It’s been seven weeks since Shady arrived on the farm. I’m happy to report that during the month after BarnStock, the gunshots and Foxie’s “walk-about,” the horses have gradually begun to get more comfortable with each other. Shady has suffered a few kicks and bites. Nothing too serious, just the occasional reminder from Foxie that she’s in charge.
More often than not, when I wander down to the barn or walk by the field, I see the horses grazing peacefully together.
Sometimes they keep their distance.
Other times they move closer together.
A couple of weeks ago, the girls had a lesson, and the horses were happy to be in the ring together. Halfway through the lesson, a rainbow appeared. I’m taking it as a good sign. 🙂
Back at the barn, Shady is learning when to keep his distance…
And when it’s okay to get close….
The last week and a half has been full of transitions in our little horse world, and I have been holding the tension of two opposites within me: grief over saying goodbye to April, a horse who has come to mean much to our family, and celebration over the welcoming of a new gelding for Sydney’s friend Lauren-Kate.
April played an important role in my daughter’s development as a rider, and she became a fixture in the pasture beside our beloved Foxie. April and Foxie spent this past winter together in a paddock at Runneymede, and when they returned home, it was as if they were attached at the hip. I took so many photos of these two mares, delighting in their companionship.
April was the horse whose head would lift each time I called out to the horses, and she would come walking, sometimes trotting over to see me, with Foxie lagging behind. Sydney and I noted how April and Foxie stood together under the shade trees head to tail, brushing flies off of each other’s faces and nibbling at the itchy places on each other’s backs. Foxie, with her typical Quarter Horse build, often stood next to, usually a little behind April, with her head lowered, as if she were hiding. While April, with her thoroughbred/Welsh Pony breeding raised her head with curiosity and friendly interest each time she saw us.
We first met April last July, on a 100-degree day near Charleston, SC. Our family was returning home from a beach vacation and we’d heard of this horse, a sweet mare whose “default was whoa,” according to her owner, who had worked with Jo, a dear friend of ours. Sydney had been riding Foxie and was head over heels in love with her. But Foxie was taking advantage of her inexperience and taking off at the canter with her. I figured with a little training, I could break Foxie of her habits and Sydney could gain confidence by riding a horse that she would be comfortable learning to canter on. April was that horse. I knew the first time Sydney rode her, on that 100-degree day. A couple of weeks later, Deirdra, a friend of mine from my old days as a riding instructor delivered April to our farm. Sydney began riding April several times a week, and within a few weeks, she was cantering with confidence and ease. By the end of the year, she was back riding Foxie and enjoying her again, thanks to April.
It’s always hard to board horses when you’ve been used to taking care of them yourself. But Sydney’s intense school and basketball schedule left little time for horse care in the evenings, so we knew it was the right thing to board them through the winter.
Sydney’s friend, Lauren-Kate, took over riding April when the horses moved to Runneymede, and the girls had many great lessons there together. They also had a taste of trail riding when it was clear both horses were getting bored with ring work.
In the spring, when the horses returned home, their joy was palpable. They left the winter dry lot pasture behind and discovered their familiar paddocks, lush and green with new grass. They dropped their heads to the tasty tufts and never looked back. They even seemed to love their stalls – where they could stand side by side or look out their back windows towards another field of green.
As the horses grew accustomed to the grass and were eased into 24/7 turnout, I delighted in seeing them each day as I walked. They were always in close range of each other, always moving in time; if one started walking, the other lifted her head and began walking too. There was never a scratch on either horse…they watched out for each other, never fought, always enjoyed the other’s presence. Having been around horses for most of my life, I know how rare this is. But I believe these two horses genuinely loved each other.
We often joked that April was a person inside a horse body because she was so curious and interested in people. Every day she greeted whoever came to the barn – whether it was a person or Foxie – with a whinny or a nicker. She was truly present. And how she loved food! She never left a speck of hay in her stall, even if she’d spent the last 24 hours eating grass. If she didn’t want to do something she’d let you know…stopping on a hot day, after a longer-than-usual lesson, turning around to look at you if you tried to urge her to go, as if to ask, “Are you serious?” then capitulating if you meant business and brought out the whip.
Sydney and I had discussed how April would be leaving the barn sometime during the summer because our year lease was ending. About a month before our lease was up, we learned that Lauren-Kate had found a potential horse for herself. I was in communication with April’s owner and knew that she felt that the mare had more good years in her as a school horse, and I agreed that she would be a benefit to the right program. But I knew it would be hard to say goodbye. I went down to the barn to talk with April. I told her what was going on, that she would not be staying with us, but that I loved her and hoped we would find a special home for her where she could help other students gain confidence in their riding. To my surprise, I had a sense that April, though deeply connected to Foxie and appreciative of our farm, was aware of her role and ready to accept whatever her new assignment might be. She met my gaze with her perpetual friendly and open curiosity and what felt like a sense of trust. I believe this sense of trust came from her owner’s firm belief in her talents and a sense that our family would oversee this transition.
A week or two later, April had her hooves trimmed, and I remember watching her blissful face as the farrier worked on her. It was as if she was enjoying to the fullest every last experience with us on the farm.
It’s been a wonderful year with April. Thank you, Kelly, for sharing her with us. We will always have a warm spot in our hearts for this sweet mare. I’ll finish this post with some of the lovely sights we were blessed with during this past year.
Coming soon: Transitions at the Farm, Part II: Welcoming Shady
It’s a beautiful fall day, crisp and cool, and the sun shines brightly through amber, maroon and burnt orange leaves. I suddenly had to grab my camera and take photos of the horses with this new scenery. The horses are beautiful all the time, in all weather and with every background…but the changing seasons reminds me of the glory of these animals, the natural setting they inhabit, the farm we are blessed to call home.
Fall is a time of change, the outer world is shedding itself, leaves that are no longer living flutter brightly through the air. Remember me! Remember me! they seem to call out, the way my own memories flash and twirl through my mind. My mother’s awe at the water-colored sunsets on the coast, the winking of gold and silver in the waves, the bleeding of peach into lavender cloud. My daughter’s glee at turning five, the birthday she’d dreamed about for a year, asked every afternoon after preschool, Is it here yet? Yes, my sweet one, it’s here and gone…and here again as the leaves of memory circle and float.
I will cherish these memories and loved ones as long as possible, yet, at the same time, I must open my hands, release my grasp on things that are not mine to hold. Eight years ago next month, my mother stepped beyond my reach into a golden glow. That same day, my sweet girl rained flower petals down the aisle of a church, paving a path of fragrance for Emily, the bride.
Yesterday, Sydney slipped behind the wheel of my car to practice driving up the dirt road to our house. When she was a flower girl, I never dreamed her feet would reach the pedals. But they did. And the years have passed. She stepped tentatively on the gas, braked when necessary. Her long, golden hair flowed gently over her shoulders.
My own hair is greying…and the days keep moving. One day soon the branches will be bare and the frost of winter will set in. But today it is late October and the woods are glowing. The muzzles of horses are buried in emerald grass. They don’t look ahead or worry, just simply feel the warmth of autumn through their coats. And the sun shines brighter each day through the shedding forest.
A new beginning. A new rhythm. As the seasons roll on there is always a new beginning and a new unfolding. Changes we expect and those that slip up on us, catching us unaware. After six years of homeschooling – later mornings, relaxed breakfasts, snuggling on couches, following my own routines — things have switched up.
For the first time in years, there is space. Space within my days. Room to do more than breathe, room to stretch my arms and stretch my mind into places long abandoned.
I was eager and willing to embrace homeschool during the years we did it. I don’t regret one second of that time, even though it wasn’t always easy. I am so grateful to have spent those years side by side with my daughter, learning who she is and growing close to her.
But the rhythm of days has changed, and even though I have been preparing for this all summer there is both a joy and an ache.
The joy comes from seeing my daughter move along a path that feels right to her and to us as her parents, watching her find her way in a new community, seeing her stretch and explore, witnessing an unfurling into the young woman she is becoming.
I miss her daily presence, the light of her face throughout my days. Yet I embrace the ache. It reminds me of the gifts we’ve shared, the interwoven hours, the privilege I’ve had of sometimes escorting, more often trailing behind, her as she transitioned from one stage to the next.
The ache is a small wildflower in the field of my heart. I imagine I will carry it with me through all my days. When I feel the absence of my girl, I will bend down to inspect the exquisite petals, delight in the flower’s bright colors and its insistence to grow.
At the same time I have been blessed with the time and space to grow myself as I watch my girl flit like a butterfly towards her future. Years ago my mother told me she was always learning even through her later years, maybe especially at that time.
My mother walks beside me today and as I link arms with the ghost of who my daughter was and who she might become. She places an arm around my shoulders, whispers words of assurance and love as we step forward into this new day.
Our horses were treated to something extra special this afternoon. The sister of a friend of ours is a horse masseuse. She came to the barn and worked on Misty, Foxie and April. As usual, I was so involved in watching the horse’s reactions that I forgot to pull out my phone and take photos until she started working on the second horse. But here are a couple of photos of Foxie and April feeling pretty blissful.
This morning, on my walk, I saw this sight…two horses head to tail. I love seeing Foxie and Misty standing like this because I know they’re helping each other — scratching each other’s backs, swishing flies off of each other’s faces, generally making each other more comfortable. Isn’t that what good friends do for each other?
A little more to the right…a little higher….Ahhh…that’s the spot. Thank you, friend.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed doing over the past several years as a homeschool mom has been teaching a writing class to Sydney and her good friend Lauren-Kate. It has been amazing to see what these girls have been able to accomplish at such a young age. Sydney has worked hard all year in order to finish Mystery at Camp Lakeside, her third and final book in her mystery series. Matt and Teresa, her wonderful brother-sister team, attend summer camp and find themselves in the midst of another mystery. As always, their rambunctious golden retriever Rusty joins in on the fun.
As a writer myself, I can’t help but be proud of the work Sydney has done. It has been such a pleasure sharing my passion and the joy of writing on a weekly basis with my daughter. Watching her develop her unique gifts has been fascinating. I am a memoir writer — someone who records real life and attempts to make meaning out of it. But Sydney writes fiction and has an amazing ability to create characters and stories out of thin air. She has a knack for plotting, adding interesting and fun twists and keeping an entire story line in her head. And she’s incredibly conscientious.
Over the past several years, I watched her sit down at her computer and dream up chapter after chapter. Her characters became as real to me as family members: Teresa, the thoughtful older sister; Matt, the spontaneous and fun younger brother; Grandpa with his funny southern sayings, and Rusty with her lovable hi-jinks. I will miss listening to the latest adventures of these characters, and I will miss my time around the writing table with Sydney.
With the publication of this third and final book in her series, Sydney is closing out a sweet and special period of her life. She is ready to move on to something new. Will there be more writing in her future? Who knows? What I do know is that she is entering an exciting time of exploration and growth, a time where she needs space for the new stories that are taking place in her own life.
I trust the gifts of story telling and creating wonderful characters will stay with Sydney. I hope she’ll look back with fondness at the worlds she fashioned and the hours we spent in our weekly writing group. I know she already appreciates the bonds of friendship that formed and deepened over the years as she and Lauren-Kate shared this journey. The narrative will continue always…in one form or another.