Greener Pastures, Part 1

Call me an idealist, but generally when I think of horses, I simultaneously think of rolling green pastures in which to keep them. This is one of the reasons I’m often told I have a chip on my shoulder. You see, originally I’m from the East Coast, where pastures are as common as rodents. Almost any homeowner outside major metropolitan areas has one… or five. With this much land, a person can happily accumulate horses to her heart’s content and the horses will lead a happy grass-grazing life out there under the sky.

Here in California, it’s another story entirely. In order to have a pasture, you would need to be a multi-multi-millionaire. In fact, in the town where I live, even if you were a multi-multi-millionaire, you would likely end up with only a quarter acre on the side of a steep cliff that will either disappear in the next mud slide or burn up in a major wildfire mid-summer. This is usually when I start saying things like; “Well, back East a quarter acre isn’t considered enough land for a horse, anyway. Our pastures back there are at least 20 acres…” Most folks in California haven’t owned 20 acres of raw land since the Gold Rush. And when I start sentences with “Well, back East…” people tend to roll their eyes. Frankly, they’re sick of me talking about greener pastures.

So, recently I’ve been trying to stifle my comparisons about horse-keeping on both coasts and fully embrace my current surroundings. For instance, I’ve begun talking to myself when retrieving horses from stables the size of shoe boxes, saying things like “Yes, Jec, this is perfectly normal. Horses adapt to their living environments. Never mind this horses doesn’t have enough space to comfortably lie down; he’s just fine.” I’ve become more at ease referring to a 12′ x 16′ area being defined as ‘turnout’ where a horse can romp and kick up his heels. I’ve convinced myself that it is in fact possible for horses to be raised in sand lots without ever seeing or tasting a blade of fresh green grass. In fact, I’ve spent so much time trying to shed my previous paradigm about horse-keeping that some days I feel like I’m repeating a mantra in my new state: “This is normal. This is fine. This is just fine. Yes, normal.”

Sometimes, however, I totally fail at convincing myself. Maybe this does equate to me having a chip on my shoulder, and so be it. At certain points during my day, I just can’t help yearning for endless miles of open land for my horses and I to romp and roll in the dirt and relax. I can’t help pining for the peace and quiet that comes from riding across 80 open acres without a sound except birds and breezes. Luckily, I’m able to snap out of these nostalgic longings quickly and get on with my day.

Last week, however, my mantra “This is just fine” suffered a prolonged blow. I was riding a client’s horse at her property, which borders a very busy highway near out coastal town. Sometimes, the din of utility trucks, zooming sport scars, and Harley Davidson motorcycles can make it impossible to form a complete thought. I’ve often thought it might be more peaceful inside a food blender. Just to hold a normal conversation with my client, I am forced to yell at a level that actually hurts my neck. The horses, though, have adapted to highway life just fine and go about their workouts without being distracted at all by the nearby traffic mayhem. Truthfully, it’s me that suffers more. So, I was repeating my mantra while putting this particular horse through his paces. And it was working.

Then a giant speeding SUV passed the arena and slowed down to watch us for a moment. The very second it slowed down, a ferocious bout of growling and barking erupted from its interior. The sheer volume startled me so much I dropped my reins. Confused, my horse trotted to the center of the arena awaiting a cue from me to do otherwise. I regained my composure enough to look over in the direction of the giant SUV in time to see an entire herd of Chihuahuas crawling out the driver’s window snapping and yowling at me and the horse. Let me tell you, they may be tiny, but these little guys were out for blood.

Meanwhile, the driver tried to get them under control by rolling up his window which only agitated them more. They barked and scratched and yapped, all half dozen of them swarming around the driver, who obviously could no longer see enough to drive and was now blocking the road. Along came a Honda Civic pouncing up and down with rap music and piloted by a teenager in a beanie and hooded sweatshirt. The rollicking Civic slammed to a stop but continued to bounce up and down from the sheer volume of music pumping through its speakers. The teenager leaned on his horn. This, of course, startled the carload of Chihuahuas, spurring them into more mania.

It was right about then that my mantra completely failed. This was not normal or fine or even fun for that matter. Here I was trying to school this horse in the majestic and graceful maneuvers of dressage, all while under siege of yapping dogs and an angst-ridden teenager with a car that bounced like a basketball. No, this was not normal horse-keeping. Call me prejudice, but I’ll trade the carload of barking dogs for a silent arena any day…