Last week the seasons officially changed. Around here fall often begins in August, the weather completely ignoring the calendar and my begging and pleading for just one more week of warmth. But this year was different--heat like I've never seen in the Pacific Northwest and an Indian summer to go down on record. It's been heaven.
Yesterday, while waiting for my son to get out of classes, I studied an Oak tree of some kind, growing in the parking lot. Only a few leaves near the center of the tree were blushed with red. It was as if the tree waited as long as possible before giving into fall and cooler weather. I know how it feels.
A sun worshipper to the core, I still favor Fall above all other seasons. I love the way the fog floats in ribbons across the valley with late breaking sun up above burning off the chill. I love the way the sunflowers bow to the earth and become a bird buffet. I love the first fire, the first pot of soup, the harvest displayed in every road side stand. I love the tradition of making applesauce with my extended family. Most of all I love the feeling of hunkering down and gathering precious things close. Fall is a time of turning inward and nurturing ideas and dreams cocooning inside. I feel protective in the Fall.
This Fall is especially bittersweet, and not because the Indian Summer officially lost the battle to the Rainy Season. Last week I drove Tango to his new home and bid a one-time dream farewell. This is a horse I thought I would never sell. But seasons change; plans evolve; needs arise. Most obvious is that my daughter does not have a horse she can use for her dreams--western games, going to fair, trail riding. Chance may never be ridden again and though we love and care for him he is a pasture ornament these days. We do not have room, time, or resources for more than three horses so somebody needed a new home. Tango became that somebody.
Raising and training Tango was a dream come true. He was first for so many things--first gift of a horse from my husband (no doubt a "mistake" he'll never repeat); first foal; first horse I started under saddle by myself. He was the horse that jump started me back into the equestrian lifestyle (and it is a lifestyle, not a hobby). Now he is a dream for another person and I can't help thinking that there are seasons for dreams and always something new to learn when change inevitably comes. In so many ways raising the naughty colt Tango was prepared me for a new challenge--stallion ownership. I am a much better horsewoman because of Tango.
There is much debate and many books written about the subject of animal personality and "soul." Of the ability animals have to communicate and touch us in unique ways. I can't say I believe horses have a soul but I do know that without doubt they touch mine. In honor of Tango I share some favorite memories of him.
Leading Lessons: You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. Heck, sometimes you can't even make him lead. I remember well the days of walking to the neighbors where Tango was pastured the first few months after buying him. I'd be anxious for some "me" time; some horse bonding moments away from my two young children. I'd escape the demands of one toddler--my daughter--only to confront the tantrums of another toddler. A 600 pound toddler. Oh was he naughty. I shouldn't have been surprised. The day I went to see the "Beautiful Arabian Colt For Sale" I squatted by the fuzzy faced weanling with the extremely pointed ears and exclaimed, "You are so adorable!" Tango responded by biting me on the knee. I knew I had to have him. A bit of training and in time I felt sure we'd gallop off into the sunset together. I thought nothing of the frustration, the tears, the unbelievable patience that would be required of me first. The dream--true partnership--was a long time in coming.
Trailering Traumas: You can definitely lead a horse to a trailer but you can't force them in. Trust me, I've tried. It took an entire summer, every shred of self-control and every last nerve to teach Tango to load properly. He was adamantly, belligerently, opposed to the idea from day one. Looking back I can see clearly what I could have done differently to accomplish the goal faster but I'm glad I was forced to take my time because I learned a lot in the process. My patience was rewarded in a horse that was finally, completely, trained to load in any trailer, at any time, anywhere. This was confirmed the day a friend brought over her small, dark, circa 1970's straight load trailer. At the time Tango had never seen such a frightening contraption. When I lead him up to it he paused and looked at me with an expression that clearly said, "Are you sure about this?"
"Go ahead Pal, it's okay." I patted his rump and he walked right in. A training desire fulfilled is sweetness to the soul.
Anthropomorphism: As much as I try to be rational, its hard not to ascribe human emotions to my horses. Animals can be almost human at times (there is a great book by that name, by the way). Unlike Eli, Tango is a very expressive horse. You never wonder what he is thinking, its written all over his beautiful face. Still, there were times that I wondered if he had any feelings for me. Feelings beyond that of simply being glad I showed up twice a day with the groceries. Did he enjoy my company? Look forward to spending time with me? Sorry, I'm a girl and these things are important.
I got an answer to that question two years ago when I put Tango in a neighbor's pasture to work as lawn mower. The grass was tall, lush, and green. Horse Heaven. There were horses across the street and a buffet beneath his feet. What more could any equine require? After about a week I decided to visit my horse; see if he was still living or if he'd turned into a great bay blimp and floated away on warm summer breezes. A friend who was visiting came with. When I turned down the driveway Tango immediately nickered and walked to the gate. I entered and looked him over, taking note of the generous layer of fat now covering his ribs. He was the picture of health and glistened like a newly minted penny.
"Aren't you a sight?" I rubbed Tango's chest and he responded by pushing his head against me and lipping the sleeve of my shirt. He reminded me of a big brother, happy to see his little sister so he can pick on her.
"You big oaf, get off me!" I tried to sound stern but couldn't help leaning into his shiny neck and breathing in that good horsey scent--Eau du Summer Horse. It ranks right up there with other wholesome smells--sheets dried in the sun and newly baled hay. I bet I could market that scent.
"I gotta go, see you Pal." I patted Tango's neck and walked back down the road. Instead of returning to his own personal buffet, Tango did a curious thing. He began to trot, then gallop the fence line calling after me.
"How cute; he doesn't want you to go," my friend remarked.
"Silly horse," I said, feeling foolish as tears pricked my eyes. Even after I turned the corner I could still hear Tango's husky calls and the sound of pounding hooves. Anthropomorphism? Maybe....but I don't think so.
Tango, you've been a worthy teacher and a cherished friend. May you bless the life of your new person (congratulations Kasey) the way you have blessed mine. I will miss you.