I’ve kept horses in my backyard for almost 40 years, but I still I hate days like this. If I were a normal person I’d be inside, along with all the other sane people, doing sane-people things. But I have two backyard horses, and they need to be fed twice a day and cleaned up after twice a day too, even though it’s cold as a witch’s curse outside, with a wind blowing down the canyon so hard all our neighbor’s trash is now on our property.
A lot of people keep stuff (any old stuff) around the house because they think “it might come in handy someday.” It probably won’t. That’s why women of my mother’s generation believed so fervently in that ritual known as spring cleaning, when they took a good, hard look at all the stuff they had accumulated since the previous spring, and trashed 99% of it.
An old saying offers this gem of insight: “You get what you pay for.” Here’s another, even better (or worse) example: “A woman, a dog, and a walnut tree/ The more you beat them the better they’ll be.” Sometimes old sayings can have more in common with costume jewelry than real gemstones.
A couple of nights ago, horse owners in the small town where John and I live, in addition to horse owners in a nearby town, all congregated at our library to hear a local veterinarian discuss “Emergency Health Care,” otherwise known as, “What can I do to help my horse until the vet arrives?” The room was too small. The librarian had set out 75 chairs, and somebody was sitting in all of them. Others sat on the floor with their backs to the wall. Total number in the audience: 83 people. It’s one of the biggest turnouts the library has ever seen—and it was free.
Fire is one of the biggest drawbacks to living out West because it takes so little to set one off. A live cigarette butt carelessly tossed out of a car window. A not-quite-OSHA-approved lawnmower and a stray spark. A little kid playing with matches, as most little kids like to do. In the 14 years John and I have lived here, we’ve been evacuated twice, and believe me, it’s not fun—especially when there’s no guarantee that you will ever see your home again.
Most parents and all riding-lesson givers want a dependable, somewhat lazy (one with more whoa than go) horse for their children. Such horses are also called “bomb-proof” because if something startles them, they won’t shy, rear, buck, or run away. Nothing startles them, not even a bomb.
Trail dogs are good company, especially for somebody who rides alone, as I do most of the time. They let me know when I need to be aware of something—a strange animal, a strange vehicle, a strange person. In magazine articles, total strangers insist that riding alone is not safe, and that people ought to ride with other people.
Every rider needs a good trail dog, especially if you ride alone.
Some dogs don’t enjoy the outdoors—they’re couch puppies and would rather stay indoors. My dogs—nearly all of them rescues from the county animal shelter—all love being outdoors. When I ride, my dog usually puts in twice the mileage my horse does. I live in the foothills—below us is the high desert—and while the horse and I usually stay on the trail (even if we go off-roading, I follow game trails or water courses because otherwise I get lost), the dog explores smells. The horse and I travel in the bottomland, you might say, while the dog goes up the hill on one side, comes back down, and goes up the hill on the other side. By the time we get home, the dog is one tired, happy girl.
Please don’t get the wrong idea when I say “live with.” I don’t live in a tent with flaps in the doors (so the sandstorms don’t blow in) and oriental carpets on the sand, sharing my fire with my husband and two horses, all of us within kicking range—although I’ve read about desert nomads who do something similar. Is the world still empty enough that nomads live in it who have no true home, just the horses they ride and the folded tents those horses (or maybe they have camels, too) carry? Continue reading