Horse Moments - A Story of True Love
By Sam Horchler
In the glow of the stable lights, Lindsay sat on the floor with the thin leather straps from her favorite bridle in her hands. Doing this singular task gave her complete meditative satisfaction. She preferred to take her time doing it, and hated to be rushed by Gail. "Come on now, the tack's not gonna' clean itself!" Gail would admonish.
Lindsay always imagined her reply,
"That's right, I'm going to clean it, and if you want the job done right, you're going to have to wait while I do it." But she was never able to get the words past her lips.
In the afternoon Lindsay would do a quick job of it, but sometimes, when hours needed to be filled, she couldn't sleep, or she just wanted an excuse to be in the stable, she cleaned the tack with exacting thoroughness.
With a small pick, she cleaned grime from each hole of the straps, then wiped the prong of the buckles with a rag. She paused and rubbed grit between her fingers, taking a moment to listen. As she listened to the breathing of the horses, the soft heavy sounds in the warm stable soothed her, making her sleepy.
Lindsay looked up to the rafters for birds and thought about the chilly early spring night just beyond the wooden beams. She regarded her company, loving just being near the horses. Getting the perfect lather with her saddle soap, Lindsay contemplated how people were constantly doing something when with horses: riding, grooming, worming, trimming their hooves, or trailering them. When they weren't doing that, they were talking about them: what needs to be done, what they should do with this one and how they should do it. Lindsay liked being with horses: simply being with them. Everyone that Lindsay knew who loved horses said that being around them was soothing, but to Lindsay it seemed like that tranquility got lost in a frenzy of action, like kids playing tag around a pond.
She recalled Gail that morning speaking with a friend. Or competitor. Gail regarded each like the other, but it was hard to decide which was which. They were having their usual I-know-more-about-equestrian-stuff-than-you conversation: Leaning on a paddock fence, thumbs in belt loops, using the words of work. All just words.
"Yep, digging post holes today. Gonna' make the oak paddock bigger by an acre or so. Give 'em some extra room since I just got Hester."
"Oh is that your new Paint, the one with the limp?"
"It's not a real limp, just a sore muscle, it just needs some time, wrapping, and some meds."
"Oh, I don't use the stuff you do, I don't think it does a horse's constitution good."
"Oh, really? Well anyway, we'll have to scrub out the troughs and clean the tack. I really want to make her feel welcome. Then I gotta get Maggie warmed up for when Liz comes over to ride this morning..."
If only Gail had been chewing a piece of straw in her mouth, the image would've been perfect. Lindsay believed Gail saw herself as a weathered and real horsewoman, and that she thrived on this image.
Watching them reminded Lindsay of construction workers. She had driven past construction sites countless times, but it never seemed like anything was happening. There were traffic holdups, but nothing was ever moving, none of the men working. She might see one man with a jackhammer and four co-workers watching him. Or a guy holding a stop sign with two people next to him, but all of the machines were curiously unmoving, like dinosaur skeletons in a museum. The workers were always standing around, chewing tobacco, looking at all their tools, talking about I-beams, wrenches, flush and plumb, tarmac, and overtime. Boys with toys. If they were boys with toys, what was Gail? A lady with a slave.
'I know who's digging those post holes,' thought Lindsay. As she cleaned the underside of the saddle, suds ran down the length of her arm. Lindsay tied a bandana just above her elbow to catch them.
Lindsay recognized that she was always at a loss in horse related conversations. She hated going to horse shows, as she found them to be festivals of elitist self-indulgence. But was that a fair judgment? She'd only been riding horses for a year and a half. Of course she didn't know everything. She didn't compete, she didn't try to get "into it." She just rode because she liked trail riding and she thought horses were funny like people, like her teachers or boys she liked or strangers. They did things that gave her the giggles.
Like men who grunt during athletic feats, or when her dad said in surprise, "Well, blue corn!" She loved watching the horses make up their minds, she was in awe of how she could see fear in their eyes when they were spooked. Horses were so expressive, and Lindsay loved seeing and feeling their expressions in all their forms. It's why Gail occasionally gave her the one compliment other than,
"You've got a nice way about horses." Gail had said.
"Thanks!" she'd replied cheerfully, "They've got a nice way about me!" And then Gail would smile, eyebrow raised, and turn away.
While her body was engaged in the monotonous motions of soaping the leather, Lindsay's thoughts roamed to the way the horses interacted with her and the way they had about them: the way they breathed; the expectant look they gave her when they wanted something; the way they took care not to hurt her when she was picking out their hooves; it was the harmony, the feeling of being understood in a world where miscommunication starts wars and ends love. To Lindsay, talking about it only broke the spell. She just liked being with horses, riding them, feeling them.
Lindsay loved riding by herself but realized she was still an amateur rider. It was romantic to think that a horse could tell you everything you needed to know, but she needed help understanding them. Help from a horse person, with decades more knowledge watching and seeing horses than she had. Lindsay wanted the experience, but didn't want to become so muddled in the vocabulary, the talking about, the business, the trading, and even the politics that came with it all. So she listened, she worked, she trained, but she largely didn't participate in the equestrian scene. She wanted her own stable one day, with only a couple horses--stuff she could handle on her own.
Lindsay deftly put the bridle back together and hung it back up in the tack room. Finished with her work, she watched the leathered saddle and reins absorb the soap. She didn't actively like cleaning it, but once she got started, she couldn't stop herself. Her mind would tell her, "No, you should just be BEING like you're always telling yourself. Quit it!" but she'd keep wiping, cleaning, digging out grit. And then she'd quiet her mind.
Lindsay switched off the lights and quietly drew open the barn door, just wide enough to squeeze back out into the night before closing it again. She wanted the tack, everything that she needed to be on a horse, but without all the grit and grime on it. No, that just wouldn't do.