Yesterday was my first experience volunteering with the non-profit Lift Me Up. I got to the barn over an hour before my official ‘start’ time. In part my timing was off because I mis-read the instructions; my subconscious though was clearly insistent on spending some time in the quiet of the morning communing with the horses.
Frenchie knickered when I arrived and was rewarded with a couple of carrots (this is me – of course I had brought carrots along). We nuzzled over the fence for a little while and I was overcome with emotion. Horses are inextricably tied to memories of time spent with my dad – riding with him and/or my sister, lesson after lesson with Mr. Gardner as he scolded me when I missed the lead found in the horse’s hooves (I would be looking at my father – always seeking that goofy smile of his), Gold Nugget (the most beautiful Palomino in the universe). I sat on a fence, feeling the sun greet the morning and watching the horses in their pastures anticipate the arrival of their morning hay. As each bale was dropped I watched them argue and tussle over who had dibs, bucking with the feistiness born of indignation and bluster.
I don’t think there is anything more glorious than an early morning sun, the smell of fresh hay and eavesdropping on conversations between old equine friends. I could have stayed like that all day and felt like I had been given the gift of golden memories and magical mornings combined in a perfect olio.
Ironically, I ended up bringing the largest horse in for the morning’s work. Nyles is a beautiful, mouthy guy, who likes to nibble on your sweatshirt, hair and anything else within touching distance. He’s a big guy and I couldn’t even see the top of the head of the other volunteer who helped me with grooming. So, I sang quietly to Nyles as I tended to him with the requisite different types of combs and brushes. And not to put too fine a point on it – but yes, we kissed. I kissed quite a lot yesterday (and I think I already have a favorite in Elmo, who truly does return the kiss). And all would have been well if I could have just spent the day like this.
“Who are you?”
“No one of consequence.”
“I must know.”
“Get used to disappointment” — William Goldman
The volunteers couldn’t have been more indifferent to me and more importantly to the riders scheduled for therapy. With great discomfort, I introduced myself to everyone, tried to make the requisite small talk and failed miserably. Ok, this experience isn’t about me. I struggled physically with the need to keep my body twisted towards Nyles while consciously maintaining weight on the rider’s leg. A lovely, profoundly challenged man, he shouted with delight while on Nyles’ back, though he was unable to sustain holding the reins or fully balancing himself (it was clear that he was learning more about balance, and with some assistance to dismount, was damn graceful once I was able to move his leg back and over the saddle). He laughed most of the hour and when he would make eye contact with me, he’d also try and lean forward to touch my head.
As we walked, I would talk to the rider and sing to Nyles. Or perhaps it was vice versa. It is no exaggeration when I write that I was the only one who spoke to this lovely man. Or the horse. The volunteers spoke to each other about various aches, pains, marital issues and competed to see who had the most comprehensive knowledge of the barn’s tenants.
When Nyles was done working, we brought him back to pasture. The next hour I spent with another gentleman and Valentine (a horse with a fair amount of gravitas and a limited supply of grace). He was able to hold the reins and balance well, which was a selfish relief, for at this point I was struggling with my own body’s resistance to the efforts from the first session. And my heart was hurt from feeling dismissed by the other volunteers. Believe me, I know this is a function of being new and having tenured people watch as well-intended folks come and go without commitment or comment. It is as reflective of my insecurity as it is their indifference. But I was disappointed for a bit. And worried as I walked into the house looking like a bent, pained old woman. Can I hold up my end of the bargain even with some limitations?
The answer remains unclear. I know I will go back next week and look forward to seeing my equine friends and riders, if not my colleagues. I don’t cave that easily and I have yet to wave the white flag when my body wimps out. So the odds are good it isn’t going to happen this time either. I know the challenges of working in the non-profit world, I just need to find the rhythm so I move with its gait and not against it.
I gave Frenchie a good-bye carrot and nuzzle and headed home, my senses heightened by such a powerful exposure to the morning and my heart a muddle. I’m not buying a new pair of paddock boots just yet, but I’ve already made a note to buy some apples for next week.