#5 ~ the queen of everything
Last week my friend Maggie’s Belle had a birthday – she turned 33. Now that is really not so old, unless you are a horse, which Belle is … a ranch horse, a foundation bred Quarter Horse born on the prairies of Calgary. Maggie was working on a ranch as a young woman, learning the cowgirl’s tools of the trade from her mentor, a kind horseman man named Bill. She had always figured her ‘once in a lifetime horse’ to be a flashy, shiny sorrel, so when Bill gave her a young and talented, flashy, shiny sorrel colt to train … and subsequently sell (a right of passage for those who want to be in the business of horses) … she was elated. She trained George to perfection and then sold him for good money. It was that ‘selling’ part that broke her heart. She was nursing grief around her loss of the beautiful George right around the time that one of Bill’s old mares gave birth … and a plain, brown filly slipped into the world and into Maggie’s heart. Bill, feeling so sorry for Maggie in her sadness, gifted her then and there with that little foal – and Belle has been by her side ever since. Belle and Maggie grew up together … showing, working cattle and riding the wild lands, and have traveled many a mile from there to here over those 33 years. Belle helped to raise Maggie’s boys, and even gave her that flashy sorrel filly she had always wanted, but they never quite bonded in the way that Belle and Maggie had – so it turns out that Maggie’s ‘once in a lifetime horse’ all along was Belle. The wise and beautiful old Belle.
There is something truly mystical about the horse-human bond. My own love affair with horses started when I was about 5 – with no mother to nurture me, my grandmother made sure that the delightful things, like the sea, and books and dogs and horses figured largely in my life. Black Beauty, National Velvet, a wee fat (real) pony named Merrylegs and a large, gray horse name Seagull started it all and I was infected straight away with the magical and lifelong ‘girl lives and breathes horses’ disease. I learned to ride well and speak their language and as I grew, any extra time I could muster was spent in their company. I lived and breathed the amazing beasts and would clean a barn full of stalls and a roomful of tack if I had to in exchange for lessons or show entries or just to give me those added precious moments to spend being close to them. I could watch them for hours; at work or at play; asleep flat out like dogs, squeaking their pleasures with legs twitching as they galloped through the air of their dreams. Sometimes I would sit quietly in a sun-drenched pasture full of horses, in calm ecstasy as I watched, breathing their beauty and magic into my soul until, enchanted by their grace I would drift to a peaceful sleep … awakening to the sight of 12 horse muzzles, drooped and quivering in their own rest, just inches away and circled in protection all around me …
They are yet another safe harbor in my Endless Sea.
I celebrate the old ladies … I’ve known quite a few of them, calm and patient and wise, fully in their spirit and all with more personality than most Human people I know. Today, my own old one, Tempest, turns 24 … 24 going on 5, and I would say that the ‘patient and wise’ parts will probably come along to her at some later date. Neither of those adjectives describe my old girl! However, now at about the age of 70 in people years, she is a Grand Dame, opinionated and certain, surely the Queen of Everything and Everyone here and I think that, were she human, she would be much like my dear grandmother – benevolent and bawdy, benignly dictatorial and full of spirit, and insisting, at the age of 90, upon setting sail to Venezuela – on a freighter, not a comfy cruise ship.
Tempest is one that you must always ask, and never demand things of. She came from sadness, abuse and neglect … a friend found her starving in a field when she was just a two year old filly. She was a royally bred Quarter Horse that opportunists wanted to make into a show horse and use up quickly, for fast money. People who knew her story enlightened me – she was trained brutally at an age that no one had any business even being on her back. As she is quite the willful girl, we are certain that she did not ‘submit’ to the abusive handling, did not do what was demanded of her and this is why she was punished … ridden in a twisted wire bit and left saddled in a stall, her head tied around tightly to the right side of her girth one day, and to the left the next and on another, down to the girth, between her legs. She was kept like this in her prison cell, a 10×10 box lined with electric wire. She is know to have torn boards from the sides of a hitchcock pen … an oval, walled ring used for training … in a desperate fury, effectively ending that session by trying to kill her trainer.
Eventually those folks went broke and tossed their horses into a grassless, barren field to fend for themselves. Found and rescued by my friend Michelle, they were bags of bones and covered in balls of mud, with skin and hair peeling off in great patches.
I inherited Tempest – sullen at the time, with little use for most Humans and certainly harboring a hatred of men in cowboy hats. One luscious autumn day Michelle asked me to go riding with her. As I was an experienced rider, she put me on a young, gorgeous copper chestnut filly. “She needs a calm and steady hand.” she’d said. I rode the little mare in a simple hackamore, a gentle bitless bridle, and tried to stay out of her way. Crow-hoppy and balky when we first set out to ride the 600 oak and cow studded acres, she eventually relaxed and softened and we had a good time together – I discovered that she loved to be sung to, morphing more and more with each verse from a tight, ear-pinned ball of funk to a happy, forward-eared delight with a loose swinging walk. After our ride, she stood quietly while I brushed her and whispered love into her ear, her head hanging low with eyes closed and 2 inches of tongue hanging out as she sucked every last bit of pleasure from a bit of apple I’d given her … Michelle walked up to us and with a devil’s grin told me that Tempest had never gotten along with anyone. Ever. “A pishy mare.” she said, one who rarely had a rider for she tended to throw balking and bucking fits. Bucking fits that usually abruptly put an end to the ride. And then, she told me Tempest’s story.
“Do you want her?” she asked.
So ………. the little red mare has been with me ever since. It took a year for me to quietly gain even just a little more of her trust. And then another year. And even another to get through issues and bad memories that came to surface in one way or another with almost every ride. There were times that I was plainly frustrated with her. She was not the warm, outgoing personality that my ‘horse of a lifetime’, a young thoroughbred named Bliss, had been – she was a challenge, not only to work with but to my patience. Sometimes I couldn’t even tell if she liked me at all and I wanted to just give her little miserable self away.
Thankfully I was able to see that, were I to sell her, she would most likely be used up as a breeding machine just because of her fortunate genes, OR she would end up as someone’s dinner in Japan because most people found no good use for a crabby and sometimes dangerous horse. I was also able to see that she was my teacher. Horses are Divine Inspiration … far better for me than any meditation practice or Master could have been in helping me learn to flow, to be, to be present, to be still, to be patient, to give without expecting anything back … Tempest gave me all of this and more.
We’ve been through a lot in 20 years … from long meanders through endless green fields, to the metaphysical and artistic discipline of dressage which, despite her bulky QH build, she took to like a chunky ballerina while quite obviously loving the
challenge … I could almost see her brain churning as she mulled a new test of her abilities, and feel a palpable joy in her when she figured it out. In that span of time Breelyn, who half jokingly calls Tempest one of her furry siblings, has gone from girl-child to amazing Woman, we’ve endured the deaths of 4 of our beloved dog-family members, 6 of the cats and several Humans … and she has survived a debilitating trailer wreck and the removal of a sarcoid tumor by an eye, hoof abscesses and check ligament injuries … several corneal ulcers that required weeks of doctoring requiring attentions every 3 hours, 24 hours a day … I’ve learned to give, and she has learned to give in, ultimately learning to trust that we are only here to help her, and to know that she will never again be hurt by the hand of a human. She is a bit stiff these days and going gray here and there, and is ‘retired’, spending days at leisure in a lovely field with ‘her’ pet, the pony Molly, who quite good naturedly allows Tempest to boss her around. But really, under that ‘Queen of Everything’ routine, with the squeals and sneers that no longer foretell of anything sinister – they’ve morphed into things like “(squeal) please put that pan of food down here now!”, or “(sneer) You dare to brush me, before you’ve kissed me?” – she’s really just a big, red softie with a wide grin, the empty shells of old habits and an addiction to sucking on sugar, or carrot, or banana, or a scrap of anything edible in absolute ecstasy with ears askew and eyes closed, tongue hanging, even humming sometimes.
Big Bad Tempest. She still does not often reach out to people – but we know her well enough now to understand that if she chooses to just come close to you, quite close and stand quietly with her eyes closed, you have passed her test with 10 gold stars – you have been honored by one who has traveled a long road to trust. We all, Paul and Bree and I, Molly and the dog, Djuna, the goats and the cats, are her herd, and she is at peace.
I’m watching she and the pony doing their spring ‘dance for joy’ in the wash of green outside my window. She has lost most of the dullness of last season’s coat and is glowing dappled copper in the bits of sun that sneak out from behind clouds. While the squat pony bucks and farts, Tempi does her ‘airs above the ground’, caprioles and pirouettes, leaping and twirling, kicking out, head high with her tail a up like a gorgeous flag and snorting loudly as she floats in grace over the grass.
I imagine that the next 10 years will slow these expressions – but I have a hunch that they will also offer some of that great wise calm that Maggie’s Belle has now.
The Queen of Everything, I celebrate you and your great, free spirit today. I celebrate you and the wondrous depth of a horse’s heart … and I celebrate you and all of the old gals in your wisdom and beauty,and all of that which is yet to come …