My short story “Ointment” from the Kaleidoscope series is out for free on the KDP Select list on Amazon until August 4th! After that it will be available on Smashwords.com. I may do an extra post next week with the link to the Smashwords version.
About two weeks ago I promised you a post on my visit to an equestrian rescue center. This is not an official sponsoring or promotional article for said center so I shall leave it nameless. So much happened in the hours I was there the first day that I am only going to focus on an overview of the experience.
To find the place I had to stage a fight with my usually reliable gps. After back tracking several times through a neighborhood my tires finally hit mud – wet mud, soppy mud, squelch-under-your-tires-and-threaten-to-get-you-stuck mud. Over this mud hovered the smell of horses, of hay. It was a mini-adventure just parking and jumping over the puddles that had not yet been pulled underground. Once I’d found people and gone over the basics for volunteering I ran back out, changed out sneakers for boots, and got to work mucking out the stalls after morning feeding.
Some horses had not been turned out to one of the pastures and either munched in their stalls or leaned their heads over the wood doors to examine us. The whole barn area was filled with the moist earthy smell of hay the staff had to clean out when there was flooding in the feed room and the sweet musk of horse. It was skin and hair and breath of the understanding, ever observant mammals.
I had never mucked out stalls before. At the ranch where I took lessons I could not stay on long enough to get to a mucking out lesson. My neighbors let me come over in high school and rid their horses but they were kept on open land with the wooded area for shelter and no stalls to clean. On this morning mucking out was particularly difficult because the rain had matted much of the bedding down so it was difficult to tell what was urine and what was just wet bedding. The surest way to tell: lean down and sniff. It’s hard to miss that acute sour odor. As much of that as possible went into the wheelbarrow, along with brown, droppings. Then I unclipped the water buckets from the hooks and emptied them outside. I did not fill them back immediately after rinsing them out. Fresh water was better for the horses and so the buckets would be filled when they came back in.
I even mucked out a stall with a horse still in it. For the most part he was obedient and shifted out of the way when I needed him to, when he was not trying to escape that is. There was a high school girl who came to help out. She had been volunteering there for a few months so I decided to follow her around and pick up on what she knew. However, she said she had not slept much the previous night and it turns out with all the bragging that she did not know much about working with horses. It showed in her hyper skittish behavior, which she tried to pass onto me, acting constantly flighty and nervous that the horses were going to kick. I was drawing on past experiences where I was taught handling and safety by a well versed instructor who fostered my love of horses in her lessons. I am therefore proud to say there was no hint at all of a horse kicking me on this visit and plenty of the instinctual feelings I had on dealing with a situation turned out to be right when an older more experienced volunteer stepped in.
After mucking out the stalls the high school girl walked around the pastures with me pointing out the horses, naming them, describing them, telling me which had children and where they were – there were even a few courtships in progress apparently.
The herd grazed the refreshed earth and lifted their heads to watch us occasionally. At first the one donkey brayed at several intervals and when I looked over it appeared he was breaking up scuffles between the horses. There were so many, grey, flea bitten, bay, dun, chestnut… Some of the horses I met were mouthy and pushed near to lick my arms and hands as if they were salt blocks. It was similar to being licked by a dog and the affection (and begging for treats) was clear.
I found that like each time I had been around horses I had a particular fondness for the stubborn ones and the giants of the herd. Two of the largest horses were brothers and I followed them along the fence and rubbed the soft hair on their neck while they grazed. Given the time I would have probably just leaned against them and immersed myself in the smell of them while they walked and ate as I did for many afternoons with my neighbor’s gelding. Unfortunately, this time I wanted to absorb as much as I could and bent to the task of chasing the mischievous stallion at the center back into his small pasture, lest he eat something poisonous in the area he had escaped to.
Though the pastures were mucked with mud and my legs ached for two days from trudging through it, and my hands throbbed from lifting so many water buckets, the proximity to equines was worth it. Plus, I came away with more clues on how to write body language for both animals and humans.
Until next week, happy trails!