A tale is born from an image, and the image extends and creates a network of meanings that are always equivocal. Italo CalvinoA Tail to Tell
“Let go, be free, and be unequivocally and unapologetically yourself. The ones who are meant to stay will, and the others will have been in your life because God wanted to teach you something. How you handle those cards that you’ve been dealt? That’s on you to decide.” ~Burchell, R.I.P.
This is probably the only memory I have (or remember; it’s anyone’s guess) of receiving advice that wasn’t complete dog shit, and not from the local hipsters where the only kind of ‘deity’ is the humble marijuana plant but came from a stable I was hired to be a stable hand at.
I would work for them like five or six nights a week, shoveling the stalls daily, preparing grain and supplements for each individual horses needs. I remember distinctly the chart I used to have to hold my first month there. It had all the horses’ names listed, along with the type, amount, and supplements (if any) that each individual horse needed.
I would measure it out for the morning stable hands or the owner of the organization, her daughter (Sarah) would be able to feed them early in the morning (at 5:00am, and who also didn’t enjoy being awake at that time) and avoid having to arrive even earlier than 5:00am just to avoid the loud stomping, kicking, and whinnying of impatient, angry horses whose only wish is to eat their breakfast and munch on their hay undisturbed.
I can remember the first time I ever was assigned this task, and I was squinting at the list, checking and rechecking the amounts, reading the seemingly endless bottles of dietary supplements, some dry, some liquid, and even a supplement that women could not (and this was stressed to me numerous times) touch; well I guess it only effects menstruating women because if your skin came in contact with it, it had the potential to severely alter your menstrual cycle.
Oh, and the last two of my assigned duties was to turn out the horses into different pastures, one for the mares and one for the geldings and stallions and scrubbing the water buckets every Friday. This is what led me to receive this advice.
It was late on a Friday night, and the only reason I really remember it is because I was unable to clean the buckets due to this incident and that subsequently led to a minor disagreement between his daughter and I; and Burchell defended me when this happened.
I was unaware that he had even said anything to anyone. In hindsight I do remember that he was there that night, so by default that made him my only credible witness, who had watched the scene unfurl from start to finish. I also think he saw something in me that I had yet to become aware of and am probably still not privy to.
The day started normal enough, I had arrived early because I didn’t have class (or didn’t go, hard to tell which) that day and my mother had to work at around noon and when you have no car, no friends, and your mother doesn’t enjoy making multiple trips (understandable), you have no choice but to hitchhike your way everywhere and always at least three hours before you’re supposed to be there; to the mall, to your job, or in my case to the stables. On this day, I was probably about five or six hours earlier than was necessary.
The way most barns operate is relatively simple, but flip flops with the inevitable change of the seasons, with the largest tweaks to the horses’ pasture schedule occurring in the winter and summer months.
In the summer the horses are kept in their stalls for the entire day because of the intense heat and humidity during this time of year. Then after they are fed their evening grain (around 5:00pm), they’re turned out into their designated pastures (about an hour or so later), left there all night to be brought in early in the morning to eat, and then the cycle repeats.
In the winter, it’s flip flopped, so the horses are turned out during the day, and left in their stalls at night because it’s too cold in the pastures at night during the winter for the types of horses that were at this barn, especially with no type of shelter that they can take cover in to escape the biting wind and snow. Let me add quickly because I’m sure most of you are thinking something along the lines of:
“But aren’t there wild horses? Why would it be too cold for domesticated horses and not so for wild horses?”
And to that my answer would be, when you have show horses, they’re schooled (trained) in the ‘off-season’ which is in the winter. Show horses are pampered because their appearance is scored along with their performance so to preserve their coat (and by default stopping the horses normal winter fur from growing in as thick) they’re blanketed in the winter, and fly sheets are draped over them in the summer to avoid the flies and keep them from being bitten by horse flies and other creepy crawlies, that I now have to stop talking about because I hate bugs.
At the time, this ‘first professional blunder’ took place it was probably mid-summer, the beginning of July, and (as I stated earlier) I arrived like five or six hours earlier than I had to be.
Typically when you clean a stall, you wait until the horses are turned out and aren’t in their stalls, this is usually just for speed purposes so you aren’t forced to remove them from the stall you’re cleaning, nor are you forced to clean the stall with them in it, with a horse you aren’t comfortable with or you don’t own.
I had time to kill, is what I’m ultimately hinting at. And Burchell being ‘knight in shining armor’ that he was, figured out my schedule rather quickly and would always hang out with me at the barn. I’d consider us to have a pretty good relationship, he was a mentor to me almost.
As the day wore on, and the heat increased, it was nearing time for the horses to be let out after messing around and reading and talking or doing whatever it was that I was doing. I had seen the weather report that day and it contradicted severely with the bright blue skies and white fluffy clouds in the sky, they looked like pillows.
I hesitated a bit, waiting for another boarder to arrive so I could ask them their opinion because the horses absolutely are forbidden to be outside in any type of weather that could be harmful to them, i.e. thunderstorms which is what was forecasted and it was supposed to be a bad one.
I stared at the clock, watching the minutes tick by ever so slowly, when I heard the big barn doors open, I was relieved to see one of my favorite boarders and owner of a beautiful dressage horse named Mack; her name was Kerri and often served as the most rational person to go to if you needed any advice.
She had come to my aid on numerous occasions and never with any judgement. Patient and kind as she was, it felt pretty natural to ask her whether or not I should turn the horses out despite the weather forecast, especially for someone of my low rankings within the hierarchy, it shows inexperience, and can sew seeds of doubt with the boarders in your ability to care for their animals.
She answered in her usual sing-songy way and told me that in her opinion it appeared that the storm was going to pass over us (as is often the case with Ohio and thunderstorms, especially in the area that we were in). I found myself agreeing and Burchell always the one to give his input agreed and I went about my duties as normal.
When I had turned them all out and finished all of the stalls it was time to clean the buckets. Cleaning buckets was arguably the task I hated the most. It was messy, you always ended up drenched in water, and they were always ridiculously heavy, and just as I was ready to start cleaning them, the brightest flash of lightning flashed in the sky. Then the roaring of thunder cracked and rumbled like the sound of a bridge collapsing.
Although I wasn’t obligated to bring all of the horses back inside, I felt slightly responsible for having let them out knowing that there could be a potential storm, and for the safety of the horses. As I had resigned myself to the realization that I would have to sacrifice one of my two days off and scrubbing buckets on Saturday, my father walked into the barn just as the rain started to pelt the tin roof of the barn, it sounded like golf balls or ping pong balls slamming into the roof with an astonishing amount of force.
I ran out into the rain, thunder, and lightning lead rope in hand as Kerri followed behind me, as I had never been responsible for bringing in the horses and I had no idea to accomplish it. I had to trudge through both fields, the farthest one located across the outdoor riding ring to the gates on the other side. I opted to bring the mares in first, because they were the closest and would arguably be the most difficult to bring back inside. Kerri and I managed to herd them like sheep towards the front of the field, and I began to bring them one by one back to their stalls.
There were I believe 14 horses in total, 8 of them being mares and the others a gelding and one stallion. Once I hurriedly had the mares in place with their doors latched securely, Kerri and I trudged back into the downpour and as we walked toward the designated field, we were very pleased to see all of them gathered at the gate, looking far less bothered than the mares, they were lazily munching on grass, almost like they expected us to bring them inside.
We brought them in no problem, and by this point it was far too late to even attempt to clean 28 buckets two for each horse, and once again I had to come to the realization that they would not be done that night, and I wasn’t entirely sure how this was going to play out with the owner, however I was drenched from head to toe, slick with sweat and rain, and could hardly will my body to move another inch.
I was practically dragging my sore limbs out to the car, and I was starving. Kerri thanked me profusely, which I was sort of confused by because I was under the impression that it was my job, I didn’t give it much thought, telling myself that I would worry about the potential consequences tomorrow. I hopped in the car, the only thing on my mind being food.
The next day I had slept in very late and was awoken to numerous amounts of missed calls and text messages from the owner, pretty much grilling me about not having done the buckets. I was surprised that no one had told her about the events of the night prior and I explained to her what had happened and that I would be out later that day to clean them, I just didn’t have the time and my father was there and couldn’t stay late.
I craved sleep, my schedule at this time in my life was utter chaos. I went to school from 10:45am to 1:45pm, went to work from 2:00pm to 9:30pm and then off to the stables from 9:45pm until whenever I finished which was usually around 11:00pm.
I arrived shortly after the phone call, feeling slightly annoyed that I even had to be there when I did, I didn’t find it to be that big of a deal considering my options were to either leave the buckets dirty and bring the horses inside or leave the horses outside and clean the buckets, and in my mind the safety of the horses was more important.
As I was scrubbing the buckets, I felt the weight of a hand on my shoulder, it was Burchell. He told me that he understood my decision and even went so far as to tell me that he agreed with my decision and at that I couldn’t help but burst into tears.
They rolled down my face, and the tears felt hot and warm like lava from a volcano, and they seemed to not want to stop. I hated disappointing people or failing to complete a task that was expected of me, so I was being probably too hard on myself for a 15 year old with massive amounts of responsibility that even an adult would struggle with (albeit not as frequent).
He spoke to me as someone who was sympathetic to my cause, either from a previous personal experience or out of pure like for me. We got along well, and I always managed to make him laugh and I would inquire about his health often. I mean, hell he was the only one that sat with me on those long days I skipped school, and the barn was nearly empty, the only sounds emanating from it were the sounds of the horses stomping in their stalls, horses munching on hay, the shuffling of their tails, and the occasional whinny or snort. Other than that, silent.
This is when he told me that he had never seen someone with quite the work-ethic I had, nor had he ever seen anyone procrastinate so hard with every assigned task but manage to get the job done with speed and efficiency that somehow exceeded expectations. At this I laughed, stopping the tears only temporarily, which I’m sure was the point, but he continued, taking advantage of the break in my tears, and told me that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, and that I was a very impressive young lady and someone that he respected and thought very highly of.
And that is when he told me that I should learn to let things go. I should stop fixating and free myself from the need to do so. That I should be confident enough in my skills and my abilities to take on any challenge with enthusiasm. He advised that the ones that matter will stay, and that the ones that don’t are there because God wanted to teach me something.
I think that last part was a covert acknowledgement that I was correct in my gut feelings about Kerri and correct in my gut feelings towards some of the other boarders, and that’s not to say I had any visible issues or spats or falling outs with anyone there, no quite the opposite actually, everyone was very helpful but in hindsight I suppose there were some boarders that were probably skeptical of having their horses looked after by a 15 year old, which is understandable.
However, it’s not as if I was handling their horses with no one there, in fact I was very careful in making sure that I didn’t clean any stalls until they were let out for this specific reason; I didn’t want to handle the boarders horses without them being there, unless it was an emergency.
The tears slowly came to a halt, and I finished my chores, and went home. Kerri actually called me later to tell me that her and Burchell had said something to the owner of the facilities, and I was a little bit taken aback, Burchell was not the type of person to let an opportunity to tout the favor he did for you and inquire about what you ‘owe’ him for it pass him up, and I had just talked to him.
I smiled, thinking in my head the old man had gone soft on me, sparing my feelings and absolute embarrassment at having to have someone speak on my behalf. I was a prideful teenager with an gregarious ego not befitting a 90 pound girl, and him giving me that grace, that amount of respect from a person that was older than every person at the barn, respected and had a fondness for me that I appreciated almost instantaneously.
I would never forget that advice and I’m 26 now, and for the record Kerri ended up schooling me in dressage because my groundwork was pitiful and even gave me an English Kincade, Close Contact saddle, size 6 that was a beautiful mahogany color, and ode to the ‘Traveling Saddle’ that was my very first English saddle, also a beautiful mahogany, that was handed down as a gift that both of my best friends had also used when they each made the decision to jump and transitioned over to the English riding style.
I couldn’t be anymore grateful to Kerri for that because those are some very fond memories and having an exact replica of that saddle to use, as the first and only saddle for my first and last horse was the icing on top of the cake for me.
Burchell was right, the ones that matter will stay. Whether that be in the flesh or in the heart, the ones that are true friends will stay and often for a long time, if they ever truly leave.
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