Yes, I Speak Polite

Have you ever noticed how closely you have to watch your manners if you can’t speak someone’s language?

It’s a wonder why it takes so long for us to figure out the importance of being polite when you’re working with a horse.

I was thinking a lot about this stuff today while I cleaned the barn. I couldn’t have picked a better day; it’s cool and windy here. That helped me avoid the deadliest summertime barn-cleaning problems: sweat and dust.

The “barn” (really a three-sided pole building) contains a fenced area for the horses (probably about 25’x25’) on the south side. The north side is where my brother-in-law George and his hired man stash the things they need for farming.

Right now, that area contains pallets of baling twine.  And since the weather contributed to a miserable week of haying day and night a couple of weeks ago (everything had to come off all at once—alfalfa AND timothy) it was pretty evident the guys gave up on being neat when they had to get more twine, and the north side of the barn was strewn with twine detritus.

As you can see from the photo, this stuff is wrapped up like Fort Knox. (Someone with more time than I have needs to write a paper on the environmental dangers of baling twine packaging.) Not only are the individual rolls of twine wrapped in plastic, but the whole pallet-load is shrink-wrapped. Sheets of cardboard separate the layers and make “sides” of a box that contains the stacked twine.

Then the company wraps another, thicker layer of plastic around the shrink-wrap that’s got their logo printed on it. And the method before THIS style of packaging was palletloads of twine with every single stinkin’ roll in its own private cardboard box . So you can imagine how much fun that was to mess with.

If you could wrap up a bologna sandwich this well, it'd last forever.

Every summer I help clean the mess up—partly because I learned that the longer shrink-wrap plastic sits, the dustier it gets. Few chores are as onerous as stuffing dust-laden shrink wrap into garbage bags as the dust puffs up in your face. Hey, if you LIKE having 16 different colors of snot, then be my guest.

I crammed the Civic full of the cardboard sheets (after dusting them off on the weeds) today. Those are easy enough for me to throw in the recycling bin downtown.  The plastic, though—damn, the plastic. I got a couple of garbage bags full, and those will have to be salted into our garbage can at home as I have room.

A couple of years ago my husband asked me why I was cleaning up the farming garbage. Besides the fact that it bothers me to have trash around the barn, I do it in order to be polite. Demetrio doesn’t speak English, and yet I show up at his house every day (sometimes two or three times a day). Although I park behind the barn and they can’t often see me while I’m there, I know my presence gets irritating. I know the kids clamor to come out and talk to me. My free-range chickens probably find themselves in Fabiola’s flowerbed every so often.

Remember the part in Lonesome Dove about Clara and her hired man Cholo? Cholo would save the mane and tail hair of any horse that died and weave them into ropes. He gave her a rope once made of buckskin.

Bob had been puzzled by the gift—“Clara couldn’t rope a post,” he said, but Clara was not puzzled at all. She had been very pleased. It was a beautiful gift; Cholo had the finest manners. She knew he appreciated her as she appreciated him. “

Cleaning up the farming stuff is one of the ways I thank Demetrio for tolerating my presence, and I know he appreciates it. When you can’t speak to someone, those little thoughtful actions mean the world. He makes sure to do things like move my hose out of the way if he has to park equipment in the shed, and I’ve lost count how many times he’s had one of the kids call me because the horses escaped or there was some other problem.

Demetrio and I also coincidentally have the same birthday. Once I even had a big old TW gelding that shared our birthday. The day Red died, we had him buried in the pasture. That evening I went out to the spot where he was buried and cried—and when I came back to the barn, I saw Demetrio standing out by his truck. “Sorry,” he said, which was the only word of English I think I’ve ever heard him speak. I nodded. “OK?” he asked. “OK,” I said.

I remember when I first got a horse and listened to trainers talk about “asking” the horse to do things. I remember how strange that word sounded to me.  Ask? When I’d ridden as a youngster, we hopped on and demanded. We didn’t make requests.  When horses refused requests, they were being disobedient and bad, and we were told to punish them.

Now that I’ve gotten to know horses better, I’ve learned that adjusting my behavior is a major way of showing my politeness. When Friday had ulcers this winter, she suddenly didn’t want me to touch her. I was so used to petting her that I kept trying, even though she was clearly unhappy about it. One day I finally asked myself why I kept trying even though it was clear to me that her response was: “please…don’t.”

Friday always has been the most responsive of all my horses—when I get the itchy places (and, of course, I know them all) she’ll fleer and make all kinds of interesting faces. I had grown so used to getting satisfaction out of seeing her obvious enjoyment that it was really hard for me to give up scratching her.

I had to deal with my own disappointment, in other words, in order to leave her alone. So I did.  Now that she’s better, she’s back to her old self, but that really made me stop to think last winter. It was surprisingly hard for me to hold myself back and wait for her to “tell” me she wanted to be petted again.

My job today also included trying to scoop up hay scraps and chicken feathers, as well as organize my own stuff. I have a table and cabinet out there, and I’ve learned to put my stuff in empty supplement buckets to keep the dust off of things. I didn’t have my Sharpie with me today, but I was thinking about what I was going to write on the tub I put my pruners and scissors in. “Implements of Destruction” came to mind, even though I’d be the only one who would know what it meant.

I also had a cool Superman moment when I took a tarp out into the wind to dust it off. The tarp billowed up perfectly in front of me like a giant cape, causing much consternation amongst the hens. (OK, I’m easily entertained.) After I pulled the tarp on top of the stack of hay, the chickens immediately had to investigate the possible new nesting sites (hens that are allowed to run around all the time are rabid about finding new places to hide eggs).

Grace is to the body what good manners are to the mind.”  ~François de la Rochefoucauld

As soon as you stop looking at us, we're going to lay eggs in here.


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