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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Horse Person Holiday

Snow at my barn, this past March
The farrier came this morning to shoe and trim the horses; an every six week regular occurrence in the life of a horse person. I must confess - I've never had a professional manicure in my life. Never. Nor do I want one, really. I can buy a bottle of Sally Hansen and paint my own nails, thank you, not to mention the daily barn chores chip polish with malice. When it comes to professional nail care, not just anyone can shoe a horse. It's a special skill, and a talent, honed with apprenticeship, years of practice, and constant self-education.
My farrier is an old school cowboy, full of unfailing cowboy wisdom; quiet, kind and patient with the horses. My Markus, who I call "Widowmaker" and "the beast" in all seriousness, approves of him, and that is a wonderful thing. I always enjoy feeding handfuls of hay to my spoiled ponies and swapping horse and farm stories with him. My farrier, I mean. Not Markus. He doesn't care what I think.
Conversation of that sort always reminds me that, as a horse person, there will always be aspects of life that only a fellow equestrian will understand. Only another farmer knows what it's like to have a horse person holiday.
I've never been on time to a Christmas party or dinner in my life. I was always coming from the barn, changing manure-crusted boots for clean boots in the truck, brushing the hay bits from my hair, hoping I didn't smell too much like dirty horse blankets. Every hosted event is interrupted before dark by, "Can you watch the oven? I need to run go put the horses away." And there's that stubbornness, on my part, I guess: They eat at five, not before, the humans can just wait a little. On Christmas morning, before presents, before stockings, before breakfast, it was to the barn. (Horses always eat breakfast before humans, you know)
It isn't all rush, though. I have joyous memories of hanging felt and puff paint stockings on my first horse, Skip's, stall. One year my mom even helped me string lighted garland along the top of the door; the one horse in the barn who didn't fiddle with things. I remember dinky trees in the barn office, enjoyed over Styrofoam cups of hot chocolate, heated up in the ancient electric carafe that had been filled from the tap in the bathroom sink. I remember swapping gifts of new gloves, saddle pads, and those expensive Mrs. Pasture's horse cookies that the horses probably don't like as well as knockoff ginger snaps. The barn was my job, but it was my home away from home, and it was a little bit magic at Christmas time.
And then, there was the quiet. Oh, the dark cold quiet of night. No boarders, all of them off celebrating, vacationing, enjoying their hearths. The farm silent save the crunching of frosty grass. All the horses put away and happily munching hay. A handful of last chores to complete: buckets to fill, a finicky eater to check, a leg wrap to tighten. Stars cartwheeling overhead, breath pluming, the cold burrowing down into gloves, and it was so melancholy...and so perfect. I felt like the lucky one. All those boarders who only came for the social times, who weren't pushing a wheelbarrow through the dark - they had no idea what it was like, when everyone had gone home. They didn't get to hear the farm breathe. Didn't hear the coyotes. Didn't soak up all the subtle aesthetics that make you feel small, fragile, and perceptive. I did a lot of thinking in moments like those. It's no wonder I eventually had to put all those stories on paper.
I love Christmas. I love the lights, the ornaments, the food, the gatherings, the eighteen showings of White Christmas and Bing's beautiful voice. But I also love the way the season helps me feel closer to my farm roots. So many of my merriest memories of this time of year are caught up in memories of horses.
And on the wish list? Boots. Always boots. And maybe a bottle of nail polish or two.

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