I?d give up a week?s worth of carrots to have a set of hands right now. Just to scratch that spot on my back that’s been driving me crazy for the last four days. The seasons mean more to us horses than bright scarves, new windshield wipers, the dreaded swimsuit ordeal and turning the clocks this way and that. As the days get shorter and cooler, our internal switch flips and things start to change inside us. Our coats become thicker and darker–no longer the sleek, flat look of summer and we look bundled up in our own hair. As a California horse and a Thoroughbred, I am spared a wooly mammoth likeness, however it is still an itchy and annoying mess come springtime.
Karen, my owner, does her best to help with the shedding–a pumice to pull and scrape the old clumps of fuzz away from my skin, a soft brush to rid me of its prickly presence, and smoothing with my terry towel to regain the plush shine. I often wish people knew about the importance of the seasons and how our lives mimic nature. The exuberant romping in fields during the high-spirited spring of youth, excitement and newness around every tree that is typical for this time of birth. While summer resembles the bursting exhilaration of adulthood, families and careers ? relishing the seemingly infinite abundance. As fall enters our lives, we reflect and ripen–perspective and contemplation take precedence. Winter brings an individual acceptance and realization that our significance is dependent on the fulfillment of our personal destiny?s duty. Not some vague general ?meaning of life? concept removed from reality, but a private culmination of countless small daily choices that produces the worth of our lives.
To distract myself from the incessant desire to scratch myself, I hang my whiskered chin over the stall door to watch the world. I take in the fervent activity around me ? plump squirrels with stuffed cheeks, bumblebees intently rushing from one place to another, butterflies and hummingbirds heralding the arrival of yet another blooming bush, and buds that whisper, ?Soon, Lukas, very soon, things will change again.?? Unbelievably another birthday has come and gone. All Thoroughbreds become a year older on January 1–to keep the age groups easily defined for race conditions, though Karen waits for my actual birthday, January 17, to celebrate with carrot cake. I try very hard not to think about birthdays and what they mean.
The property where I now live is bordered with magnificent towering trees. Not just any kind of trees, Karen tells me, but her favorite, pine trees. It reminds her, she tells me, of a faraway place where she grew up. And almost before I can see it come and go, a look crosses her face that makes me want to cry. According to scientists, the only land mammal that sheds ?real tears? are elephants; the poor things have it rough, I?ve heard. Dolphins and crocodiles are also given this distinction for water mammals by some accounts. ?Tear duct cleansing? is what they call what horses do–deeming us not capable of the big five: anger, fear, worry, grief and joy. These are too complex for such simple creatures, it is claimed. Yet, new research shows that fish and even plants experience these to some degree. Aah, the folly of egotistical scientific theories. The only thing that stops me from bawling is Karen. She smiles at me, like she always does, and asks me if I want to go for a walk.
Walking with Karen–this is what I live for. Everything about it still thrills me.? And so begins our special game, so touching and familiar it’s almost embarrassing to give the details here. Karen carefully buckles my halter so it doesn’t pinch my skin–the leather so supple and well-fitting.
?Oh, how handsome you are!? Karen never fails to exclaim as I nod in agreement so I can hear her laugh. A kiss completes the ritual and I feel like a fresh colt again. The first step into the sunshine when I take a huge breath that reaches down to my hooves ? even the air is better out here! ? celebrates the exploits awaiting us. This trip leads us along the path under the pine trees–a lacy canopy of branches above us and cushiony needles under our feet that make muffled crackling noises as we amble along. Pungent aromas from decades of decomposing layers mingle with the fragrant scent of wild honeysuckle patches climbing on the ancient falling-down fence. Lost in our thoughts yet still linked together, our steps fall into a matching rhythm and even our breathing follows a similar pattern. Out here on the trail with the breeze to soothe us and the birds serenading lyrically, there is nothing between us and we are recharged once again.
Four hawks nest in these trees and they float high above us scanning the fields for meals while calling for each other like children searching for their playmates. If you believe in legends (as all horses do), hawks symbolize strength and vision, and according to Native American lore they represent interconnectedness and reverence for life. Occasionally, we are treated to a fabulous aerial display of sensational swoops and seemingly motionless hovering ? straight up and down with dizzying speed, sometimes so close their wings appear to touch and other times in a symmetrical loop balanced to a feather. Often, we notice that their flight has less to do with looking for food than the absolute pure joy of soaring together. When Karen and I are very still, completely absorbed with the spectacular scene, time melts away and we can glimpse into blissful eternity.
It was during one of these magical outings that I finally understood birthdays and what they mean. Karen?s love for me has given me a way to see and understand many things, and in the process, I also became more aware of feelings and developed a broader range of emotions and experiences than is typical for most horses. While this deepened bond will no doubt cause much pain upon parting, what will make it easier to bear is the precious closeness we now share and hold dear. Had it not been for our miraculous convergence and unusual combination, birthdays would only mean the passage of time rather than treasuring each and every moment together. The honor and gift of real tears comes from the depths of true love.
By Karen Murdock
More accolades for Lukas:
Walnut, California ? Lukas, the World?s Smartest Horse (according to the WorldRecords Academy) and Guinness World Record Holder (?Most numbers identified by a horse in one minute: 19), has been featured in Prestige Magazine,? Asia?s high-society lifestyle magazine. The popular gelding, a former racehorse who was rescued by Karen, was the first individual equine to have a feature story and cover mention.
Excerpts from the article written by Rebecca Oliveira:
?A horse is oftentimes described in a multitude of words. He is at once power and beauty, majesty and courage; he is the subject of legend and myth. All at once godlike and playful, he has captured our hearts and minds by his very being. To riders everywhere he is the very essence of art and sports.
“Considered one of the top ?Liberty? performers in the United States, Lukas is able to execute high school movements such as passage, jambette (3-legged pivot), reverence (bow) and rear, and does these exercises unbound and in complete freedom. Karen never uses force; she does not even own a whip. His crowning achievement is his extraordinary ability for cognitive tasks; he can identify letters, numbers and shapes. Lukas is able to differentiate between colors and understands the idea of object permanence, spatial relationships, proportion, same/different and absence.
“Karen and Lukas forge an unbreakable bond. They have risen above the norm of horse and rider relationships, and her faith in him has freed him from fear and a life without hope. He in turn has given her his most precious asset: a bright and open mind and an unbeatable spirit. His brilliance illuminates and encourages us all in the appreciation and conservation of every creature great and small.?