The barn at night is my favorite place in the world. The horses are quiet, the wind is soft, and the world seems to slow to a peaceful crawl.
I’ve taken on a part time job doing in-home care for an elderly gentleman. It’s rewarding work and I love it…. but it doesn’t leave me a lot of extra time between that, taking care of the boys, taking care of the pets, and trying to cram in writing time so maybe one day I can actually publish a book.
One of the best parts about Pacific Northwest summers are how long the days are. As I finished my evening shift, I looked outside and decided to take an impromptu trip to the barn. Why not? Even though it was nine at night the sun had barely set and there was probably almost an hour left of that endless summer twilight that I appreciate but will probably never get used to.
Caspian moved barns a couple of weeks ago, and it’s been great. The new barn has acres upon hundreds of acres of trails that start about 10 feet outside of the arena, and the horses get regular turnout on individual paddocks of green grass.
Needless to say, we’re both happy.
Since the new barn is full-care I no longer have to drive out to the barn daily, and I have to admit it’s been kind of nice.
Still – I feel guilty having someone else do all the work for my horse, which is why it was so gratifying to pull up and see Caspian hang his head out of his window and watch me pull up with pricked ears and a pleasant expression. He seemed genuinely happy to see me, but that’s probably because I’m stacking the odds in my favor – I try to end every visit with at least 5 minutes of hand grazing. My theory is that no matter how hard we work on a new concept, or how much we butt heads (it’s rare, but it happens), five minutes of peaceful hand grazing can erase it and leave him with a good taste in his mouth, both literally and figuratively.
I slipped the halter onto his waiting nose and we walked in darkness to the arena, waiting as the large overhead lights slowly turned on. I let him run around for awhile, mentally cursing my lack of camera. He’s looking great lately, and I really want to document his weight gain. Besides – he’s just gorgeous when he’s flinging his head around and striking out mid-gallop, and I really need to get a good picture of it.
I only had about 30 minutes before I needed to head for home, as I’d promised the barn owner I’d be out of there by 10 so she could lock up. I took him outside and let him graze in the knee-deep grass beneath a violet sky and a waxing moon. I tried to take a picture, but all you see is an amorphous shadow beneath a tiny white dot…
Technology? Are you hearing me? One of these days you’re going to have to figure out how to let normal people take better pictures of night time. Let’s have a few less Facebook cell phone updates and pay a little more attention to that, mmkay?
Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and I have plans to bathe Caspian, so after I led him back to his stall I decided to take out his mane braids. I’ve been doing my best to follow the “grow your horse’s mane like a Friesian” method of mane care, and so far it’s really working. The only time the hair is down from its braids is when I am washing it with lots of conditioner and finger-combing, working out any knots carefully. After it dries, I french braid it into about 8 sections that hang down his neck, and then I don’t touch it until the next time I’m ready to wash it. Occasionally I have to rebraid sections, but it seems to hold up just fine.
I’ve owned Caspian less than a year, but in that time period his mane has probably tripled in thickness and it has grown about four inches. That may not be impressive compared to some horses, but considering how wispy his mane was when I got him, it’s an unbelievable improvement.
I decided to give him the evening with his braids down – he hated being braided in the beginning but has grown used to it, and now there is no grooming he likes better than the feel of me taking out his braids. I slipped off his halter and he stood without moving as I worked my way up his neck slowly, carefully picking around potential knots and doing my best not to pull out any more hair than was necessary as threaded my fingers through his salt and pepper strands.
His eyelids sank slowly, his neck dropped with each passing moment, and at one point he actually fell asleep with his muzzle resting on my shoe.
Eventually we were done, so I grabbed a brush and decided to give him a once over before saying goodbye for the night. I intended it to be a quick, but as I brushed him I realized he was in an unusually affectionate mood, so I slowed down and began to really groom him.
He leaned into each brush stroke ever-so-slightly, eyes glazed and upper lip twitching with pleasure. I started at his head and worked my way back, even going so far as to stand up on tiptoe so I could see the top of his hindquarters as I brushed them, making sure I didn’t miss a spot. I’m used to his size now, but it still gets me that I can’t see the top of his hindquarter without going on tiptoes – I’m 5’8, so it’s not like I’m exactly petite.
I turned my back to his head, leaning my shoulder against him as I worked on a particularly stubborn green stain on the inside of his hock… but as I did the hair on the back of my neck began to prickle in warning.
Was… was someone looking at me?
I stood up slowly, resting a hand on Caspian’s hip as I turned around…. and that’s when I saw him.
Gone was the sleepy, glazed look he’d been wearing for the past ten minutes. Instead, Caspian had his head craned completely around, his neck nearly doubled on itself, and he was staring at me with a bright eyes. His ears were pricked and his nostrils flared slightly as he stretched his nose toward me.
It looked for all the world like the look a mother horse gives her foal when she sees it for the first time.
He stared at me harder, willing me to understand.
“Hey… hey handsome. I love you, too.”
His nostrils quivered – the barest hint of the beginnings of a silent nicker.
“Does it feel good, Caspers?” I ran the brush down his hip again, and he stared at me harder. “Does it feel good? I bet you were itchy, weren’t you, Caspian? I bet you were totally itchy, and it just feels so good. You like it? Do you like…..”
I trailed off as I stepped forward to brush his side, and that’s when I saw it.
All of IT– nearly a foot and a half of erect glory, proudly announcing that oh, yes. Caspian liked it. He definitely liked it, thank you very much.
He ignored me. That was very surprising, considering he’s usually a little overly sensitive to correction. He stared resolutely forward, refusing to acknowledge me. Go ahead and look, Becky. I don’t mind. It’s not awkward, so long as we don’t make eye contact.
“GROSS,” I said. “Put it AWAY.” Even if it wasn’t weird and gross, Caspian was gelded late and there are certain lines you just don’t let an ex stallion cross… this was definitely one of them. I deliberately created a little bit of a growl in my voice – which normally made him throw his head up in the air dramatically – and accompanied it with a hard THWAP on his side with the brush. The brush I was using had a solid wooden handle, and there was no doubt that it hurt.
He jumped slightly, but refused to turn around. Becky, shhh. There’s no need to raise your voice and get all violent. Just keep brushing me. We’ll keep this between us. I’ll just avoid your eyes to give you a moment to take it all in….. but really. Look at it. He shifted his weight infinitesimally, somehow managing to give off the impression that he was pointing at it, without any hands.
He jumped vertically about three feet, and swung his hindquarters away from me. What the hell was that?! You don’t do that to a stallion. OW. Why did you do that? We were having a moment, and you just lash out at me like that? What is wrong with you?
He avoided my eyes again, but this time with a chastised expression. IT went back to where it belonged, and I went back to brushing him – me businesslike and curt, him staring straight ahead with a hurt expression and no hint of affection. Apparently our intimate moment was over.
But that’s okay – I mean, I want my horse to like me, but I don’t want him to like me, you know?