I was feeling like a child on Christmas Eve when I went to bed. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sleep at all. Our four boarders and their eight horses were arriving in the morning. No more would I be facing mind-numbing days in a warehouse. Instead, I would be spending my days interacting with a barn full of horses. I could picture it: butterflies flitting through sunbeams falling across bales of neatly stacked hay, birds singing harmonies as I mix beet pulp and grain with the horses smiling at me and knickering happily. Could I wait until move-in time at 10 a.m.?
I didn’t have to wait until 10; the phone started ringing off the hook at 7.
“I have a lesson at eight; can we bring Tully and Boo over early?”
“I forgot to tell you, but Cracky is allergic to all hay except orchard grass. Do you have orchard grass? And I know I said we needed 12 percent pellets for Cracky, but I meant 10 percent–12 percent will make him totally crazy.”
“I only have 11 of Boo-Boo’s 14 morning supplements–will that be a problem? Oh, I mean, I do have all his nighttime supplements, so don’t worry about that. And you guys blanket twice a day, right? He’s so sensitive, and I think he was upset leaving his friends at the last barn–they were goats. Boo just loves those goats!”
By 7:15 I was wondering if it was too late to get my warehouse job back. I could even leave the house now and actually get to the warehouse early. I sat up in bed. The butterflies stopped flitting and there were no harmonizing birds anywhere; just ringing phones.
“Did you say you’re off Highway 42 or 43? Tully and Boo think we’re lost. Hee hee hee!”
I threw on some warm clothes and wandered downstairs to the kitchen. The heater had been straining all night to pump some warmth into this huge farmhouse–two stories and 5,000 square feet with 12-foot high ceilings. I looked at the little plastic, horse-shaped thermometer hanging near the refrigerator: 48 degrees. Awesome. I was shivering, possibly with fear of how expensive those 48 degrees really were.
I reheated a cup of coffee from the day before and stirred in a generous amount of molasses. I was too tired to be very hungry, so I grabbed a handful of carrots from the icebox. Ever since I was little, I’ve loved the metallic, earthy sweetness of molasses and the crisp and honest crunch of raw carrots–not necessarily together, though I suppose that wouldn’t be bad. I figure I’ve been eating horse treats most of my life. I really believe I was born a horse person. It’s other people I’m not so sure about.
A horn honked from out front just as the phone began ringing again.
“Hey, it’s Candy. Who is this? Am I at the right house? Can you see us? Is that you in the window looking angry? See me? I’m waving. Hellooooooo! We’re in the blue truck with the pink gooseneck trailer–in the cornfield. I pulled over too far and Tully and Boo think we’re stuck.”
The other trucks and trailers weren’t far behind, and soon it was complete pandemonium.
“Do you have an extra bin? Even though it’s the same feed, I like to keep each bag separate in case there’s a problem, and I need to bring it back to the store.”
“Even though we don’t turn him out, Cracky needs a lot of fresh air. Could we switch stalls with that mare over there?”
“Is this a good place for Boomer’s blankets? Here–see the tags? I’ve got them color coded for each five degree increment between 65 degrees and freezing. Okay–so that last blanket actually could be used at 30 degrees–that would actually be five degrees instead of just three, okay? Should I write it down and maybe hang it over here by his daily horoscopes? You don’t mind reading those to him when you feed him breakfast, do you?
“Are these the only shavings you have? Tully and Boo think these shavings are too big.”
Candy-in-the-cornfield-with-the-pink-gooseneck had brought her hunter-jumpers, Tully, an older and grumpy Dutch Warmblood gelding, and Boo, a teenage Appaloosa mare. Candy was accompanied by her adolescent son, Damien, and her Corgi, Gogh. The dog had a floppy ear and Candy’s husband said the “ear-thing” reminded him of Vincent Van Gogh. I think the dog was actually called “Go” because he poops everywhere. Gogh barked when Damien climbed a section of wooden fencing and began rocking the fence back and forth until the top board loosened. I hollered at him to stop. Ignoring me, he hopped down and started kicking the loose board until it broke in half.
“Oh no! Honey, get off the fence! Jeremy, can you fix that so Damien doesn’t get hurt?”
Between Damien and Gogh, I’m not sure who was more poorly-behaved. Damien was destroying our farm one plank at a time, and Gogh was taking a break from spooking the horses so he could poop in the barn aisle. I wondered if I had lead-based paint and a revolver. I resolved to tell Candy that next time she was to bring a leash for the dog and a cage for her son.
Our boarder couple–Western pleasure riders Delores and Mike–owned Cracky and Boomer.
Boomer retired from competition at age six and now was just a furry, trail-riding Quarter Horse. Cracky, however, still competed. He was also a Quarter Horse, I think. I mean, I think he was a horse. I couldn’t tell. He was wearing a yellow slinky, two purple blankets and a green hood that covered his entire head. He looked more like a Mardi Gras float than an animal. I only saw his hooves and ears. To be honest, the barn was so chaotic at this point I didn’t care if Cracky was an elephant.
Another boarder, Jack, brought his two barrel horses, Quarter Horse brothers Jiffy and Spiffy. Jack barely spoke. If you said “hi,” he might manage a grunt from the shadows beneath the brim of his baseball cap. He would only lift his brim and speak in complete sentences to attractive women, like my wife, Kimberly.
Kimberly came out to survey the scene before she left for work, and Jack only got out about half a sentence. Terrified by the chaos-filled barn, Kimberly turned and ran to her car. Her tires squealed and smoked down the driveway, and she nearly took out our mailbox before disappearing down the road.
I couldn’t blame Kimberly. Candy was yelling at Damien who was yelling at Gogh who was barking at Cracky who slipped on the poop in the aisle as Delores, who was leading Cracky, bumped into Mike who dropped a bale of hay that Tully started eating since Candy was busy yelling at Damien, Jack started yelling at Tully and pushing on his rear end to get him away from the hay, but Tully just kept his face in the hay, chewing, as Jack pushed his hindquarters around in circles.
Boarders Janet and her teenage daughter, Page, simply stood holding their two Hanoverian hunter-jumpers and watching the chaos. Janet’s gelding was named Prince Charles. Page’s horse didn’t have a name.
“I believe in caretaking, not ownership,” Page shouted above the ruckus in the aisle. “A name dooms the equine to a life as property, not harmony.”
Page’s voice trailed off behind me as I stepped into the feed room and activated the barn’s fly spray system. I heard the nozzles sputter and hiss, followed by shrieks and hollers, a few barks, some stall doors slamming shut, a few more wet shrieks and then silence. I turned the system off.
I stepped out of the barn. Candy’s blue truck was throwing up a cloud of dust as it headed down the road from the barn. The others jockeyed for a spot to turn around. “Sorry about that, guys! I’ll get that spray system fixed! Call if you have any questions!” I hollered, waving.
I hadn’t poisoned anybody. I hadn’t even loaded the system. I had been running water through it while I repaired lines and replaced nozzles. If it worked that well on people I could only imagine how well it would work on flies.
The barn was quiet, finally. I toweled off the two horses who weren’t wearing blankets, and I broke up the carrots I’d brought out earlier, giving a few chunks to each horse. I saved a chunk of carrot for myself and sat down on a nearby hay bale.
It was still too cold for butterflies, but over the sound of the horses’ and my chewing, I heard birds singing. They were strange birds whose song sounded sadly like a telephone.
I didn’t answer them. I just listened to them sing as I finished my carrot.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina with their two cats, two dogs and two horses.
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