More Interesting than Grass

Most Tuesday mornings find me pulling on my barn boots and threadbare jeans for “Tuesdays with Primo.” In my left back pocket is a scrap from some flannel pajamas that I use to wipe his face. I did not intend to fall in love with another senior horse but I did. Primo lives eight minutes from my urban bungalow down a country lane.

Four years ago, I overheard a woman mention that she was taking care of her friend’s horse. The woman was quite ill and her mare needed attention. It seemed like an ideal situation because I wanted a horse in my life. I offered to walk and groom the mare, but after our first meeting, Freddy, the woman taking care of her friend’s horse, said that it wasn’t a good match. She did, however, see or intuited a connection between Primo and me that I didn’t see.

Primo was about twenty six we met. I was much more interested in hanging out with a younger horse. My heart had broken when Guiness died a few years before and I was reluctant to make another deep emotional attachment to a senior horse. For the longest time, Freddy told me that Primo really liked me. I had a hard time believing her, especially because he rarely did what I asked of him.

But I fell in love anyway.

Tuesday, the week before Valentine’s Day, I walked into the pasture filled with lush green grass. Primo knew I was there but continued eating. Without putting his halter on, I nudged him to walk with me toward the gate. Unrestrained, he followed me like a puppy. Each time it feels like a certified miracle. When I first worked with him, he would wander away when I came toward him with the halter. I would chase him all around the field until he gave up on the game. I never blamed him, though sometimes I got frustrated. I blamed my own inadequate horsemanship skills. (It would be several years before I learned that he evaded Freddy, too, unless she lured him with a small carrot.) The only way to get him through the gate was haltered, and getting him to allow the halter was difficult.

Every small act four years ago was hard; finding a halter that fit Primo among the jumble of different sizes, figuring out how to latch the gate, and remembering that the buckle on the halter goes in my left hand. Through it all we learned to love and trust each other. I’ve learned to drop into Horse Time. I relax now as I walk out to the field and let Primo take some transition time before coming with me.

I take my time as I groom Primo before our walk. Long bundles of brown horse hair fall off as I brush him. As I touched him, an image came. I am riding him. I feel the visceral feeling of being held and supported by Primo. We haven’t ridden for at least two years because of his age, though now a young boy rides him every week.

Primo almost died two years ago, and every time I see him, I treasure our time together. I notice details about him as if to etch him more fully into my very being. A bit of his mane lies on his left side like an angel’s wing. His rear legs have white socks. His tail almost reaches the ground. His stiff right hind leg is getting harder for him to lift up when I clean his hoof. Like his forebears, this Peruvian Paso is known for his steady gait, but sometimes I can hear his right hind hoof slipping and I brace myself for his inevitable last day. Tears appear as I allow myself to feel my anticipatory grief, quickly drying again as I drink in my gratitude that we are both here now.

Safe Harbor
Tuesday, we walked calmly past the two dogs behind the neighbor’s fence. They bark at us every week as we pass. Schooner is grey, black and mottled. He used to bark at us only half-heartedly until a few months ago when the younger all-black dog joined him. Now, the two bark at us hysterically each week. Schooner barks for the last time under his favorite spot under the pyracantha bushes laden with orange berries. Dogs may be man’s best friend but historically they were not so to the horse. The wolf ancestors of Schooner and the young black dog are natural predators of horses. At first, we both startled at this weekly cacophony, but Primo looked to me for cues. He learned that I was a safe harbor. We take the barking dogs in stride now. Primo has been my safe harbor, too. I remember a moment of terror when one of Freddy’s mares, Rosebud, charged us both at a full gallop as we were coming through the gate from one of the fields. Primo stood in Rosebud’s way and shielded me from getting mowed down at the open gate.

Down the lane, but before the five red mail boxes, I let Primo stop for a bite of grass at our usual spot. I saw a small white rabbit munch something nearby. Overhead was a lone  mourning dove. Later I heard the familiar trill of red winged blackbirds. Surprisingly, Primo wasn’t very interested in the grass at the side of the lane. Later when we reached his home, he spent a few minutes lingering with me before joining the other horses out on the field.

Years ago, when I hung out with Guiness, Alyssa Aubrey said that I needed to “be more interesting than grass” to get the attention of a horse. Today, I can say that when given the choice between a field full of new grass, and spending time with me, Primo found me more interesting than grass.