It’s a Grandfather Spring. Those words don’t go together well, any more than watching elderly horses in the freshness of the season. I wouldn’t trade a moment. My Grandfather Horse survived the winter to see another birthday. After our emergency vet call in November, you might wonder. I’m happy to report no more high drama about … well, it’s a bit embarrassing. (read here).
And it’s finally spring. You can tell because the wind is catapulting tumbleweeds instead of snow most of the time.
My Grandfather Horse and I have a game we play every spring. Just when the grass is its best; that time just after a spring blizzard and just before the hot midday sun scorches baby grasses crisp, I accidentally-on-purpose forget to close his gate. Silly me. And he moves like a serpent, slowly to the gate, then flings it hard with his nose and squeals as he gallops out, tail flagged and proud, with his tiny herd of mares in hot pursuit. He is always incredulous at my foolishness and his luck.
My Grandfather Horse got retired for cause, a tendon injury that took months of stall rest to heal, giving his arthritis time to cripple him. Watching him canter on two lame legs and a very weak back was frightening to watch, and there was always hang-over soreness the next day. But it was so worth it for that desperado’s escape.
He gave up his wobbly canter a few years ago for a bone-jarring trot. I don’t let the mares join in anymore, it would hurry him too much. And last year, he made his annual escape at a walk. I’ll be kind and call it a race walk, but his hooves barely cleared the ground and his legendary tail was quiet.
This year the birthday break-out day came, and I didn’t latch the gate as I left to muck another run. My Grandfather Horse stood still, eyes half closed in the morning sun. I pushed the gate wider and still he took no notice. Finally I walked up to him and scratched a handful of long, gray hairs loose. I turned but he didn’t follow, so I slipped a twine around his neck and waited for him to shift his weight into a walk. We sauntered out together.
Our pasture is prairie grass, some sage, a few cactus. There is only one really exceptional patch of grass on the place. You know the kind; wider leaves and so moist it smells sweet. We made our way to the place behind the horse trailer with the special grass and I let loose of the twine. He walked a few steps and dropped his head, not even a rush now.
It was a slow morning so I plopped down to the ground to keep him grazing company. I did what I always do; I reminisced with him. Remember how afraid you were when we met? Remember sharing watermelon at horse shows? Remember that way you had of kicking me in the arch of my foot when I over-cued flying changes?
The Grandfather horse retired ten years ago but the first couple of years where the worst. He was angry that I quit him. He was right, the injury didn’t matter. I could barely meet his eye. He refused to stand for the curry. We were both depressed.
Spring is the time of year for grand plans. Reclining there on the grass, I thought about what I’d like to accomplish with my young mare this year, ideas I have for my clients and the horses here for training. I notice I don’t have any plans with this grand old man. I do nothing with him.
We aren’t a young herd anymore. Some of us are literally or figuratively old goats. My Grandfather Horse and I have much more history than future. It hurts to admit but it’s agonizingly undeniable that our best days are not ahead. Some of our favorite friends, his contemporaries, are not with us this spring. We can’t feel lucky when others are mourning.
But we are here now and the smell of the grass being crushed by what teeth the Grandfather Horse has left is still sweet. I fold my arms behind my head and as clouds gather, I remind my good boy of our favorite freestyle -a combination reining and dressage, to music by Bob Wills and Patsy Cline. He was nibbling grass right by my ear and his crusty old eye twinkled. Every single dream has come true. Just then the wind kicks up, with hail this time. As we amble back to the barn, my grand plan for him comes to me:
This summer I am going to do nothing with him – much more often.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.