Horses. They take their time letting you in. Trust is measured in years, not moments. They can be aloof, pissy, and sometimes terrifying in their strength. But, when they open their hearts to you, there is nothing like it on earth. They take up residence in your soul. They whisper directly into your chest, bypassing your defenses. All horses are unicorns.
Jess will only be here for another few weeks. Her left knee is mangled with arthritis, and it’s long past time to let her run free. The hoof is now turned inward almost 45 degrees.
I’ve had the privilege to be her friend and caretaker for 7 of her 23 years. I’ve watched this lame, slow, beautiful grand dame of a copper-colored quarter horse teach 4 other horses how to live here on this land, how to mind their manners and how to get along. Pablo, Sal, Kit, and Little Horse have all learned from her. She has helped me to teach the rescue, Kit, to trust. Most of all, she has taught me. She has been my therapist since the day I came to this farm, though it was years before I would understand that. What patience she has. But, in these final days, she has taken it to a level that words can’t measure.
Although my brain insisted that “training” was the job that needed done, my heart seemed to need more today. I went to the barn and simply stood with them, gently, as they waited through the warmest part of the day, quietly shivering off the perpetual tickle of flies. Becoming a horse myself – breathing in, breathing out. No plans, no thoughts, no time. Just noticing. Just listening. Fly-buzz. A hoof strikes the clay. Kit sighs. Finally, truly, hearing.
Familiar whack-clunk of the bolt on the tack room door, fishing the blue dollar-store hairbrush that I use for tails out of the busted, stained, spider web encrusted supplement bucket. As I love to do, began brushing Jess’s tail. Its long, cool, copper strands are soft as human hair. Jess loves nothing more than a little attention. That, I can do. It’s an easy job.
I brushed and brushed, long after the tangles had all come free. I brushed with no thought but the brushing. She let me dunk her tail in a bucket of water. Lather, rinse, repeat.
When the tail was perfectly clean, I brushed it until the breeze from the doorway had dried every strand and conditioned it with the smell of summer. There was something so intimate, yet so safe and healing about this mutual grooming. I brush her tail, she strokes my soul. She is the one who will never reject or walk away, never in a thousand years disapprove, never resist. She simply invites me in, and trusts.
Yet, there is no doubt in my heart whatsoever that she knows. Though I haven’t told her directly, she knows she’s going home. And, I swear, she knows that I can’t tell her that. Not just yet.
Last winter, when the wind bit mercilessly through layers of down and drove a cold steel spike through her twisted knee, she looked at me one evening, screaming gently in her silent horse way, “Enough….Help me…..” Even I could hear her. How dense, how coarse I must seem to her. I made a promise. I have to keep it.
Jess, do you know? Do you feel it? Do you understand that you are the one friend that I have? I will do this terrible thing for you, and I will do it with you. But today, today my love, I brush out your tail, hold its softness to my cheek, dissolving into the hay-sweet horse fragrance that is you.
All photographs by ZenDoe