Gentle waves washed over my head as I floated on my back in the ocean. Every so often my toes would bob up above the surface of the water, and I’d look past them to see a small Kimberly and Pepper sitting on the beach.
For most of my adult life, I’ve liked the mountains as much as the ocean. After a few years in North Carolina, I was leaning toward a preference for the water. If you just want to sit on the beach and ponder life against the backdrop of crashing surf, you can; if you would rather get wet and splash around in the scenery, you can do that, too.
The ocean embraces you while encouraging a healthy perspective on life. From the beach or from among the waves, the distant horizon stimulates your imagination and gently reminds you how small you–and your worries–actually are.
Kimberly and I don’t get out much. Once each year we visit my parents–in conjunction with our attending an equestrian trade show. And because a friend of ours has a place near the beach, once or twice a year we take a day-long “vacation” and spend a night at the coast. Claudia and Jack’s animal sitting is the only thing that makes any of these trips possible.
Stepping away from the farm once in a while–even briefly–is like floating in the ocean: It can help put things in perspective. After you return, even the most mundane of barn chores seems interesting. We realize that though scooping poop isn’t always exciting, we’re very fortunate to have our horses.
As someone who didn’t have so much as a cactus in my apartment when Kimberly and I met, helping care for an 11-acre zoo is something I feel I’m still adjusting to some days.
Granted, I’m not the only one making adjustments. From beneath a large, rainbow-colored beach umbrella, Pepper watched the waves through sleepy eyes. Her legs were covered in sand and the rest of her was freshly salted after the three of us ran through the surf. I assumed Pepper liked the ocean because she seemed only a little scared of it.
Pepper is scared of most everything. When Pickles and Jack wrestle and run, Pepper retreats to another room. If an empty plastic cup tips over on the kitchen counter, she runs. The garage door opening and closing strikes in her a fear beyond description. And even if I have just entered the room, she looks at me like I spent the last hour beating her.
Because we got her from a county shelter, we heard nothing of her story. Pepper doesn’t like most men, and she can’t handle loud noises. With regard to these two qualities, Pepper is the exact opposite of our previous dog, Kit. Kit much preferred men and was almost totally deaf.
“Why don’t you like me?” I asked Pepper, shading my eyes from the sun with a sandy hand.
“I’d rather not talk about it,” she said, avoiding eye contact.
“But you’ll come running up to me if I’m petting one of the other animals,” I said.
“That’s different,” Pepper responded, still watching the ocean.
“By letting you pet them they’re vouching for you,” Pepper answered.
“I see. So you trust their judgment more than your own?”
“I misjudged the last guy I lived with,” she responded.
“It hurts my feelings when you keep running away from me,” I said. “I’m not him.”
“If you keep helping me I’ll get it eventually,” she said, this time looking at me.
“It’s a deal,” I said. “Shake?” She lifted her paw, and we shook on it.
“Did you say something?” asked Kimberly, waking up and rolling over on her beach towel.
“I was just talking with Pepper.”
“OK,” Kimberly said quietly before going back to sleep. The sun was hot. I scooted over towards Pepper and fell asleep in the shade of the umbrella.
We drove home late that afternoon, getting home just after dinner time. The horses had been in the barn longer than usual because of some thunderstorms. They were all ready to go out, except Mandy.
She never wants to leave her stall. Mandy has to be talked into going out every time. I led Justin out. Kimberly was slowly leading Mandy to the pasture while walking backwards. Kimberly was watching Mandy’s legs.
“There’s something wrong with the way Mandy’s moving,” she remarked. “She’s moving like she’s tying up.”
In the pasture, Mandy ate grass and drank water, but her legs were a little shaky, and she moved stiffly. She also didn’t look too good in general. We’d been feeding her everything we could, but she wasn’t keeping weight on. The fact that she was still nursing a large foal seemed to drain her system.
A call to the vet clinic brought the suggestion that nursing Justin may have gotten Mandy’s calcium levels out of whack. We were out of electrolyte supplements, and I dismissed the idea of Mandy drinking the fruit punch-flavored Gatorade we had in the house.
I looked at my watch. The nearest feed store was 20 minutes away, but closed in 15.
“You call them, and I’ll leave now,” I shouted to Kimberly as I ran to the house.
Minutes later I was speeding down the same highway we’d just taken to get home from the beach. We’d gone straight to the barn when we arrived home, so our bags were still in the trunk. I could smell the ocean wafting up from the plastic bag of still-damp towels and swimsuits in the back seat. I wondered if Mandy was getting back at us for not taking her with us to the beach.
Someone was waiting for me at the feed store when I pulled into their parking lot. I paid for powdered electrolytes (they were out of the paste) and a large, mineral-enriched salt lick. I ran back to the car as fast as I could, carrying a bag and a 50-pound block of salt.
Naturally, Mandy wouldn’t eat any food sprinkled with the apple-flavored electrolyte powder. For her, anything different or new is bad. Mandy even balks at the vanilla-flavored bute that the other horses will eat straight.
She wouldn’t drink water with the powder mixed in, and she wouldn’t swallow it when we used a large plastic syringe (sans needle) to squirt it down her throat. The entire situation reminded me of Dr. Seuss’ book Green Eggs and Ham. I enjoyed the story more before I was in it.
Kimberly gave Mandy an injection of Banamine with the hopes that Mandy would feel better and at least continue eating grass and drinking water. We mixed several scoops of the electrolyte powder into the water in the horses’ trough, set out the salt lick, and left the pasture. If Mandy was still stiff and shaky in the morning, we’d call out someone from the clinic.
Kimberly sat down in the barn aisle beside Pepper. Hazel came in, followed by Macy and Sascha. I joined them.
A nighttime breeze blew an empty supplement container off the bench near the tack room. Startled, Pepper jogged a few feet away looking sheepishly at the other animals who sat unfazed by the incident. I retrieved the container and sat back down.
“Pepper, come here,” I said, holding out the pint-sized container for her to inspect.
Pepper cautiously approached and sniffed at the container. She wagged her tail and rejoined the group, sitting down next to me. When I looked down at Pepper she stretched her neck up and licked me in the face.
Kimberly sat petting the animals. I was still holding the empty supplement container and looking out at the moonlight-silhouetted horses in the pasture when I heard a strange noise. I brought the container up to my ear. I was glad to be home, but just for a moment I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of the waves, breaking on the beach.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.
Read Jeremy’s other columns in EquiSearch.com’s Humor section.