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The Gift the Horses Give Us

by Olivia Beech 10 months ago in horse

A Moment of Profound Connection to Nature

Emma eating from her hay net at sunset. Image by the author.

I am outside on an unusual task at an unusual time. Horse lunch was served hours ago, and Kasper and Emma have just finished picking at the last danglers of hay in their nylon nets. Emma’s net lays disheveled in the paddock sand, since apparently horses can magically undo fairly stiff quick links hung on eyebolts.

I, however, am not feasting, but hauling four large, dense, heavy bales of grass hay from the small 24’x24’ shed on top of the hill to the 8’x12’ tack shed adjacent to the paddocks. Kasper’s bored of lipping his net and watches me as I walk about. The look in his eyes and the perk in his ears don’t bring to mind any specific words, but the lack of language is subverted by the irrefutable notion that he is paying very close attention to my every. Single. Move.

I’ve finished hauling. The bales are stacked; the lawn tractor is tucked back in the hay shed on the hill; I’m a little warm, despite the literally freezing air; and I’m trucking back down the hill to grab the little push broom I’ve left propped against the tack shed. It shouldn’t be propped there. It ought, rather, to be propped against the back of the paddock run-in. I’m very particular about where I prop my tools.

But it’s also a good excuse to say my third “hi” of the day to the horses. They’re very tame horses. They don’t mind a good pet.

But tonight they’re a tad distracted. Something is in the brush.

Our neighbor’s land is CRP (Conservation Reclamation Program) and full of native grasses, trees, and wildflowers. It’s a great place for wildlife. And–at about 4:15pm on a mid-December day in Iowa–it’s dusk, which is the perfect time for deer and coyotes.

The horses stand at attention. Emma was the first to spot whatever she’s spotted. Kasper quickly comes up beside her to aid in the investigations. Going with the flow, I come up beside Kasper to lend my modest help. I look where they look and see nothing.

Both our horses are Quarter Horses, so they are built downhill; their withers are lower than the peak of their rumps. This means they are naturally inclined to hold their heads low. But when something so interesting as an unknown creature is about–something as gray as the cast of the twilight–they lift their heads high. They are not small horses–15hh for Emma and 15.2hh for Kasper. Emma’s ears are already above my head. Kasper, with his natural ability to bring his head higher (partly due to his sway back), has just about his whole head over mine. I am not particularly short.

And they are intent. There is something out there in that wild field. I’ve seen deer and coyotes in there before. I can’t see them now. Perhaps the horses’ eyesight can detect movement better through the tangle of stalks and leaves of grass.

But perhaps they can’t see whatever’s up there either. Maybe they’re smelling it. We think of a blood hound as the best smeller because of their huge nose, but if you’ve ever had a horse sniff your face, you have become quite aware not just of the size of their nose, but the size of their nostrils, and the vast amount of air that traverses that vent.

Or perhaps they’re hearing it. We think of dogs as the keenest hearers, chalk it up to their big ears. But because of their grand scale, we look at horses and see proportionally small ears… but they’re actually quite large.

So I remove my hat, for it is irrefutably inhibiting my own meager hearing. I don’t feel the cold. I stand as still as I can, trying to hear what they hear, hoping whatever rustle in the scrub the horses can detect easily is loud enough to register at the very brink of my hearing. I know I’ll never catch the sound, and I don’t.

But as I stand there, dusk lending an ethereal shade to my four acres of paradise, straining to detect the living thing just over the property line, trying to hear what my horses hear, I sense every piece of nature around me. I can’t hear much of it, I can smell even less, I touch very little of it, I see only the most obvious bits of it. But nonetheless, I am suddenly more a part of all the nature around me, now that I consciously attempt to include myself in something beyond my physical ability. To experience the world from the horses’ point of view.

And I feel a little better about my life and myself and what I’m doing and where I am.

I have other work to do, so I must depart. And there is no departing without insisting on a kiss on each of my horses’ exceptionally fluffy faces. They disagree, but allow it with a bit of encouragement. They’re still trying very hard to glimpse a twilight dweller.

I swing one leg between the lines of the fence gate, whip my body through, and the other leg follows.

And whatever work I’ve put into this farm for a year and a half is paid for by that single moment of clarity, of presence, of connection.

This is the gift the horses give us.

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Olivia Beech

Ruminations on nature, wonderings about existence, adventures into the other-worldly; follow me as I plunge into stories both fictional and real.

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