Yesterday I went up to the high pasture but the horses were not there, so I followed the road to the meadow. There they were, grazing where the breeze was strongest to keep the bugs away. I hung my backpack in a tree and walked around saying Hello to everyone. The herd was slowly moving back toward the road to the high pasture, and I followed when the last horse left.
Instead of going straight down the road to the other pasture, the herd took a side path through the woods, into an area of wetland I had never explored before. The ground was soft but dry and the grasses were tall and succulent. I looked all around me and noticed with great interest what a huge variety of forages there were that grew in this space. I do not know what they all were but the horses obviously liked this area since there were trails all through it.
They slowly moved deeper into the wetland as they grazed, and they seemed to be heading somewhere specific, although in a leisurely manner. I gradually worked my way in front of them and walked ahead, across a flattened area, to a small hill where I could overlook the herd grazing in the tall grass. Soon they were all gathered near the little hill where the grass was flattened, and —- they all laid down and rolled! There was obviously something specific about this area that made it a good spot to scratch themselves by rolling.
As I rejoined them on their slow trek across the wetland, I had an intimate feeling that I was sharing something secret about their lives. I always thought of horses as creatures of the open plains, which of course they are, but they can make good use of many kinds of terrain where they find a larger diversity of food than pasture alone. They keenly enjoy eating the leaves of trees and shrubs around them, and sometimes I see them gnawing at the bark of a particular tree. I thought about how, for so many years, I have kept my horses in paddocks or small fields where most of their diet had to be hay – good hay but how very dull compared to the rich buffet of food they now have in this wild space, and I felt glad that I can give them this rich and complex environment where they can reveal much more of their natural repertoire of wild behavior and inherited knowledge.
It was nearing the time I had to leave, and so I began walking through the grass toward the edge. To my surprise, the herd seemed to be following me, and I felt that I belonged, in a way I had never felt before. In the hours we had spent together that day, it was as if they had accepted me into their herd, and every so often one or two of them had come up to say Hello. What I felt with them that afternoon was timelessness and serenity. I thought if I had my way, I would simply go on living with them. Nothing else existed except this time and this space and this Now, and if along the way some day somewhere I felt my body lay down on the giving land and I died, it would be an unexceptional but natural part of this slow journey across the earth in the company of horses.
I finally had to leave the main track to get to the gate, and the herd drifted off. Soon I heard thunder and I looked across the grass and saw them suddenly running – running toward the pasture and probably to the water troughs, since they would be thirsty by now. I took a short cut and joined them, and as I approached, I saw my two golden girls standing off to the side, looking straight at me. Watching the herd, I noticed that the pecking order was being played out before me, with the higher status horses drinking first and chasing off the others – which included mine! Rightly or wrongly, I slowly drifted in and shooed the others away to allow my two horses to drink in peace. The others stood around like naughty schoolchildren, watching as the “good girls” got to drink. When they had finished, I moved away and said my goodbyes. And I watched them walk in single file over the hill, already thinking about the shade and the cool breeze under the trees.