I have had animals in my life all of my life. My first memory of a pet is of Mickey, our cocker spaniel. He came into our lives in the mid ‘50s when I was six. We lived in Ohio then. We came to Maine in 1959. Mickey did not make the transition to New England successfully. He became fixated on our mother. She could not go anywhere without him or risked disaster in her absence. In my young mind I came to realize that the relationship we had with our animals was just as complicated as our relationships with our fellow humans. That perception has not changed for me in the six-plus decades since Mickey was in my life.
In the intervening years I have kept not only mammals but birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians as well. Every animal I have had under my care has connected me not only to the natural world but more importantly, to myself. At the peak of my animal husbandry I had over the years kept a barn filled with horses, rabbits, sheep, a goat, pigs, chickens, geese, turkeys and ducks in various combinations. In the house we gave a home to an ant farm, parrots, guinea pigs, freshwater fish, mice, a snake, a turtle, dogs and cats. I have learned many things over the years I have been a keeper of animals. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that my animals are my greatest teachers.
My menagerie has shrunk since we moved from our farm on Woodman Road to our Village house. I now take care of two dogs, English shepherds Mocha and Sadie, and one mare, Cyra. She is a cross between a Clydesdale and a Newfoundland pony. As with all my animal charges, Cyra has reminded me many times in the fifteen years we have been together that a person can never have enough patience in dealing with four-legged as well as two-legged beings. I have also learned the power of mutual respect and trust. When those are in place, amazing things happen.
Since our move to town–we are located directly across from the Congregational Church in the Lower Village–my relationship with Cyra has continued to evolve and deepen. Gone are our days of working together in an equine-assisted psychotherapy practice. Now we live for enrichment of each other as well all those we encounter in our rides through the village. This is the first time in Cyra’s life that she has not lived with other horses. She does not seem to mind one bit. She lives in a stall that is an integral part of the garage and house. My study shares a wall with Cyra’s stall. I can sit at my desk and watch her whenever she is present there. Gone is her old three-stall barn with hayloft and acre of pasture. Now she looks out, as we do too, at the world that flows past our house on Gloucester Hill Road. She now has a small forest paddock when she feels the need not to be so social.
Together we now spend more time together than I did in the years my life was centered around the three hundred acres we called Norumbega on Woodman Road. We have asked and been granted permission to ride through neighbors’ yards and fields. We have stitched together rides that are every bit as beautiful as the world we left behind at Norumbega. We can choose rides that are contemplative away from people. We can also choose to ride through the village with the express desire to see people and be seen by people. One loop on the quiet side of the ledger takes us down the Interurban to the banks of Stevens Brook and then up to and through the Lower Village Cemetery.
Our social rides take us on a combination of Grange Hall Road, Cobb’s Bridge Road, Intervale Road and Church Road. We have figured out ways to shadow those thoroughfares without actually riding on them much. Late afternoon seems to be the best time for horseback conversations with on-the-ground neighbors. Summer afternoons are prime time for not only seeing my adult friends but also the many children that make our village so lively. Grange Hall Road is the most reliable kid zone.
The road is dirt and so when the kids call to us to “Go fast!” we have no problem with busting out a canter for their entertainment. I ride with no saddle and only a simple rope halter. We make quite a sight with Cyra’s thousand pounds running pell-mell down the road. I also frequently pass by the Community Building behind Town Hall. On those rides I often see children from the Rec Department’s Kids Club program. If appropriate, I invite them over to say hello and to give Cyra’s neck a scratch. That is as thrilling for me as it is for the children. I love to share Cyra with people of all ages. One time when I was at the Town Hall complex I even returned a library book from Cyra’s back.
Quieter visits with my adult friends are equally enjoyable. We will often park ourselves in a neighbor’s dooryard, and I will chat and catch up on news as Cyra does her best at keeping their grass short. I will often pick up news that I might not have otherwise heard and pass it along to my next stop. One time I came across Kevyn Fowler in his driveway as he sat in his WMTW vehicle and edited a video from the day’s shoot. He put down his window and in went Cyra’s big head to say hi.
We ride all year round. I put studded shoes on her January to April so ice and snow do not keep us home. Winter is one of my favorite times to be out with Cyra. There are no bugs in winter! It is also so quiet in the winter woods and fields. Since I always ride bareback, her warmth is especially welcome on our winter rides. In the winter I drape my grandfather’s sleigh bells over Cyra’s neck. The chiming of the bells is a joyous sound that says to the world, “We are here and happy to be so.”
On our summer rides, I go out before dawn to catch any coolness left from the night. There are fewer bugs in the morning before the heat of the day begins to build. I try to ride out at dawn as many days as I can. There is nothing quite so magical as witnessing the sunrise from Cyra’s back in a small village not yet awake. We have found a way (and gotten permission to be there) to make it all the way to the banks of the Royal River. I will be forever grateful to these landowners for allowing us passage over their land. There is a chain of emerald gems of grass that I never knew existed that I am allowed to explore to my heart’s content. I am routinely filled with joy and gratitude on our adventures. I have seen deer many times on our rides and seen and heard eagles soaring above me.
At seventy, with Cyra north of twenty, I joke that we have hopefully a solid ten years of adventuring together until our bodies say, “Enough!” I ride to keep me grounded to the earth and to my equine companion. She never refuses my request for trips out of her stall. I also ride to stay connected to those who I share this village with, be they five or eighty. The magic never goes away for me. Every time my leg swings over Cyra’s bare back, it is as if I am a young man again experiencing something truly amazing. My gratitude begins with Cyra for her willingness to share with me this place we call our home. She has become known as “the Village horse.” I am just the guy happy to be upon her back.