I don’t have decades of experience to draw on when we’re talking horse stuff, pasture stuff, chicken stuff–basically anything having to do with a farm.
When I was burning Russian olive branches yesterday (see my last post), a couple of hay haulers were watching me hack away at a partially dead tree. After I managed to lose my hand-held pruners in the burn barrel, I had to make do with my new Corona pruning saw (and snapping off smaller branches with my hands).
I could hear a lot of their conversation (they didn’t know I could hear them, but the wind was just right) and at one point when I couldn’t get some half-alive branches to burn, I started ripping up a cardboard box I’d brought along to get the fire a little hotter.
“What’s she doing now?” I heard one of them say. “Why doesn’t she just douse that thing with gas and light it up?”
“Yeah, or make a big pile with a backhoe,” his partner said.
I felt like grinding my teeth. Isn’t there always some piece of heavy equipment that would make things easier? I know for guys used to working with heavy equipment, it just looks silly for a middle-aged woman to be flailing around with a pruning saw and a small garbage can.
My brother-in-law raised his eyebrows when I told him I wanted to go after the Canadian thistle with a shovel rather than a backpack full of herbicide. I knew my way was more labor-intensive, and I also knew the herbicide had a better chance of killing the plants. But the herbicide also meant keeping the horses off pasture, and with our wacky cold weather and worrying about laminitis all spring long, I suspected a major change in diet was just asking for big trouble.
I wasn’t excited about doing things the slow, difficult way–but in this case, I knew it was the better way.
Today when I went back out to the pasture to get my pruning saw (I’d left it in the weeds, of course) I opened it up and experimentally took a swipe at a stand of blooming milkweed.
And damned if wasn’t just like a hot knife through butter. White milkweed juice sprayed everywhere, and the tops of the plants slipped off like they’d been sliced by a scalpel.
I felt like a ninja.
“Well, well, well!” I said. “Off with their little heads!” Wielding the knife like a scythe, I completely beheaded three big stands–dozens of plants–in just a few minutes. I had so much milkweed milk on my pants and shoes that it looked like someone had sprayed me with yogurt.
There wasn’t anyone around to watch me today. Nobody to tell me that it was dangerous, that it was bad for my knife, or I wasn’t “using the right tool.” Nobody was around to tell me I looked silly. There was nobody but me and a job that needed to be done.
My horses went back to grazing after watching me for a few swipes, clearly deciding I was just doing stupid human things again today.
I’ve had this same feeling when I’ve worked with my horses. My young Walker mare has never been ridden by anyone but me, and “ridden” means more like I’ve just gotten up there and asked her to move around a bit and gotten off. Am I doing it right? Who knows? I don’t.
I have a piece of leather rein that I’ve tied into a loop that I put around the base of Dove’s neck the few times I’ve been on her back. (There’s a name for this, I know–I Googled it once and finally found out what it’s called–but I can’t remember now, of course.) I’m sure my homemade piece of rein would make a real horse person laugh, but it’s what I have. Dove is the kind of horse who needs as few distractions as possible, and putting a piece of metal in her mouth before getting on her back would be difficult for her.
I use the fence to get on her, and have broken another rule by getting on while she’s standing in the shelter with the other mares. I’ve done this during siesta time, when all three of them are half-asleep and it’s quiet.
The first time I got on, I didn’t have even have a halter on her. I wasn’t wearing riding boots or chaps or a helmet, and I had no guarantees that she was going to allow it. She hadn’t even had a saddle on her back.
It just felt like she was ready for me to be up there. And she was.
A few years ago I realized that endlessly second-guessing myself with my horses was acting like a paralytic. I finally figured out that if I waited around until I knew everything–until I could afford the “right” equipment, the “right” horse, or the “right moment” that I was going to be standing on the other side of the fence the rest of my days.
I wish I had lessons and riding buddies and an arena that wasn’t inundated with lamb’s quarters. I wish I knew how to drive a tractor so I could mow the pasture and the arena. (Hell, I wish I even HAD a tractor.) I wish I had more gumption–dealing with young horses in the saddle or on the ground takes a lot of cojones and a lot of awareness that I’m still working on. I wish I was in better shape. Still working on that too.
I wish I’d had the lifetime of practice and experience that it takes to be a true horsewoman. But I never thought I’d be lucky enough to have horses in the first place. Yeah, I could stay home and read books–or I could just go do it.
And you know, sometimes even my silly and weird ideas work pretty well, actually.