My mother died on August 30, 1999. With some money she left me, I fulfilled my life-long dream of getting my own horse. Against all advice, I wanted a baby horse I could raise myself. Once a year, a nearby couple used to bring back a semi load of foals from a “urine ranch” in Canada. Did you know that the female hormone replacement drug “Premarin” stands for "pregnant mares’ urine" ? The foals that result from keeping mares pregnant in order to collect their urine are often sent to slaughter, especially males. The Oakleys tried to find homes for as many unwanted babies as possible.
Monday, October 11, 1999
Today is my first happy day since my mother died.
I’m practically giddy because today is the first day I know with certainty that I’m going to get a horse. The wheels have been set in motion.
I told Ellis I’m pregnant — I know this is what it feels like to be pregnant with a planned baby. I’m so expectant. “That’s why I’m glowing,” I told Ellis.
“Look, am I starting to show?”
“Only your head,” he said, “your strange mind.”
I’m doing everything a woman planning the arrival of a human baby would do — buying books, planning the physical space the baby will require, figuring out the financial requirements, talking to everyone who already has a baby (horse) to see what I can learn…about the only thing I’m not doing is taking prenatal vitamins or worrying about my folic acid intake.
Monday, October 25, 1999
I’m dizzy from prolonged insomnnia — dizzy and spacey. But I’m totally, insanely excited. I’m getting a horse this fall. I can’t sleep at night because all I can think about is getting a horse. “Must get horse. Need horse. Want get horse now. Need horse baby. Go see horse babies. Must pet horse. Must kiss horse.” This is the refrain in my brain that’s making me in…crazy.
I stacked a large amount of wood starting at 6:30 at night. I have so much excitement in my body because of the horse thing that I’m racing around every day on a huge high. My thoughts race around all night on their own high. No pills help — not Tylenol PM, not chlorpheniramine. So I’m just trying to accept being dangerously tired. I’m driving as little as possible.
I think I drove Ceil and Ginny crazy, going on and on about horses. But, as I told them, it’s either dead mother or horse baby, take your pick.
10:15 pm — Every night I’m filled with doubt about my ability to properly raise, ride and train a horse. I wonder how much of this doubt results from overall fatigue and how much is due to dreading the most heinously cold days of January and February. How much of my doubt can be traced to the book Horses for Dummies, which takes every aspect of horse owning and extrapolates it out to the nth degree? Right, I’m sure all the horse owners in Richland County bathe their horses once a month (in a wash rack) and use expensive conditioner on their manes. I haven’t seen too many horses around these parts decked out in tail bags in the pasture.
When I get really freaked out and think I’m making a huge mistake, I will remember Tom’s reassuring message, throw that book away!
I was so proud of myself. Saturday night I made my first bonfire ever and it started on the first try and burned in a beautiful, hot, contained way for hours. There was no wind to speak of. And the moon was magnificent.
We even held hands and did gratitude prayers. Ceil said she had no idea three weeks ago that she’d be sitting on a hill by a bonfire, holding hands and saying a prayer out loud!
I was talking about intentionality. It helps to state directly and fairly specifically what you want the universe to bring your way (as long as it’s for the highest good of all concerned, of course). I told the Elroy story. He was a direct, immediate answer to a prayer.
I’ll do that right now:
state to the Universe that I want a healthy, happy, gentle horse to make itself known to me.
Wednesday, October 27, 1999, 3:25 a.m.
Is insomnia any less distressing when it’s due to excitement rather than dread?
If engineers could harness my night brain to a turbine or a windmill, they’d have enough energy to light Los Angeles.
Tiny red roan or frisky male paint? Maybe the gate shouldn’t go there…what about paddock fencing? What about Christmas? I could name him Dewey or Quentin or her Constance…But what halter color would look good against that odd almost brick red with all the white hair? Is he too big for me? Is she too small? Who am I to think I can train a horse? From scratch? Which vehicle of ours could pull a trailer? I’ve got to check that lump on Misty’s neck to see if it’s a tick…What about bedding?! ETC.
10:15 a.m. — I still weigh 89 — I’m too excited to sleep or eat this week. I’m running on horse-legs.
The Shopping News had two new ads for paint weanlings! I called and learned they were in Soldiers Grove. I decided to drive out there after my visit to the Oakleys. These babies were significantly more expensive, but the vet’s warning was ringing in my ears so I decided as part of my research to check out another seller.
I had the best afternoon! I got to be alone in the pen with the babies, who were all gathered ‘round the feed trough, munching hay. It was a good time to come be with them because they were still a lot of the time, too concentrated on eating to be overly concerned by my presence. I could walk around this circle of horse rumps and really look at their legs and hooves and overall coat condition. I thought they looked great! My faith in the Oakleys was restored. There was no manure on the floor of the corral (until after lunch, when they all seemed to poop at once in response to an unseen signal. Herd animals kill me! I kept thinking of that famous scene from the last Mary Tyler Moore show when the whole newsroom gang tearfully embraces and then awkwardly toddles as one unit over to the desk for Kleenex.)
On cue, several horses would abruptly leave the hay trough to walk over to the waterer. Then in unison they’d lift their tails and poop. They they’d all walk back to the feed trough to resume eating; then back for water, then a big group pee.
They are so fascinating to watch. Yesterday the mood was so calm in there. I saw in each horse the capacity for gentling. The red roan filly was beyond the beyond — I was leaning across her back, resting, while she ate. She’s like a dog, totally unlike all the other babies in there. The big paint colt I like was so focused on eating that I never did make eye contact with him. He reminded me of Elroy — a big, goofy hog-boy.
The paint filly who has the same dad as the paint colt seemed very sweet to me. She’s small like the red roan. And I really noticed for the first time a sweet black colt. He has no markings at all except for a tiny hint of a white swirl between his eyes. He’d be a good size for me — between the big paint and the teeny tiny red roan.
I loved them all! How on earth am I supposed to choose? Ellis is going over there with me today to help me come to a decision. He’s also fired up about the Great Stall and Fencing Project.
Thursday, October 28, 1999 10:25 p.m.
Ellis and I went over to the Oakleys at 1:30 or so. I realized that the little red roan is just too little. And the big paint male is just too big. It was Ellis who first responded strongly to another paint male to whom I hadn’t paid much attention. He’s dark brown and white and has a white and black mane. He’s really striking. He’s bigger than the roan and smaller than the other paint male.
He’s too skittish to touch, still. What sold me was the fact that he has one blue eye and one brown eye. I didn’t notice that before. That clinched it — he looks just like the horse I painted a couple years ago in “February Mind.” His patterning is different, but his coloration and coat characterizations are the same. I loved painting that blue eye.
I have no idea what his personality will be like — none. He’s wild, not even halter-broken. He’s so skittish that when I touched his butt he jumped over the feed trough. He’s got a lot of pep — Erla said they get really frisky when it’s windy.
He’ll be a damn sight more challenging than the little red roan — but he seems like the one.
When I told Jeanne, she was great. She was glad I chose a male — a friend told her that females have a gross discharge all the time. That’s not how she put it, but that was her point. I said the horse will be in the machine shed. She was really worried that her “only nephew” won’t be warm enough this winter! Who knows? I may have to get doors for that shed. Lord knows there’s no shortage of people willing to give me advice…
Erla was so sweet. She didn’t ask for any money down. They’re very casual and laid back. They are so nice! Which is a good thing, since I’m still waiting for the check to finance this new/old obsession.
I’ve been checking on hay and bedding options, and water and fencing and round pens. Getting a horse should be very helpful in terms of staving off Alzheimer’s — I have to learn a whole new language. I feel my brain stretching. I’m entering a place where “tobiano” and “overo,” pastern and bots and Coggins and floating teeth all have meaning.
It would be fun to do some paintings based on obscure terminology related to horse-tending. “Floating teeth” is such an evocative phrase. It almost seems like it could be the title of a painting I already completed.
After we picked a horse we went into Richland Center. I bought a gate and we reserved a post-hole digger — a big, heavy gas-powered thing — to pick up this morning.
When we got home, we measured where the posts should go. We actually started the building process for the stall area. Maybe that’s when it hit me that this is for real — I’m actually getting a horse and it’s going to be living here!
Saturday, October 30, 1999
Cripes, it’s happening. Now not only can I not sleep because I’m so excited about my horse, but because I’m starting to get painting ideas.
Suddenly I can see the images in my mind. The horse foal in his corner stall, my mother as the young, beautiful woman she was floating over the stall — maybe with wings, maybe not.
An image derived from the conversation I had yesterday with the couple we hired to dig two post holes Ellis and I couldn’t do with our rental equipment on Thursday:
As usual, talk came up about how delicate and accident-prone horses are. “I know,” I said. “It’s like the princess and the pea. You have thirty mattresses on top of a pea, the horse sleeping on top will wake up with ten lacerations.” What a great image — a baby foal sleeping on a giant stack of mattresses, with an arrow and an inset circle with a rendered pea inside. The painting’s title would be “How My Horse Got Injured.” It would be an in-joke for the entire horse community.
11:10 p.m. — What an intense day. I’m such a fucking wreck. Today all my frantic focusing on horses couldn’t keep my subterranean sadness over my mother at bay. Or tonight, rather. She died two months ago today.
Tonight, when I got home from the horse training workshop, I was so weak in every way. I didn’t eat anything at all until 5:30. Four hours of sitting in an outdoor covered arena on a metal bleacher seat left me shivering uncontrollably in my inadequate jean jacket, flannel shirt and undershirt.
I couldn’t wait to get home and take a bath and recover from the stress of feeling so overwhelmed by trying to learn everything there is to learn about feeding, fencing, veterinary care and training in the space of two weeks.
I’ve been a nutcase. I recognized clearly tonight that I am rushing into this to avoid feeling pain about my mother. Tonight I had that sinking feeling of her presence receding from me in a really irrevocable way. Tonight I can cry.
12:30 a.m. (actually it’s turn back the clock night so it’s 11:30)
That was cathartic. Ellis came in to comfort me.
I’ve felt enveloped by my mother’s presence for the past two months. Today is the first day I really feel her slipping away.
Don was talking about people having a hard time leaving the earth. I believe she’s been sticking around to comfort us, but now she has to be on her way. And there’s nothing I can do about it.
I feel like my mother stuck around the farm until she knew I’d gotten the horse. There’s some profoundly critical connection between my mother and this horse. I have yet to understand what it is, but I don’t doubt that it’s there.
Tuesday, November 2, 1999
Sunday I was low all day. Ellis was in Marshfield, visiting his parents. The weather was so mild that he got his wish for one more golf game with them.
At noon I went over to visit the horses. No one was there. All the babies were in the barn, eating from a very long feeder.
I positioned myself across the feeder from “my” horse-to-be (my horse, my horse, the phrase just doesn’t sound quite right yet) and tried to commune with him. I had many pangs about #39 — the biggest one who I like so much — but by the end of the two hours I spent there I was pretty happy with the one Ellis and I chose.
I suddenly knew his name. It’s Rabbit. The name evolved from a white shape on his dark brown nose that reminded me of an aerial view of a hare — a headless hare, but a hare nonetheless.
I thought it sounded fun to call out “Rabbit! Rabbit!” across the pasture.
When I went home I looked up “Rabbit” in Ellis’ Medicine Card book. Paints are such quintessentially Indian-looking horses, I thought I’d draw inspiration from these Indian teachings.
The sub-heading under Rabbit is FEAR, which I’m learning seems to sum up horse psychology.
“Scared little Rabbit…
Please drop your fright!
Running doesn’t stop the pain,
Or turn the dark to light.”
There’s a long story about how rabbits came to call their fears to them.
“As this story shows, Rabbit medicine people are so afraid of tragedy, illness, disaster and “being taken,” that they call those very fears to them to teach them lessons. The keynote here is: What you resist will persist! What you fear most is what you will become.
Here is the lesson. If you pulled Rabbit, stop talking about horrible things happening and get rid of “what if” in your vocabulary. This card may signal a time of worry about the future or of trying to exercise your control over that which is not yet in form — the future. Stop now! Write your fears down and be willing to feel them. Breathe into them, and feel them running through your body into Mother Earth as a give-away.”
I don’t know, I think Rabbit is my teacher.
Plus, just since I bought him, I’ve seen a rabbit two times right around the pole shed. Those are the first times I’ve seen a rabbit on our property since we moved here.
Then, yesterday, I went to Tom and Sally’s to see their new foal and to go to Emily’s riding lesson with her.
I walked into the machine shed where the horse is, and sitting next to her pen was a dark brown and white spotted rabbit in its own little cage. It just struck me as odd, this out-of-the-blue awareness of rabbits and then the rabbit encounters immediately following.
So I’m convinced that Rabbit is the horse I’m supposed to get. Once I named him, I immediately felt closer to him.
“Rabbit,” I called to him, “you don’t know it yet, but you’re my horse. Soon I’m going to be kissing your nose!”