Owning horses is not the same as being a horseman. One of my best role-models for the honor of being called a “horseman” is my friend and trainer, Kathy. She has studied the craft of horsemanship all her life, and has spent the past 30 years as a professional horseman. Although I’ll never turn “pro,” her example of how to take proper care of horses makes me want to be a better owner to my emerging herd of three (one retired).
That’s why I called her this morning on her day off.
I was cold-hosing my mare’s healing leg tendon (which has involved twice-daily trips to the barn for the past several weeks, to care for her and bring her back into work properly), and ruminating somewhat angrily about the swollen leg I’d just noticed on my other horse, the one who’s not “supposed” to break. He and I had fun jumping yesterday on the first t-shirt-worthy evening of spring—and now he has a swollen leg reminiscent of how my mare’s leg looked three weeks ago.
Kathy and I consulted, made a plan, and we’ll see what the next few days bring. But coming to a screeching halt from saddle time (again) got me thinking: having horses isn’t just about riding. The riding is definitely fun—but if people think that’s all there is to having a horse, I wish they would think again. Sometimes equine partners need care that doesn’t involve lugging us humans around for our pleasure and thrills. Sometimes, they get sick or hurt. At such times, a horseman steps up and does the ground work of hand-walking, cold-hosing, wrapping, consulting with veterinarians and others. Maybe such activities are not what I had in mind this spring, but too bad! With luck, the healing powers of good care and time will place us in the competition arena by summer, but for now I’m planning ahead just a day at a time.
Here’s what I am gaining from these setbacks:
1) morning is a magical time in a barn. It’s quiet. Dusky. The horses are happy to see people arriving to feed and settle them into their days. I usually work in the mornings, so going to the barn early has been like a mini-vacation from the computer (one I really can’t afford, but one I’ll make a point of treasuring even more).
2) hand-walking a horse is, if you let it, a delightful shared walking meditation. My mare and I make 6 circuits of the aisles of our large barn (the concussive properties of concrete being a good thing to “tighten” tendons) and maybe two laps of the extended driveway outside in the 15-20 minutes she gets twice a day. I get to be beside this amazing creature with the captivating eyes, walking. Just walking. Nice. Very nice.
3) cold-hosing in the wash stall is a chance to stand beside her, smell her amazing horse-smell, smooth her hide, feel her warmth. It can become sort of sleepy and dreamlike with the soothing sound of the water streaming off her leg to the drain, drip, drip, drip.
4) grazing for a few minutes outside on the emerging green shoots of spring generates a certain really happy look in the eye of a horse. Contented. As it should be.
A horseman does for her horses whatever they need to be healthy and happy. I like it best when mine can go out to their pastures and hang out with their buddies and just be horses. I like it, too, when we can saddle up and I get to ride. But that’s just not in the cards right now, so I’ll be the best horseman I can be and find the upside to these setbacks. I also think Kathy is thus surely happy to have me on her team.