I'm realizing more and more how special the love for horses is. It's very unique, and doesn't touch everyone. Trying to explain it is like trying to describe color to someone who was born blind. It's intangible, ethereal, and resists definition. No matter how close I get to putting it into words, the other person never walks away with a true understanding or a newborn adoration for equines like I hope to instill. The love just is, or it isn't.
This quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson touches upon the strength of it. Yet again, though, even through the words of a great poet, the only people who seem to truly understand the words are horse people themselves.
“Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole and once it has done so, he/she will have to accept that his life will be radically changed.”
As much as I try to teach my husband this desperate passion for the horse, I don't think he will ever truly grasp it. I suppose his soul was not sewn with the hair from a horse's mane like mine. It will remain a privilege, given by the gods, to those of us who do love horses.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
As she cleaned his stall, her mind went back to the old apartment and its terrifying lone inhabitant. Her heart wrenched at the thought that someone could be so cruel to another human being, let alone to a person they’d once loved. As she thought, tears began sliding down her face at the heartbreak and fear she’d endured and was now free from. But she wasn’t free from the heartbreak, yet. Sylvia knew that only time and the growth of new love would heal the searing ache.
She stopped mucking to wipe her face on her sleeve, and glanced up at her new four-legged companion. He had been watching her from the side of his stall where he had placed himself, but now he lumbered over to her. He lowered his large, gentle head and pressed it against her. His head was as long as her torso. She hugged it appreciatively, and he lifted it back up to look at her again.
Slowly, a squishy oblong pink flap slid out of his mouth to flop goofily out the side of his face. Sylvia laughed as he bobbed his head up and down, jouncing his tongue here and there. He had such a twinkle in his eye and was acting so silly that she couldn’t deny that he was trying to cheer her up. He never stopped looking straight into her eyes the entire time, and she played the tongue game with him until Jose popped his head over the door to check on her. She quickly got back to work, but not without a grateful stroke to the horse’s nose. Somehow he had felt her heartbreak and known what to do. Horses are healers, they say.
This must be true, for as the days and weeks went on with Sylvia gradually learning the ropes of being a groom, her pain dwindled. The big bay, who she now called Whiskey because of his ability to put her to sleep so quickly that first night, had become her best friend. Without speaking, she had shared her secrets with him and he had provided the unconditional love she needed.
Jensen, the kind trainer who had taken Sylvia in, had shown her where the groom’s dwellings were and set her up with her i.d. so no more dashing in through the exit would be necessary. With his permission, Sylvia spent more and more time with Whiskey, choosing to be with him when her work was done rather than go anywhere else. On many an occasion, Sylvia would slip in to spend the night in his stall, just like that first evening.
She made friends with other characters around the training barn, too, like the exercise riders, Shelley and Alejandro, the eight other grooms, and the black and white mousing cat affectionately called The Punisher.
She later ran into Benfield, the trainer who had come in to the bakery that monumental day. She smiled at him, wondering if he would recognize her. He smiled politely back, but didn’t seem to remember. And that was okay, she realized. She had known him as much as she’d needed to in order to make it to Jensen’s barn. Anything else was extra.
For the first time in years, Sylvia was happy. Maybe it was the fact she’d made a brand new life for herself, completely on her own. Maybe it was the kind people she worked with. Maybe it was that she was around horses all day every day. Most likely, it was the deep, spiritual connection she’d made with the big bay gelding. He had been her rescuer, her healer. Like so many people before her, Sylvia owed her renewal to a horse, and to the horse she would be forever grateful.
Monday, April 16, 2012
“My name is Sylvia. I- I’m looking for work,” she stammered. “I have experience with horses and am a really hard worker. Is there anything I can do for you? Really- I’ll do anything you need here.”
She knew she sounded desperate, but she didn’t care. It was the truth, and maybe he would take pity on her. The trainer was still looking long and hard at her. She did look trustworthy, he thought, and he did need another groom to replace that bastard he’d fired yesterday.
“Have you worked at a track before?” he asked in a gravelly voice, suspecting the answer before she gave it.
“No, no I haven’t. I’m a fast learner though, and I'm very capable. And, like I said, I know horses even if I don’t know races . . . yet.” Sylvia replied. She had her fingers wrapped tightly around the cedar horse ornament, praying he would give her a chance.
He nodded once. “Alright. Well, yesterday I fired a groom for showing up hungover and worthless. You can see how it goes takin’ care of the horses he had here. My name’s Jensen if you need anything major. Jose can get you started.”
He called Jose over, the man who Sylvia had spoken to earlier. He explained the situation quickly in what was most-decidedly Spanglish, and Jose got the picture.
Sylvia squeezed the ornament in thanks to whatever higher being had had mercy on her request.
Jose grinned at Sylvia and waved at her to follow him to the first stall on the right.
“Estos caballos for you,” he told her, gesturing toward the first three stalls.
Sylvia tripped over her “gracias” as she watched him carefully to see what she would need to do. He rolled over the wheelbarrow, patient and resigned to its less than desirable task of carrying soiled shavings and horse shit, and squeaked open the latch to the first stall. Sylvia watched his technique as he scooped the first pile for her, noting the subtle flick of the wrist that ensured a clean swipe. Believe it or not, mucking stalls cleanly and efficiently is an art form of its own.
Jose held out the pitchfork to her, pointed out where the fresh shavings were located, and left her on her own. She understood without being told that she was to come get him again when her three charges had clean stalls.
Realizing she still had her bag on her shoulder, she plopped it down on the ground outside the stall. Hell, it’s dirty anyway, she thought. It certainly wasn’t the most glamorous job at the track, but Sylvia didn’t see it that way. In fact, she was so happy with her new lot that she might as well have been scooping up singing marshmallows into a wheelbarrow pushed by leprechauns.
This first stall contained a brilliant chestnut filly who watched Sylvia curiously as she worked. Once the stall looked fresh and luxurious enough for royalty, Sylvia rewarded her own hard work with a warm hug to the filly. She stroked the gleaming hair for a few seconds before turning to clean the next stall.
This stall contained the 17 hand dark bay who had shared his quarters with her last night. He greeted her with a wet snuffle on her hand, and Sylvia smiled. There was something about this giant that went straight to her still wounded heart.
To be continued . . .
Friday, April 6, 2012
(Trying a new title . . . what do you think?)
Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here! Please feel free to leave comments with suggestions, title ideas, etc.!
Sylvia spotted a sign saying Jensen Racing Stables; this was the barn she had been looking for. She sank to the ground on the dark side of the barn to wait. She was still so excited, so proud of herself, so alive with the nearness of the horses, but so very, very tired. Her head slowly dropped to her knees and she slept.
Sylvia was awakened by the sound of hooves, shouts, and the clanking of stall doors. The horses were back. She lifted her head to watch their muscles ripple magnificently under their sweaty hides. Their nostrils still flared with excitement, and the eyes of some horses were still very wide. She drank in every part of those beautiful horses she could see . . . those long delicate legs that somehow propel 1000 pounds at 40 mph . . . the neatly cropped manes . . . the long swishing tails . . . it was like food for her soul.
Sylvia watched until every last horse had been taken into his respective barn. She listened carefully as the horses were cared for and bedded down for the night, until she no longer heard any more sounds other than the rustling of the animals. Eventually she felt it was safe to go inside the barn she had been resting against.
It was warm inside. Low, soft lights made the barn so cozy and comfortable, just like grandma’s house at night with the small warm lights here and there to guide you to the bathroom. Sylvia floated down the main hall, peering into each stall to take in its occupant. Most of the horses were dozing peacefully, some with hips cocked to the side to rest a hind leg, some laying down in the deep shavings like perfect life-size figurines.
Sylvia walked down both of the barn’s main hallways, drinking in the peace that horses bring that she so desperately needed. One dark bay stuck his gigantic head over the stall door when she approached. Sylvia let him smell her, stroking his neck and putting one hand under his muzzle. His black whiskers tickled her hand and she couldn’t resist planting a kiss on his big soft cheek.
The instant companionship felt so natural, so right, Sylvia wondered why she had ever let herself fall away from horses. She knew it wasn’t a good idea, that she could get in mounds of trouble, that she could go to jail, that this giant could cause serious harm to her, on accident or on purpose, but she found herself unhooking the latch to his stall. She slipped inside, petting him and reassuring him all the while, and he pulled his head back to be entirely in the stall with her. Sylvia hugged his big strong neck, feeling so safe with this giant stranger that she felt she’d known all her life. After a couple more strokes and kisses, Sylvia nestled into a corner where she couldn’t be seen immediately by someone walking by. The shavings felt so springy and fresh, and she felt so at peace that sleep came almost instantly.
It was the deepest sleep she’d had in a long, long time, and it had been without the assistance of whiskey. The sound of morning feeding finally awakened her, and Sylvia took a few seconds to remember where she was. When it all came back to her, she panicked. They might find her in this multi-thousand dollar racehorse’s stall, where she had absolutely no reason or permission to be! She slowly peeked over the edge, spotting a wheelbarrow two stalls down and someone feeding down the opposite side. She had to take her chance, and slipped out just in time before the person feeding turned around from the stall he was at. She tried to look like she had just walked down the hall, although shavings still clung to her clothes. Her bag still hung off her shoulder where it had been all night.
The man studied her suspiciously. She had to say something . . . what? What should she tell him? Sylvia began wishing she’d solidified even some sort of story. Finally she managed to fumble out a barely coherent sentence that included the words “trainer”, “work”, and “horses”. He seemed to understand, despite the apparent language barrier and Sylvia’s jumbled communication.
He nodded toward the training office at the end of the barn and turned back to his feeding. Out of the corner of his eye he watched her head the direction he’d pointed. She was so thin, haggard-looking almost, but there had been a spark of something hopeful in her eyes. He hoped the trainer wouldn’t dismiss her like he often did people looking for work.
“Excuse me,” Sylvia said, with a mixture of boldness and hesitation. A wiry, gruff-looking man stared hard at her through the office door without answer. He pushed back his chair, leaving it out from the desk, and stepped out to the hallway with her.
She wasn’t sure what to say next. This man looked like he’d said no many times and would have no problem saying it again.
To be continued . . .
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here! Please feel free to leave comments with suggestions, title ideas, etc.!
Sylvia couldn’t believe herself, couldn’t believe her own bravery, couldn’t believe that she was finally, actually free! She hugged her own bony shoulders as she stepped off the apartment property, a huge smile on her face. She could be Sylvia again, proud of who she was and where she was going.
The track was a few miles away and it would be a long chilly walk, but Sylvia could see the bright lights beckoning her in the distance. All she had to do was follow the light, like a bug toward a bug zapper, only hopefully not so gruesome at the end. It was scary, walking at night like that. Sylvia made quick jerks with her head in any direction she heard a noise, and the walk felt like an eternity. Eventually she found herself approaching the drive to the Walther Downs parking lot, but that would only take her straight to the actual racetrack and stadium. She needed the training barns. Sylvia kept walking until she came across a sign that said “Horse Barns” with an arrow.
Her footsteps were falling slower and heavier now, but her heart was lighter than ever. She was almost there! She could smell the sweet, savory fragrance of horses filling the air. She felt invigorated, alive for the first time in so long. As she neared the barns, she noticed a chain link fence looming in the darkness.
“Damn!” she muttered, fear taking hold of her again. What if the security guards caught her and sent her back home, called the apartment and woke Jackson up, made her go back to him . . . ? Her thoughts began spiraling out of control. She had to get a hold of them so she could think straight! She stood, body trembling, by the fence, studying the guard station that monitored vehicles entering and leaving the training barn area. She took deep breaths to calm herself and soon was recovered enough to notice that the guard was watching tv and probably just keeping an eye out for headlights.
Then, Sylvia did see headlights from inside the training area, heading toward the exit where she stood! She remained still in the shadows, waiting for the perfect moment to slip through just when the truck drove out and carried the guard’s attention away with its loud diesel engine. She dashed through just as the truck bed passed her. The guard remained riveted to his tv, and Sylvia let out a long breath of air. She couldn’t see the grass she stood on but she was certain it felt greener than the other side. She’d made it.
The barns were quiet, though the lights were still shining brightly as they waited for the horses from the final race to return. As she drew closer, she could hear the crunching of hay, the rustling of shavings, the kicking of an impatient and wide-awake stallion. This was home to her, and she had never even been here before.
Sylvia snuck past the entry to the first barn; not a soul in sight, though she knew people were there to care for the racehorses who would soon return. The smartest thing for her to do would be to hole up somewhere until everyone had left the barns for the night, Sylvia realized. In the morning she would beg and plead and promise her firstborn child for a job with any trainer she found.
To be continued . . .
Monday, April 2, 2012
Read Part 1 here! Please feel free to leave comments with suggestions!
Sylvia wiped everything down as slowly as she could, squeezing every last second out of her workday before she had to head home. Her bony arms stuck out awkwardly from her uniform as she cleaned. She couldn’t seem to make herself eat these days; it just didn’t seem worthwhile.
Sylvia trudged up the stairs, praying with each step that when she opened the apartment door she would see him lying on the couch like a beached manatee, snoring away. The nights when he passed out before she got home were like Christmas to her, and she creeped open the door to see if Santa had left her a gift tonight . . . yes! Manatee status confirmed. He was out until about noon tomorrow.
She tiptoed in out of habit even though there wasn’t much concern he would awaken in this state. Slipping into the bathroom, Sylvia took a long hard look at herself in the mirror. She looked way older than 26, she realized as she stared. Her face had lines on it that only a grandmother elephant should have. Her skin sagged dully over bones that used to be graced with youthful muscle tone. If she saw her dear mare Susie Q in the equivalent of her condition, Sylvia realized, she would be beyond livid.
So why did she not feel that way about herself? It was wrong, she knew. She’d had loving parents who had taught her to appreciate herself for who she was. It was like she was that frog who got placed in the pot of water, and then the water gradually heated up to boiling, before he could realize and jump out.
She began to undress so she could wash off the smell of coffee and cleaning bleach when she felt something in her pocket. It was a pen that she’d forgotten she had shoved in there when she found it on the counter after the men had left. It said Benfield Racing Stables in purple, listed Michael Benfield as the head trainer, and gave a phone number. She stared at it like she’d never seen a pen before.
She wasn’t one to believe in signs, but she was one to answer a call if the call was strong enough. To Sylvia, in that moment, the call was stronger than that pull of whiskey she’d taken when she’d walked in the door to help her sleep. It was a split decision, but an unwavering one. She was going to Walther Downs. She didn’t know what she would do or say when she got there, but that didn’t matter. She was going to be with horses again, and that meant she was going to feel unconditional love again.
Sylvia trembled with a mixture of excitement and trepidation at her plan. What if Jackson did wake up? Once he was awake he wasn’t so much like a lumbering manatee anymore- more like a hairy ridiculous gorilla, but still scary. What if he figured out where she’d gone and tracked her down? He had known of her love of horses at one time, though if he remembered she didn’t know. She pushed the what if’s aside; they would only act as stumbling blocks to her now.
Suddenly nothing seemed to matter anymore except getting to that racetrack. It was a ray of hope, and the smell of coffee and bleach on her skin seemed to dissolve as she thought of the things she should gather. She grabbed fresh clothes, bathroom necessities, some granola bars, and shakily shoved them in her old duffel bag. She felt like a hobo putting together a little knapsack to carry over her shoulder, she felt like a small child running away for the first time. She felt . . . liberated. Terrifyingly liberated and she wasn’t even out of the apartment yet. Last she reached way down into her pillowcase and pulled out the cedarwood Christmas tree ornament her parents had given her, in the shape of a horse. She pressed it to her mouth in a kiss and breathed in the still lingering cedar smell. It gave her that last little bit of love for her past mixed with hope for the future that she needed to take the dreaded steps toward the door.
Jackson the Manatee was still snoring, one flipper now flopped over the edge of the couch. Should she leave a note? Some sort of acknowledgement of the long-ago days when they had been happy? No, of course not, she realized sadly. He had burned all those bridges already. She slipped out the door with no more qualms, clutching the ornament for strength.
To be continued.