The horse rescue center where I volunteer has three main stall locations, all of which we nominate as barns for simplicity, along with one corral, one jumping ring, a trail area, and several pastures. Last week I brought one carrot from the fridge and entered the pasture closest to the tack and feed room where only two horses watched me.
I break the carrot in half and hand one to the white speckled horse I may take lessons on in the future. The other half goes to the second horse who follows me relentlessly. He knows what that crisp snap of orange vegetable is. He recognizes the smell of it. I press my hands to the speckled one’s neck. He is warm. And fuzzy, and patient while he still munches on the half of carrot. I walk around him, sweeping my hands along his body, trying to feel the separate muscle groups, checking that he is in the right weight range by how closely I can feel ribs. When the white speckled horse lays back his ears at his unpleasant companion I roll my eyes. They both had been given equal parts, silly horses. When the other lays back his ears as well I clap and shout wordlessly, which startles them away from me. Both of them circle them back, eager for more carrot but again they lay back their ears and I quickly remove myself from between them. The last thing I want is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time for a nip or kick. I rub the neck of this second horse too but both keep coming together and I sigh, knowing it’s my own damn fault for giving out treats. Eventually I walk away from them and through the open connecting gate into the largest pasture.
The rest of the herd grazes quietly and I make my way to the back section of stalls, intent on checking the water levels and if they need to be mucked out. There is a presence behind me and when I turn my head to look it is the second horse from the first pasture. He is a thoroughbred and I think he is the one we have who is descended from Secretariat. There are many thoroughbreds at the rescue center, ending up here due to injury or retirement, not only abuse. This one is currently undergoing training and he is obstinate. Now he twitches his closest ear in my direction and raises his head a little. When I slow so does he. When I stop he does to, then looks at me as if to say, “Bah, I am not following you. I was intending to go this way anyways. Now move. You’re on the patch of grass I’m after.” I draw my eyebrows together in a frown at him but my lips rise almost involuntarily in a smile. I feel a sudden excitement, a prickling, a tiny sparkling under my skin. On part of me thinks, Oh my gosh, Kiri, he’s following you! Another part thinks, Nonsense. He just wants another treat. The electric spasms of excitement continue to jump inside my chest. Outwardly I say nothing to the horse. I turn and continue forward.
Not only can I hear him move forward – the shhif of sand and dirt under his hooves – but I feel him moving to follow. He speeds up though and walks beside me, shoulder even with mine. I raise one hand and scratch the skin where his neck connects to his shoulder. One ear twitches to me and back forwards and still we walk. Then place my palm high on his shoulder and we walk diagonally across the length of the pasture. I stop once more and he stops when I do. He doesn’t turn to look at me but waits, observing the other horses and the rest of the pasture.
When I reach the fence separating the back barn and it’s smaller field I pat my follower on the shoulder, thanking him silently both for the company and for following my presence regardless of his reasons, and step between the horizontal wood. Unfortunately it seems my traverse was in vain because none of the back stalls need water or cleaning. I say hello to the horses there and then go back the way I came. The follower isn’t in sight but before I am a quarter of the way back to the main barn he pulls even with me and this time I grin. Somehow I manage to wriggle my toes happily while I walk.
We are not connected by a rope, he wears no halter, and I have never ridden him. There is, however, an invisible joining feeling when a horse walks beside you like that, of its own will and you don’t care about the reason.
I still don’t care about the reason and it just makes me more excited to bring them in for feeding, for holding the halter when their hind hoof needs treatment in a solution, for constantly striving to learn what ails them, what heals them, what natural ways I may learn to train them with. Sometimes when I go I just observe them after chores. I watch how they behave around each other and I try to pick up on it. What does one do when they want the other to move without baring teeth. How do they play? How do they warn the other equally volatile horse to back the heck off or stop misbehaving?
Thank you for bearing with me through all of that and if you enjoyed it, let me know and I’ll pop a few more of these in here. Next week will be a post about something different!
A quick note on horses and art: when I go to the rescue center I observe the horses and lighting on them in a number of locations and with the help of said observance and tutorials by artists, I was able to figure out a new lighting and a few anatomy lines I had missed when trying to shade horses before now. Here’s my newest creation:
It’s a personal ID image of myself in a long sleeved shirt I have yet to attempt to make (I will try eventually!) and my favorite animal! I’ve tried a line-less style and personally I like how this one came out. It’s better than how I have tried in the past. I’ve also tried using a new brush and I finally figured out how to mess with the brush settings. The image was composed completely from scrap and I referenced a few photos for the horse. I’ll do a post in the future about artists I reference often for helpful tips and tutorials.
Do you have any requests for a topic I could write on in the future? Feel free to leave any suggestions in the comments!
Until next week, happy trails~