It’s happened dozens of times now, but I still find it amazing, especially since the mare’s pregnancy keeps advancing. I keep expecting her to quit offering as her foal grows in size, but she hasn’t yet. She still seems to enjoy it as much as I do, tossing her head and nickering at me.
It’s noon, and I have fed all the paddocks but the largest. I’m about to crawl through the fence when the head mare sees me and begins walking purposefully in my direction with her ears pricked forward. When she reaches me, she accepts my initial pet on her neck but then turns sideways to the fence and tosses her head. The invitation to mount is obvious. Despite having no tack, I accept, and she carries me across the paddock to the hay yard. (1)
I find that it is what ponies offer that makes them so amazing to be around. I have walked across that paddock on my own two feet enough times to know that ponies can make other choices. They can stand at a distance and watch me approach. They can turn and head the other way. They can approach and greet me but not invite me to mount. So when they choose to engage with me or better yet to offer something helpful in getting a chore done, I accept the gesture with profound gratitude.
Of course, it’s not only ponies that offer. The other day I delivered hay via a plastic snow sled to a paddock of ponies and remembered a photo of something similar. My friend and colleague Doc Hammill was shown in a photo also with hay in a sled, except that he was met at the gate by his Suffolk mare Anne, and she turned and offered her tail. Doc grabbed on, and Anne helped him pull the sled of hay to the herd.
On Facebook, the following story was accompanied by a photo of a team of Belgians working: “Carl and Bobby are very special horses and I was just working them here around the place where they were used to the routine…. I hitched them every morning to feed out around the place and there wasn’t much to do on the lines as mostly I’d talk to them about how to proceed. Just to make harnessing easier on me I tried them out one morning with no bridles or bits, just buckled lines to the halters and they both worked just fine, so I used them that way through the winter with no bridles.” (2) I am working a pony in harness on the farm in just a halter with lines, no bridle or bit, so I have a personal appreciation for this teamster’s story. I am always mindful that my pony can make choices about working with me or not, so that when she does help me with my chores willingly, and in fact seems to enjoy our time together as much as I do, it feels like a gift, giving me the same sense of joy that a compliment or a gift from a human being brings.
Sometimes what equines offer is more subtle of course. One day I had finished a ride, and I told my gelding what a great guy he was. He licked and chewed in response, making me feel he’d understood my appreciation. The same day I’d unhaltered a mare after she finished her feed bucket, and as she stepped away I thought how much I appreciated her presence here. She stopped and came back to me, again making me feel she’d understood my unspoken appreciation.
I am told many people spend time with equines yet never experience what they offer. How sad. Yet I can imagine how it happens. We get so focused on the goals we have for the future with our equine, whether breeding another foal, preparing for a competition, or getting the day’s job done. Like so many things in life, it can be hard to slow down enough to appreciate what we already have. What a blessing that horses live in the present and give us an opportunity to do the same.
Living life has its ups and downs, so I’m always looking for the ups to help me survive the downs. Having equines requires significant personal investment, so experiencing what they offer seems an important return on that investment. In my experience, the ups with equines are available to help with all that goes into having them: manure management, fence repair, feed costs, veterinary care. At least for me, what they offer provides more than sufficient compensation.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016