. If left eye gets infected, she could become blind in both eyes.
- Must talk to her while you are on her right side—always.
- Farrier: Must start at her front (introduction) before going to hooves on both sides, especially her right side! She has been known to strike if this isn’t done.
- Face Masks. Every two- or three-days switch fly masks and wash and repeat.
- Fly spray daily. Wipe fly spray with hand or rag on face (face mask) and on ears. Fly spray body. Don’t forget to talk to her while you are on her right side.
- Loves her face rubbed (especially around her eyes – softly)
Holly is a sorrel, solid paint mare with acute arthritis in her knees. Growth on her shoulder is a benign tumor and has not changed shape or size in years.
- Arthritis medication – give ¼ to ½ tablet once daily as needed.
- Loves her face rubbed and neck scratched. Rub her face and she will turn into a puddle of love.
- Fly spray: Scratch her neck while spraying and she will forget that the sprayer is a horrible monster out to get her.
- Habit: Will stand in water with her two front legs and play, causing water to become filthy. Don’t forget to check and change water more often than regular.
Pets come in all shapes and sizes, and one of the greatest gifts is being able to communicate with them. I’ve been told it’s a gift being able to communicate, but I truly believe everyone has the ability and the “gift” to know what they are saying. It takes patience and lots of one-on-one time, but when they start “speaking,” it’s magical.
Go hug your pet because a hug is a hug—no matter what the language!