My wife, Kimberly, and I recently bought another horse. We are now the proud parents of two geldings, but it wasn’t so long ago my wife’s fifth horse became my first.
Kimberly and I met while she was visiting Denver on business and spent three months doing the “long-distance thing.” We got engaged, and I moved from Colorado to North Carolina to be with her. I was a city boy living in the country with a fiancé and a horse. I barely knew what to do with a fiancé. I didn’t have the slightest clue what to do with a horse.
There is nothing like owning a horse. They are such unique animals and such unique responsibilities are required of those who care for them. We cannot throw just any food their way as some may do with cats or dogs. (Just try feeding a horse your table scraps.) The equine digestive system is as delicate as its host is majestic. Yes, we’ve all heard that hay is for horses, but not just any hay. If there’s sand in it, or if there is too much or too little protein it can create total chaos. What is one, completely new to horse ownership, to do?
When I first moved to North Carolina to be with my fiancé and her horse, I was, needless to say, a bit overcautious about caring for him. Feeding time would arrive, and I would break out in a cold sweat just thinking about the scoops of moistened beet pulp, grain and various supplements. Good grief! If I did actually succeed in mixing everything correctly and with the proper amount of water, what if some contaminant went undetected and the horse developed a stomach ache or something worse, like EPM? Additionally, I had the erroneous impression that the slightest problem, such as a simple equine head cold, warranted “putting the horse down.” I was completely depressed, and I hadn’t even done anything yet.
Kimberly informed me that I was worrying myself unnecessarily. She was right, but with all the concerns of a new, life-changing romantic relationship I was further concerned with the possibility of injuring an animal that was worth more than my car. Admittedly, care needs to be taken, but I realized that there is a fine line between “caring” and “worrying.” Fortunately, I soon learned to relax and actually enjoy feeding time. In fact, I so looked forward to feeding the horse that, on occasion, Kimberly and I argued about who would get to do it. Go figure.
Even though I had settled into the feeding and basic care routine with our horse, I was still overwhelmed by all that one could know about equines. I felt an immense responsibility to my fiancé and our horse to learn as much as I could about horses in general. My parents’ response was to send me an entire equine reference library. My parents pride themselves on having a sense of humor. Among the numerous, informative volumes they sent was the ever-flattering title, Horses for Dummies. Thank you, Mom and Dad.
So I read and read. I poured over descriptions of horses throughout history. There were descriptions of tiny, four-toed Eohippus, which seemed too much a modest beginning for these amazing creatures. After thousands of years they lost some toes and got bigger, so, we hunted them for food while painting images of them on our cave walls. Later, they pulled our chariots and plows. No wonder some horses don’t care much for people.
I also tried to memorize the equine skeletal structure. Wow! There is actually a knee and an elbow on the same limb. Coffin bone, point of hock, withers? Who comes up with these names? Chapter after fascinating chapter I became less certain that my brain wouldn’t pop with everything I was trying to stuff into it.
My head was a jumble of trivia, and I didn’t feel any closer to understanding equines. I was, however forming a fairly solid impression of horses based on my experience with our horse. This was not because of my readings, but simply by virtue of my spending time with him. Strangely, few aspects of my impression appeared anywhere in my books. Nowhere did it state how brilliantly intuitive horses are. They are acutely aware of their surroundings. They clearly react to, and in some cases they assume the mood or energy of the people or other animals around them.
But horses also embody a clear duality. I was unable to articulate this particular perception until just a few weeks ago. Our brilliant horse, who can probably do complex calculus problems and possibly even speak English, ran about eight miles into the woods to escape from a plastic bag being blown by a gentle spring breeze. I was dragged along at my end of the lead line for approximately seven of those miles.
The duality of the horse is one of seemingly polar opposites. They are delicate giants. They are primitive and sophisticated, physical and metaphysical. On occasion they are brilliant goofballs. How do horses do it, and how are we to figure them out? From all the reading, I realized that books are great for reading about equine history, for learning the multitude of breeds or for studying charts of their complex anatomy. I also realized that the only way to truly understand horses is by being with them.
During those first months as a fiancé and new horse owner, I arrested many sleepless nights with a 2 a.m. walk to the stable with a little snack for him and me. We spoke silently. I told him about my restlessness. He told me everything would be fine and sent me back to bed. I snuggled up next to Kimberly, and fell comfortably to sleep with the faint fragrance of carrots on my hands and an intense curiosity about what our horse would teach me next.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in Grifton, N.C., with their two cats, two dogs and two horses.
Read Jeremy’s other columns in EquiSearch’s Humor section.