This week I received a blog request. You see, the reader is my age, 60, and she’s frustrated at being asked that question repeatedly. The reader’s friend tells her that she and her husband “should get rid of over 30 equines and their farm and all the work, and buy a motor home and travel and ‘have some fun’ for a change!”
Her friend is asking her when she’s going to grow out of her horse phase. Isn’t that cute?
I guess I can understand the question. Some of my family retired to the Snowbird lifestyle. Most were farmers who dreamed of retirement. My parents resided in Space 924 in a Mesa, Arizona, trailer park and they loved the lifestyle back in the day. When I visited them, I couldn’t help but wonder, “How much longer do you think you can do this?”
It should be common knowledge; work is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes visitors to my farm start by saying it looks like a lot of work. I used to kind of survey the place with them, trying to see what they were looking at. I get a bit literal, from time to time. In the end, our biggest passions are usually a lot of work, if you think to use that word. Anything can be work (or play) if you call it that. Some of us think mucking on a fine day with semi-well-intentioned long-eared help is about as much fun as anyone is due.
I am going to be truthful; there are things I have stopped doing. I don’t climb on horses I don’t know anymore. My herd depends on me. I’m proof that at a certain age, at least some of us grow some common sense, but it’s only because my life is so precious to me now. I’ve also worked with some of the most challenging horses I’ve known recently–horses whose complexity would have evaded me when I was younger. It’s a trade-off.
I notice retirement, or even vacations, work best when the place you travel to is better than your day-to-day life at home. For lots of us who have made our home-barn a haven, travel loses its appeal. Especially if our friends are grazers, instead of card players.
Dear Reader, in a tone reminiscent of your mother, “I’m worried about the friends you spend time with, Dear.”
Can I tell you about my new friends? Last fall, here in Colorado there was a horrible horse abuse case. Many concerned horse owners showed up at a town-hall meeting with authorities to talk about what could be done.
I planned on going early but got distracted and lost time mucking. When I looked at my watch, I bolted into the house, changed out of my pajamas, and slapped a cap on my head. I arrived just in time and once the session was open to questions, I stood in line at the microphone. It was a long line–we all had something to say.
From that vantage point I looked around the room and saw many women of a certain age. They wore jeans and frankly, everybody’s hair looked about like mine. We wore sturdy shoes and were women of passion. We talked with conviction about horse welfare, to people who were younger than us and held positions of power. It was a sunny day; when we were younger we might have gone riding instead of standing up and insisting that reporting horse abuse be taken more seriously. But then, women of a certain age have had more time with horses; we have more to be grateful for.
This week that abuse case is in court. Although there was international outrage over this case, although thousands of people voiced concern, there are a handful of us who have been to court most days. We are women of a certain age. We wiggle in our seats uncomfortably–through hours of testimony. Our backs get stiff, not from throwing hay and moving bags of grain, but by sitting still with no sunlight. Our backs get stiff from what we are hearing and seeing.
But we aren’t there because we’re old and have nothing better to do with our time. We work, our time is valuable, but we’ve also learned to prioritize time into freedom. We owe a debt to the horses in our lives; we will keep doing what we do.
At the end of the court day, we don’t linger, chatting over drinks. We rush home to decompress in our barns. We look at our old horses, our rescues, and our good working horses, and promise them–Never! As we pick up muck forks, our breathing slows and angry shoulders go slack. There’s some sort of universal balance struck between human emotional excrement and the actual muck created by horses.
Dear Reader, I thought I would write a witty call to arms for us gray mares. It didn’t turn out that way. You said you do hoof work, rehabilitating and rescuing horses. You are a woman of a certain age so I’m not telling you anything new. But I’ve seen way too many nasty photos this week in court and my humor has gone flat.
“How much longer do you think you can do this?”
I pray that we never give up thinking we can do this. Or any other thing that our conscience says needs doing. And eventually, when they pry that muck fork out of our cold, dead hands–we go to a place where our horses graze in knee-high grass and no one questions our intentions or abilities.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.