Everything has changed. Nothing has changed. These two opposing statements seem irreconcilable and yet they describe my feelings every time I go to the barn to care for Cyra and prep her for a ride. I have ridden horses for nearly six decades. I have been a horse owner for over three decades. The horses have changed. The venues have changed The routine has changed very little in all those years. Horses need to be fed. They need to be watered. They need to be cleaned. Their stalls need to be cleaned. When I head to the barn in the morning I know what awaits me. I know what I need to do. This grounds me in a time when it is easy to become ungrounded by a new and sometimes threatening reality.
When I am in the barn, the world falls away. My world then is a broom, a shovel and a wheelbarrow. The average horse produces forty pounds of manure a day. My barn currently is home to two horses, Cyra, my Clydesdale cross mare, and Teddy, my friend Karen’s Quarter-horse gelding. Karen and I take turns doing the chores. I do the morning. Karen does the evening. First I give Cyra and Teddy their grain. Mocha, my female English Shepard and all around side kick, heads into the stalls to clean up any spilled grain that falls on the stall floor. I sweep and shovel the manure. I put out hay. I take the manure in the wheelbarrow to the manure empoundment where I empty it and return to fetch Cyra to be groomed.
With her rope riding halter on, she stands patiently in the aisle as I curry her coat and brush out her mane. All of these tasks push away the troubles of the world. They focus me on the job at hand. I take satisfaction in caring for my equine friends and providing them all they need to be healthy and happy. In return, Cyra gives me her 1100 pounds of unconditional love. Its not a bad trade. That’s not to say she does not have her own opinions about life. Being pulled (ever so gently!) from her morning hay is concerning to her but not once has she ever refused to come with me out of the stall to begin a new adventure.
Once curried and combed I lead her to the mounting block to throw my leg over her bare back and settle myself into the contours of her body. With Mocha leading the way we head down the barn driveway to Woodman Road. At this point it is easy to let my thoughts intrude on our time together but I have tools in my mental toolbox to forestall that. I listen to the sound of her right front hoof coming down onto the ground. I count to ten using the sound of her hoof as my metronome. This focuses me on the world we are passing through. It is like life itself, full of ruts, rocks and roots. Cyra’s body has to deal with these impediments to our travel and in so doing transmits a lot of physical input to my body.
The counting of her hoof falls guides me to feel all that input by shutting down my spinning brain, all too often overwhelmed by all that is new and scary in our new world. I become much more in harmony with her efforts and her body movements as we pass through our woods. We almost always take the same route. We enter the woods at the Stream Loop Trail East Trail-head. This has sometimes been a problem for us. In the past Cyra has expressed quite strongly her aversion to this route. I always told my students that you will never win a physical battle with a horse. They are always stronger that the rider. It has taken patience, stillness and slow breathing to overcome Cyra’s dislike of this trail. I am happy to report that this morning we only had a brief “discussion” before she acquiesced.
This trail rises steeply from the road. We are rewarded at the top with a spectacular view of Talking Brook. By now my counting has blended with my “being” in the woods making my way on a big beast who knows the trail so well I can let the reins go slack and enjoy the ride. Mocha takes a much longer route than we do. I frequently lose sight of her as she explores the scent inspired stories of the woods. We follow the brook to a big pool then turning right and heading up once again to the top of a ridge. We always stop at the to let Cyra catch her breath and to let us both take in the beauty of the open hardwood forest below us. We also try to spot Mocha as she makes her way back to connect with us. We are halfway out now. She is content sensing she is now headed back to the barn and her breakfast hay. I am content having shed the troubled world and replaced it with one of quiet beauty shared with my two favorite four legged creatures. Michael Fralich May 4, 2020