In the past weeks, the hundreds of acres of soy beans surrounding our farm have been harvested. The fields are clean and firm with winter cold. Now that deer season has ended we’ve returned to being able to trail ride seven days a week.
Kimberly usually rides our gelding, Vander, and I ride our 24-year-old Hanoverian mare, Ellie. She is a tank of a horse, but also a steady and reliable ride. Kimberly and I had been busy with work and a trade show, so three weeks had passed since our last ride. As I tacked up Ellie, I realized I was cinching the saddle four holes out from where I cinched up for our last ride.
Though most of the pasture grass has died and Ellie had been getting only a few flakes of hay with her usual, modest ration of beet pulp, she had clearly gained some weight. Also, she hadn’t been her usual marish, squealy self. Kimberly and I began wondering if she might be pregnant after all.
I had only planned on building one foaling stall for our other Hanoverian, Mandy, but now we might need two. It would be great to have two foals at the same time, but it would require that we revise our plans. Kimberly and I didn’t want to put the cart first or count our unhatched chicks, but it was hard not to get excited about the prospect of another baby. The possibility of a second foal was all Kimberly and I talked about. Mandy, would surely throw a beautiful baby come summer, but Ellie has a lot of traits we love and a foal from her would be more than welcome, too.
Fortunately, Dr. Bob and Dr. Shelly were scheduled to visit our barn later in the week, so they agreed to check Ellie then. We enjoy vet visits. They’re different than visits from plumbers or electricians. I’m not a plumbing or electrical expert, so I don’t always understand what they’re doing or talking about. But when the vet arrives, we know the vet is a fellow horse lover who–like us–has dedicated his or her life to equines, which means there’s so much you don’t have to explain. You can just shake your head and they say, “Yep, I know exactly what you mean.”
If the vet visit just involves a routine check-up, then we get to catch up and talk about horses some more. If it’s an emergency, then we feel relieved and comforted the instant the doctor arrives. Either way, their visits are a great thing. Especially if you get the news that you’re having another baby.
Dr. Bob and Dr. Shelly arrived, and though Kimberly and I were speaking nonchalantly with them, we were struggling not to submit to our excitement and simply shove them towards Ellie’s stall.
Dr. Shelly put on a sleeve-length glove and checked her first.
“Hmmm,” she said thoughtfully as she leaned into Ellie. Kimberly and I stared wide-eyed at her with anticipation. “Hmmm,” Dr. Shelly repeated, though this time with a slightly furrowed brow.
“What is it?” Kimberly and I said simultaneously.
“I don’t think she’s pregnant,” Dr. Shelly responded. Perhaps noting our rapidly deflating demeanors she added to Dr. Bob “but perhaps you should double check it.”
Unfortunately, Dr. Bob drew the same conclusion.
We wanted to have them triple and quadruple check Ellie, but we knew it wouldn’t make her pregnant. Ellie had grown a little fat, but no foal.
“Oh well,” I said with a sigh. We were disappointed, but at least we hadn’t built a second foaling stall or started knitting another set of large booties.
After Dr. Bob and Dr. Shelly left, Kimberly and I decided to go for a ride around the recently cleared soy fields. She started tacking up Vander. I usually rode Ellie, but I decided to ride our newest mare, Madison. Even before Ellie gained weight, she was big enough that my occasionally bad knees hurt after riding her–a problem I didn’t have with thinner horses. Madison was considerably thinner than Ellie and we got along well. I hadn’t yet taken her out on the trails.
She didn’t seem to mind my Western saddle and soon the four of us were walking from the barn toward the trails. It was windy and Vander didn’t seem to care for it at all. Kimberly had to work to keep him together, frequently leaving the trail to do some “focusing exercises” with Vander. He seemed determined to make Kimberly as unhappy as he was.
“I believe I’ll be riding Ellie next time,” Kimberly said through clenched teeth.
Madison is extremely sensitive–so much so that she’ll move forward if you just think about squeezing her with your legs. I was briefly worried that she’d spend most of the ride spooking at the wind and rustling tree branches, but she was perfectly calm. Her calmness made me calm and then my calmness made her even more calm. After a few rounds of making each other calm, I thought we might have to pull over for a nap, but then I thought about squeezing her with my legs and she took off.
Madison moved smoothly with a great natural rhythm. I know because even though I play drums, I usually have trouble posting a trot. But the instant Madison started trotting she bumped me up out of the saddle and had me posting in perfect unison with her steps. It may seem like a small thing, but I felt like I’d accomplished something.
The afternoon wind continued and Kimberly, disgusted with Vander’s antics, decided it was a good time to wrap up our ride. Madison and I walked calmly behind them as Vander snorted, tossed his head and tried to scoot sideways out from under Kimberly.
She pulled him aside for some more exercises while Madison and I stood and watched. I patted Madison on the neck.
Back in the barn, Madison stood quietly in the cross ties as I removed her bridle and the saddle. Kimberly was still lunging Vander in the riding ring as I returned Madison to her stall and gave her some treats. She put her chin on my shoulder and we just stood like that for a while.
That was the point when I became aware of how much I liked Madison. I’d always enjoyed the fact that she likes attention–whether it’s an impromptu grooming or just my standing with her in the stall. But, as I thought about our time on the trail, I felt we had solidified our bond. Having now ridden together, we knew with greater certainty that we could trust and take care of each other. It was a comforting development considering her previous owner was convinced Madison was an intimidating and difficult horse.
Remembering the time before I was married with horses is almost like remembering someone else’s life. I know it was a good time, but these days are much better. And even when we face disappointing news or major challenges, a day in the barn is still better than a day anywhere else.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.
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