When I go out to the herd, my two haflingers are always my greeting party. They see me right away and come to say Hello.
Over the past three months, since my mares have been out back with the herd, one by one I have been investigated by other herd members as I share territory. The first was Jimmy, a little grey fellow whose guiding philosophy is “I’m anybody’s!” I sometimes have to move my seat because Jimmy would like to climb into my lap. Another visitor is June, a lovely quarter horse mare with a severe parrot mouth. Then there is Cappy, the draft/paint cross whose steady personality keeps the others calm at crucial moments.
The lead mare in the herd is Rhoda, a chestnut quarter mare who has always been aloof. The lead gelding is Hoss, a drop-dead gorgeous dark bay quarter horse with a perfect star in the perfect middle of his perfect forehead. His dignified elegance makes him a standout personally too. He has always been cautious, and quick to leave at any gesture from me, even a friendly overture. Gradually he has been coming closer to me while he is grazing and staying longer as he checks me out from a distance.
One evening last week I took a friend out to the herd with me and we hand-groomed my two horses as we conversed on many deep topics. I was so involved in our discussion that I lost track of all else, including who I was grooming. I suddenly came down to earth when I discovered that for the past ten minutes, not only had Hoss come right up to me, but he had held his head down for me and allowed me to pick all the burrs out of his forelock.
Last evening I went out to the herd after several days’ absence. As I approached the herd, it was not my mares that came to greet me – it was Hoss. He came to me and looked into my face. Immediately behind him came Rhoda, who for the first time offered to say Hello. I was honored, and thrilled.
Folly came quietly to me and nickered softly, not for me but for Hoss. She is in strong heat, and she wants him. He politely stretched his nose out to her, and she arched her neck and touched nostrils – only to squeal and stamp her foot in make-believe outrage while she tossed her tail like a flag.
As I turned to walk away, Hoss followed me. We stood alone together for a time, his nose touching my arm, breathing warmth and companionship on my skin.
There has been a shift, in me and my horses, since they went out to live with the herd. They come to me readily, their eyes soft and wise. They are more relaxed in themselves, and their bodies glow with good health and happiness. I have become more serene too, and feel at times as if I am truly one with the herd. I no longer wonder what to do, whether I am doing the right thing, whether I even belong there when I come to spend time with them. I enter the herd and I am welcomed by the lead horses as an honored guest. I sit by myself and think about things, and now there are four pairs of eyes that watch me. The hours flow as a river in its ancient course, and I know that I am in the precise spot on the earth where I belong in this timeless now.
I am growing old and I have a lifetime of accomplishments behind me of which I am extremely proud. But none of them is as important to me as this one: knowing at last how to be – just be – with horses