My fingers are already burning, flashing white, begging me to go back into the house, out of this bitter, bone-jarring cold.  It will be dead dark in half an hour.

The horses crowd to the barn, irritable and hungry, jostling for position and charging at one another.  The wind drives nails through our skin.  In their stalls, they pace and snort as though winter were a tiger, waiting for them in every dim corner.

The pump is frozen.  With my back to the wind, I drizzle tepid water from the heated stock tank over the handle until it reluctantly moves.  The tank outside the barn has to be filled by hand.  How many trips with the red plastic bucket?  Maybe only five tonight.  I take great care to keep my gloves dry.

Empty bucket banging against my leg, I turn to make another trip.  The field next door is dotted with black cows and there’s a child.  I squint into the wind, trying to wrap my mind around what I’m seeing.  There’s a child, pushing a pink bicycle across a frozen field, at this hour, and in this frigid miserable wind.  I drop the bucket.  A gust carries it skittering over the frozen mud to collide with the side of the barn.

He’s about ten years old, all mittens and hat, pushing a girl’s bike up the hill toward my barn, toward me.  There’s a clear plastic bag dangling from one mitten.  I walk toward the wire fence that separates my pasture from theirs, and wait.  The minutes crawl by.  I’m cold.  I’m impatient.  I want to finish feeding.  I wait.  It’s the least I can do.

Slowly and deliberately he stops near the fence, and works to put the kick-stand down, the bag in his hand swinging with his tedious effort.  The kick-stand is stuck.  He gently lays the bike down and approaches me, raising the bag up for me to see or to take.  I have no earthly idea how to respond.  “Hey, Sweetheart,” I say, serving up the warmest southern voice-candy I can manage under the circumstances. “Whatcha got there?”  The boy raises the bag up a little more and says timidly, “It’s potatoes.”  I’m sure he sees the look on my face.  I’m trying so hard to understand all of this.  “It’s potatoes.  For the horses.”

My mind is as frozen as the water pump.  I’m sure I’m staring at him with my mouth hanging open.  His heroic journey across the field to do something good is rewarded by a stupid woman with her mouth hanging open, not understanding the plot or her place in it.  He’s still holding out the clear plastic bag.  There are three small potatoes in the bottom of it.  Punctuating my confusion, I can actually read the word POTATOES printed on the plastic.  A blast of wind whips my hair into my eyes.  I take the bag.  “Thank you, Sweetheart.  That’s so nice of you.”

I’m ashamed of my mind.  I search every corner of it for the right thing to say, for the right response.  What the hell is this kid doing?  Do people feed potatoes to horses?  Is this some country thing that I’m unaware of?  I’m f**ing freezing. Did his mother send him over here with these?  Has this kid been feeding potatoes to my horses?!  I can’t encourage that.

Here’s this kid, and I have no warmth to offer him.  None.  My experience has never included spontaneous easy kindness to children.  So, I manufacture some the best I can.  “Baby, thank you… that was so thoughtful of you, but these horses are on a special diet.  They can’t eat potatoes.”  And I slowly hand the bag back to him.  I don’t know what else to do.  I’m absolutely impoverished in this moment.

The mitten gently takes the bag.  “Yes, Ma’am.” And he moves away, picks up the pink bicycle and begins pushing it into the wind, toward home.

I watch him for a moment, then turn, wooden from cold, back to the barn.  I still have to feed.  My heart goes the other way, walking with him.

As the horses chew, I peek through the barn door into the dark.  He’s almost home, a dot moving across the pasture.  I shake my head and turn out the light.

The horses would have known what to do.


18 Comments on “The Boy Who Brought Potatoes to Horses

  1. You commented on my Stable Thinking blog, but I appear to have followed you through my Boxelders and Blackberries blog. No matter. I have spent the evening browsing your entries and am enchanted by your writing and your beautiful connection to your horses. I will look forward to your coming posts. I can only wish to have your mastery of the language and the relationship with your horses.

    • What a wonderfully uplifting comment, Sharon! I’m really quite moved. I can’t believe the encouragement people like you have given me in my few short months of writing. It really means a lot to me. Thank you!

  2. Wow. This is deep, crystal clear writing of the best sort. I’m so glad you stopped by my blog to give me a cheer. It gave me a chance to stop over and read yours. You took my breath away with this one. But couldn’t horses eat potatoes?

    • Hahaha! Technically, they can. Like, if you don’t have anything else to feed them. But it’s really easy for horses to choke on something like a potato. (Horses can’t throw up – I know, more than you wanted to know!! LOL!) But, my draft mare has a disorder common to drafts where starches are the enemy. No grain for her, and no *clears throat* freakin’ potatoes. Thank you for the kind words about my writing. Coming from you, it means a lot! 😉

  3. Lovely story. The gods move in mysterious ways, do they not? I love kids, but I’m not sure how I would have let this little sweetheart know horses do not and should not eat potatoes! How to accept such a gift graciously yet not encourage further gifts of its kind … You are right! The horses would have known what to do! I’ve had horses of one sort or another most of my sixty years. The would have simply refused to eat them, watching as they hit the ground, perhaps, but their gentle eyes would have spoken volumes. A head toss to a nicker to whatever … somehow, they would have conveyed, in a no-nonsense manner, what it takes us humans far too much thought and angst to express. Blessings – this was, once again, a beatifully written

    • He’s just the kid next door. But around here, “next door” is awfully far away. He hasn’t come back to the barn.

  4. Beautiful. So honestly written. You took me with you to the barn.

    I used to keep my pony on a quarter acre block at the end of my street. The whole neighbourhood loved her and would feed her treats. Needless to say, she was super fat. I think the teenaged version of me was pretty tolerant of the local kids and everything they used to bring for my pony to eat – from watermelon, to zucchini to chocolate cake! You’re right, horses always know what to say – my pony tried the cake but in the end she left it uneaten on the fence post 🙂

  5. Zen Doe, I love the detail and honesty in this post. I can feel the frustration, but also the compassion. Thank you for a lovely share. {{{hugs]}} Kozo

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