It begins with the first footfall onto the gravel barn drive. The familiar crunch, a rush of silence. I arrive at a hidden nook of pasture-dotted countryside tucked within a little-known cove of my city. Just twenty-five minutes prior, I fled rush hour traffic, the blare of sirens, the shrill laughter of neighborhood children and the howls of my own dear ones. I withdrew from the beeping microwave, the seductive pings of social media, the judgmental presence of an unfolded heap of laundry. Just twenty-five minutes ago, I quietly slipped out of my house, where the people call me mom, where I lose myself to pressing demands and ridged schedules; where parts of me have been shattered by motherhood.
The glossy bay gelding is roused from his nap, his coat speckled with dried mud and bits of sawdust, he turns around in his stall to face me and nickers, announcing my arrival. Me. I am here. I notice a shiver of self-recognition. Quite suddenly, I know myself again. My body moves methodically in response. My hand strokes his warm neck as I push my lips into his velvet muzzle. Well, hello there, old friend. Slip on his well-worn leather halter, fasten the brass clip of the lead rope. Pick the muck from his hard, cool hooves. I whisk a bristle brush over the prominent curves of his old body, the plumes of dust rise off his hindquarters. These clouds become the object of my meditation. I hoist a saddle over his back and lean into his half-ton body to tighten the straps. He leans back against me. These loving gestures are silent exchanges of affirmation. I know him, he knows me, I know myself.
This is the sturdy loving me. The me with grit. Me who swings a confident leg over to ride along with uncertainty, or perhaps in spite of it. My spirit is freed and my inner-knowing sings as we crisscross the big field through tall grass at an energetic posting trot, and later a rhythmic canter. I peer between his bobbing ears, admiring the trees and keeping watch for fox holes. It’s here, astride an old bay gelding, that I embody a gentle wisdom. This wisdom alludes me so often in motherhood, but I can always find it here, with horses.
Riding a horse is an intimate solitude. I am embraced and understood, safe but never comfortable. I am curious and playful. I take risks. I respond thoughtfully and gently to the subtle shifts in gait and muscle tone, translating the only language the gelding speaks into my kind reply— a softly spoken good boy, relaxing my ring finger on the inside rein, settling my weight into my heels, as he stretches down into a long, low frame. We exhale together. I am myself.
The gelding sighs as I dismount and untack. He graciously accepts a carrot – organic, leftover from the previous night’s dinner and plucked from the fridge as a small token of my immense gratitude for the horse who shows me who I am.