Friday, July 30, 2010

Second Round (Ebbing)

A long, dumb day at work, one that began for me at 5:00 a.m., ended perfectly -- in a way -- when I saw Dar being ridden by Jack. In the first instant, I didn't recognize him. I was parked on Bully Boy, my golf cart, talking with a friend, when I heard a horse approaching. I turned, intending to move out of the way. That's when I saw him. What a beautiful horse, I thought. In the next instant, I saw Dar. My emotions rose, but they were contained by rationality. I was glad to see that Dar was out and about, not simply left to return to his former wild-child self in the north pasture.

"This is Dar." I said to Melissa. "He's the one that --" But I was crying after just those few words and couldn't say anything more. I did know this day would come; it would be part of the process of giving Dar back. (I can't say letting him go, not tonight.) I knew that I would be doing something somewhere at the fair and before long there would go Dar carrying someone on his back, someone not me.

I have loved Scout since the day I got her; I still do. That love came from the place of not having a horse for 20 years. You love getting the horse as much, if not more, as the horse itself. I love Dar differently, though, very differently. I'm still trying to understand it. Some of what welled up in me tonight was the sharp hurt of how much I hoped for me and that horse. I had such hopes for him. I lusted after him in a way, felt such a blunt-force love for him, a connection from the gut. It shocked me to see him with someone else, and the grief of losing him hit me once again.

None of the jousters doubt my love for him. They see it in his fine health, his changed way of moving, his new headset. Jack, relaxed on Dar's back, smiled and murmured his sympathy. He's an 18-year-old boy who believes in his ability to make Dar perfect. And maybe he's right. He made it look easy. That's part of what I saw, part of what pushed me to tears. Why couldn't it have been that for me, someone so much better suited to give Dar a good life?

Melissa put her arm around me. "Talk me out of it," I said. In the moment, she did, enough to get me through the worst of it. "Remember the bucking," she said. Not too long ago, I learned Dar's early history. It was almost accidental, revealed unwittingly during a casual conversation, but left the hairs on the back of my neck standing. Bucking has been a part of Dar since before the jousters got him, never mind me.

It will take some time for me to reconcile myself to the loss of Dar. There will be further blows and more raw emotion. I tell myself Just get through it however you can, one piece at a time. I think I'm being mature about that, not hiding from my emotions but not seeking them out, either. I'm just there, and sometimes there Dar is. But here's my fear. What if the absolutely wrong thing to do was give up on him? I just feel haunted by that possibility tonight, too tired after a long day.

It was really hard to see him.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ebbing (I think)

But maybe haunting me a little, too. I haven't seen Dar since Friday, July 16th. Sometime late last week, he wasn't the first thought I woke up to any longer. We lost our dear old cat, Miguel, who dropped a shocking amount of weight in a matter of days.

I tune in to the animals around me like a dowsing rod bends to water it cannot see. Grampa Gelli preoccupied me, tapped my instinct. On Friday, H.G. and I drove him to the vet. There was a large tumor in his abdomen and we had to let him go.

Dar ebbed, receded. But just there, in the background, he echoes. What if, what if, a pulse beating in still wondering, still wishing, still missing him.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Joy in His Face

I feel such sorrow.

Dar came back to the jousters today. In the end, I put his needs completely before my own.

Work kept me away from the barn for 12 days. I finally saw Dar on Tuesday evening. The solitary confinement of the past six weeks had been taking its toll on him, but I saw it bluntly, plainly, after being away for those days. He ran to the fence, calling over and over again. Not even to me, particularly, but for the diversion, a break from the boredom and confusion. It cut into me, quick and precise, the recognition of his unhappiness. Intolerable. It was intolerable to me.

Last night I gave him a bath, something which was so important to me to do. My best friend held the lead line while I scrubbed Dar. I washed his thick tail three times, shampooed his hind fetlocks back to bright white, and rinsed him until the water ran clear. I put everything I had into it and then felt a kind of peace watching him dry as he grazed in the grass arena.

It rained overnight, of course, and Dar rolled in the fresh mud this morning. I laughed when I saw him, but Jouster Steve was stunned by the changes in Dar; he could have cared less about the mud. Still, I groomed Dar before leading him to Steve's trailer.

Steve tried unsuccessfully to load Dar, then turned him over to me. I broke a carrot in half. "Come on, Dar. Let's go in there," I said. He crunched the carrot and we stepped into the trailer. Because this is my horse, that's why, I thought. It just flicked through my mind.

We drove 40 minutes to the fair. Dar called and sang out. He was keyed up, but trailered well. Then up the winding road to the pasture, slow over the ruts. I backed him out of the trailer and walked him through the gate. When I slipped his halter off, he immediately ducked to graze. "Horses, Dar. There's horses here." I pushed his rump. He lifted his head then and stepped into a trot. I could hear them coming. Skyler, Max and Sunny, three abreast, crested the hill. Dar startled and swept around them. Cutter, Kilvarro and Blaze joined in. The seven cantered the pasture in a large, swooping arc. Just the one lap and it was done. They grazed.

I stood watching Dar for 45 minutes. I felt elated because I could see the relief in him; I could feel it. One by one, the jousters joined to watch. Dar weighs 300 pounds more than he did when they last saw him; he's grown half a hand taller. His eyes are alive with energy and health. None of this was lost on them today.

I walked away feeling proud. I think I earned that. They acknowledged my horsemanship. I think I earned that too.

I went to my office and worked for a while and then drove to the bank in my borrowed pickup truck. It was when I left the bank that a horrible pit opened up in my stomach: Oh, no. What have I done? It was like a riptide; I never saw it coming. The feeling built and built and built. Tears of grief. The fierceness of my love for him. The shock of never really having ridden him.

"Dar," I had called to him just before I left the pasture. No camera could capture the joy in his face as he lifted his head to my voice, ears tipped forward, there among the herd.

Friday, July 9, 2010

They Linger

The festival I work for opens tomorrow. We call the seven days before opening day Hell Week. The population in the park swells from an off-season high of 10 or 15 staff to 1,500 contracted participants during a relentless, breathless ingress of RVs, tents, animals and people, hundreds of people. We hook our radios on our hips to manage the torrent, working until we can't work anymore. After this frenzy, opening day unfolds.

Thousands of guests pour through the gates. Images long familiar to me captivate them.

For me, it is the echo of horses everywhere and how much I miss my own.

I glimpse horses here and there every day during Hell Week -- pass by rehearsals, see the huge trailers moving slowly down our winding back roads, hear the neighing of circuit horses anxious to settle in. I have horses too, I think to myself, fussing at that silly, irritating feeling of being left out, of wanting to be part of what I'm missing. This is where my horses came from, this temporary world of other times, other places where people pay to escape, but which reminds me today of the world I'm longing to get back to, the one where my horses linger.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Getting Back On

I rode Scout last night. It wasn't planned, but K was there, the weather was easy and kind, and there it was. I tacked her up right outside the grass arena so she didn't have to lose her mind over being separated from the others.

Scout hadn't been ridden since September of 2009. The fracture and removal of her left hind splint bone put her out of commission for months.

It could have been a big deal, this ride, but I didn't let it go there. As soon as I settled into the saddle, my body recognized the feel of my little red mare. I ticked through a checklist of all the things she has done and could do: spook, scream for her herd, tense up, speed up, stiffen her neck. I know all of it, I said to myself. And I do. None of her was a mystery to me.

We had a simple, basic ride, walking only, but working shallow serpentines, following soft circles, bending a little bit. I felt the familiarity of how I sit her. There, under me, I felt her doing the same thing. No matter what else, she knows me as her rider. I felt the easy invitation of her back swinging gently, the softening of her neck into a long stretch.

It was what I needed from her, just a quiet ride on a horse that I, for better or worse, know better than any other person ever has.