'Tis the Season....

Ginger and Lacey

Here is Mojo being META-lazy! Reposting a repost of an old Usenet posting. But it's always been one of my favorites, and I like the purty pitchers. Plus, it's my blog. So there.

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In honor of what is quickly becoming Mojo's Lazy Friday, I offer something I first wrote about on misc.writing back in 2000 or so, around this time of year. Hound had asked us how we celebrated autumn, and I blathered on and on about one of Mojo’s Horsey Days. Now with the beauty of "teh Innertubes" I have expanded the text a hair and added pictures I took on that day, from waaaayyyy back in the Stone Age of Kodachrome slides. Enjoy!


Last week I took a day off from work for the first time in about a billion years. A friend owned a pair of Belgian draft horses, named Ginger and Lacey. We called them The Girls. I helped groom them, bridle them and harness them. We hitched them up to a small hay wagon and spend most of the day giving hay rides to the foliage tourists up for Columbus Day weekend. Four dollars for adults, two dollars for kids, for a fifteen minute circuit through the Berkshire countryside.

The Girls were massive, red-gold horses. Tipping the scales at almost a ton apiece, Belgians are twice the size of your average saddle horse. They are tall and burly, with thick necks, massive legs and feet the size of dinner plates. They are huge. The heart quails at their approach. These monsters cannot be horses, you think. They are more in league with moose, or elephants—giant creatures that could crush you like a bug. But then two white noses stretch down for petting. Two pairs of dark brown eyes regard yours with placid curiosity. You look into them, and you realize there is nothing to fear.

Keeping horses is hard work. Keep big horses and the work increases exponentially. A bale of hay is a solid block roughly the size of a coffee table. A single bale weighs fifty, sixty pounds. The Girls polish off two per day and ask for more. Each harness, a bewildering tangle of leather straps and metal hardware, weighs over 150 pounds. Despite one's best intentions, it is not enough to love these animals to care for them. You have to be something of a weightlifter.

I am asked to fetch Ginger some water in a five-gallon bucket. The bucket is a thick rubbery plastic, and I have to walk slowly to keep it from slopping. Ginger is working on breakfast, a knee-deep pile of hay. She grumbles an appreciative nicker, thrusts her nose into the bucket, and suctions off the top gallon as I carry it. I can see the water level drop, feel the bucket getting lighter in my hand. She turns back to her hay. A gallon of water is a casual sip to her, to wash down the dry timothy.

The team’s owner treated her horses with kindness. The Girls were always immaculately groomed and eager for work. I was allowed to drive every other trip or so. The pull on the reins nearly drags you off the seat. You can imagine these beasts ripping living stumps out of the earth, with power like that. Our circuit was paced by quiet orders: Haw for left, gee for right, step up, trot, and whoa. The Girls quickly learned the routine by heart. Walk here, trot along this stretch, stop by the lone shagbark hickory so our passengers can listen to the rush of the stream for a minute or two. Then a jingle of the harness, a gentle "Step up, girls!" and the wagon lurched back to the barn, the Girls snorting and pricking up their ears at the bonfire our hosts provided us. When the team did not occupy our attention, our young charges did, with their eager, peppering questions. "What's that up in the tree there?" (A paper wasp's nest.) "Are there fish in the stream?" (Yes.) "How old are your horses?" (Ginger is nine and Lacey is eight. They are full sisters, born a year and a day apart.) "Can I pet your horses?" (Sure, go ahead. They like to be pet.)

For one circuit I hoisted myself up on Ginger's broad back and enjoyed the good shaggy warmth of horse on a crisp cool day. I even sat a trot on her, surprisingly smooth for such a thick, burly brute. But the best part was when we got back to the barn. The children swarmed out of the wagon and ran to the front to pet the horses, fearless before such huge creatures. Ginger and Lacey bowed their heads to accept caresses from a hundred tiny hands, a pen and ink sketch come to life.

The adults tried to hide their enthusiasm behind a shell of maturity. But after a few polite remarks about the weather and the scenery they too were asking, "Can I pet the horses?" They gasped with the children over how soft their moleskin noses are, and how gentle and kind those giant brown eyes look.

The Girls inspired awe of an almost spiritual nature. Despite their imposing size, everyone pet them as if stroking a kitten. There were no hearty slaps on the shoulder or haunch, no loud voices, no mindless cruelty. People recognized their inherent gentleness, and they reciprocated without being conscious of it.

After the crowds were gone, we drove The Girls back to the barn, removed their harnesses and bridles, and brushed them down. Lacey was impatient and pawed the floor with her dinner-plate hoof, and rattled her grain bucket in her teeth. She is something of a troublemaker. When you raise your voice to her and tell her to stop it she gives you a look of sheer deviltry. I swear she is smirking. But Ginger, the older, steadier sister, closes her eyes and leans against the curry comb, grumbling her pleasure with soft throaty nickers.

We then let them loose in the pasture, and spend our late afternoon leaning against the barn, talking 'bout stuff and just admiring the red gold horses against the yellows and reds and greens of a backdrop of maples.

They say these horses are dinosaurs, now. Draft horses used to carry knights into battle. They once pulled wagons and plowed fields. We think we no longer need them, with cars and tractors and all. Our visitors' faces told another story. There are human needs beyond technology and mechanized brute force. We need kindness. We need gentleness. We need to hear the ponderous ka-lop, ka-lop of hooves on the road. And we sometimes need the quiet calm of a small horse barn in the late afternoon, after the work is done and the visitors have gone home.

Yep, it was a good day. One of the best.

Here's hoping your weekend is just as pleasant....


PS: EXTRA BONUS!!! If you've read THIS far, you get to look at my contact sheet from back then. Sorry, "contact sheet" doesn't mean anything remotely dirty. It's just all the pictures on one sheet, so that editors can look at them quickly and circle the ones they want to print. So named because you'd just take your negatives and lay them directly on the photographic paper, instead of putting them in the little holder on the enlarger and beaming them down individually to expose the paper. (Gosh, the things you learn, huh? TOTALLY USELESS nowadays... But wasn't Kodachrome beautiful?) If you right-mouse-click it you can see a larger image.

Girls Contact Sheet