There are some moments with horse that are almost too subtle and beautiful for words. HN contributor Rachael Walker manages to capture a quiet moment at the end of the day with her OTTB-turned-eventer.
It was evening. To be precise, it was dusk, that magic time where day meets night and the world grows hazy around the edges. The searing July sun had dipped below the tree line on the hill, leaving behind a curtain of muggy air. The open side of my small three-walled barn was open to a riot of reds and oranges in the western sky.
My older eventer, Guy, stood with his hooves placidly planted on the dirt floor of the barn. I finished my post-schooling grooming with a soft body brush, stroking it across his dark brown coat until it glowed in the fading light of day. I smoothed the brush over his haunches last, and turned to put the brush back in the box. As I walked past Guy’s head he turned his face and nudged my arm, his eyes catching the reflection of the last light of the sun. I smiled and dug a treat out of my pocket, which he carefully plucked from my palm with his lips.
This kind of affection was unusual from the teenaged Thoroughbred, who had spent nearly ten years racing on various tracks, only to be abandoned at the age of thirteen on the backside. He was shuffled through a rescue to a foster home that shoved him off in a pasture and promptly forgot about him, so that by the time he arrived at my barn he was thin, wormy, standing on elongated and broken feet, and completely disinterested in people. Guy took the word ‘stoic’ to new levels. For months he wouldn’t even try to eat hand-fed treats, and he never asked for attention. Now, more than a year later, he was beginning to take the intiative to ask for ear scratches or peppermint bites, but only when the mood struck him.
I spent a little time rubbing around his sweaty ears and under his mane, fanning it out a little in the humid air to draw a breeze to his neck. I stowed my brushes in their box and took his lead rope off the hook, clipping it to his halter to put him in his paddock for the night. As we stepped from the barn into the darkening eve, the warm yellow glow of the barn lights spilled out of the doorway behind us. Guy clopped along next to me in his trademark swinging gait, ears flopping. I opened the gate and let him in to the paddock, giving him a final few pats as I unbuckled the halter, leaving him free to snuggle up to his girlfriend for the night.
The horses were all nickering their desire for dinner as I walked past their paddocks on my way back to the barn. Hay bales were already stacked in front of each enclosure, so I grabbed the knife from my pocket and cut them open, tossing two and three flakes to a pile, several piles to a pen. There was a short burst of hoofbeats as the leaders claimed their piles, leaving the others to settle out beneath them.
Back in the barn, I hung Guy’s halter on its hook and turned to walk to the feed room to mix evening grain rations. My feet slowed as I walked past the open barn door, and I paused to stand in the middle of the glow tumbling from the barn into the indigo twilight. The horses were becoming nebulous shapes under the darkening sky, now painted in shades of blue and purple above and orange below. A slight breeze ruffled a few sweaty curls from my neck, the sun’s radiance slipped below the treeline and my little barn glowed warm and steady around me. I closed my eyes and breathed deep, inhaling the sweet scents of sweat, oiled leather, oats, alfalfa and timothy. My ears picked up the contented rustling of the horses nosing through their hay piles and the sounds of the crickets starting up their nighttime melody. It felt like home.
My name is Rachael Walker, and I am an eventer in the frozen northern land of Wisconsin. I have been riding since I was a small child, and bought my first horse in my early teens. I fell in love with english riding early, despite belonging to a 4-H club that was big on western gaming. After high school I went on to attain a college degree in Equine Science and a minor in Creative Writing. My husband and I now own and operate a boarding and lesson stable, where I teach dressage and jumping to people and horses alike. My husband is a farrier. We do our farm work with two teams of Belgian mares, and no longer even own a tractor (no, we are not Amish – I do love my running water and electric lights!)
I compete in Novice level eventing at the moment with my older horse, but have a lovely youngster (she is 5 this year) who I am very excited to bring along through the levels. Both of my competition horses are rescues, as are a few of my lesson horses. Between training, teaching, competing, and tagging along on farrier escapades with the hubby, I see many sides of this crazy equine world in which we exist. To keep it interesting, we also raise sheep, chickens and hogs, have a small herd of laying hens and their male escort roosters (trust me, this thing is not a flock of chickens, it is a herd), the requisite small army of barn cats, two useless but very cute goats, and a pair of Corgis who are convinced they run the show.