Monday, May 22, 2017

To the Limit, Here We Go

An Opinion article in Sunday's New York Times, ["Why the Future Is Always On Your Mind"] reminds us that humans are the only animals that "contemplate the future."

I read it from a lawn chair in the garage, bundled up in a coat, scarf, and hat (the temperature had dropped forty degrees in a week; no one saw that coming).

August, when renovation of the kitchen will be completed, seems a very long time away, and a long time to live in the garage.  But when I think how much better and nicer the kitchen will be, and what an awful chicken coop of slipshod carpentry it was, I am content to live in the garage for three  months.

After all, looking ahead to the many years we'll have that kitchen, what are three months in a garage?

Still, we are animals, and while we have the capacity to exercise forethought and patience, we also live in the present--in this particular moment--and we are dully aware of how we like it or not.

A horse lives exclusively in the present, and the breadth of her awareness of the present moment is intense. Consider her two-sided, 340-degree span of sight, her acute sense of smell and hearing, her almost telepathic sensitivity to the members of her herd, etc.,.

An injured horse may not plan for the future, but she will worry about what could happen to her in the presence of danger even when there is no present danger.  An injured horse is nervous because she knows that the injured in the herd are easiest to pick off.

Even if there is no predator around at the present moment, an injured horse will be hyper-vigilant.  She is easily alarmed, easily frightened. When she believes that danger is present, she will move as if without injury. She raises her head and shoulders to their full height.  She looks gorgeously imperious.  But in fact, this is a trick, an illusion, a facade--this is a mere show of strength.

So, I think the article may have it a little bit wrong: Horses don't plan kitchens, but, (like a college-bound student who performed poorly on the SAT), horses do worry about what will become of them if they are physically compromised.

And that is why my horse, Belle, who had a serious leg injury, did not mind spending many weeks in her stall.  She knew she was safe in the barn, whereas, outside of the barn, she felt nervous and  frightened.

As Belle started to feel better and stronger in the injured leg, her interest in stall rest quickly faded.

Over seven weeks' imprisonment in which I ministered to her daily, she never suffered from Stockholm Syndrome. To the contrary, she gradually came to resent me.  What had started out as fear and agitation on our walks eventually became rage and rebellion.

Instead of two pills, I gave her three. When that wasn't enough, I tried four, and worried about the ramifications of double-dosing.

Let me just back up and say, I have a spectacular horse. She's the kind of horse who could have done  amazing things, if she had that kind of owner.  She might have been a fine cutter, or barrel racer, or reining horse.  She's fast, and she looks like her great-great-grandfather, a famous Quarter Horse stud.

I could be wrong, but what does it matter? The point is, Belle is gorgeous to me. She is intelligent,  full of spirit, energy, and life.  She is, in her essence, above all, a horse; not lazy or slow or disinterested, but fast and alert and engaged.

I knew there would be a limit to how quiet I could keep her. Today, we reached that limit.

Three pills couldn't begin to take the edge off the energy bubbling up inside her. Most of her violent gestures were posturing--empty threats.  But her anger was palpable. I could see it and feel it.

Yesterday, I grazed her for hours. Unlike the week before, when grazing relaxed Belle and lulled us both into a blissfully meditative state, she still was not relaxed.

Our tried and true routine of convalescence was falling apart. It had become intolerable to her. But did that mean that she was well enough to go back into pasture?

I would have felt more confident letting her out in the torpor of July. I imagined her slowly drifting through the dog days of summer, no inclination to run, rear up, buck, or gallop across a field.  I had planned to wrap her leg each morning before letting her out, and bringing her back after two hours.  I really wanted to take it slow, to guarantee her recovery.

But all the while, I had my doubts.

Horses, unlike humans, don't think much about the future. When they feel they are ready, there's no thought of postponement.

Belle was tapped out on patience, full up on disgusted.

Despite my superior human intellect and intention to make every decision,  all in Belle's interest,  faithfully guiding each day; in the end, it was Belle who decided when she would go back out to pasture, unrestricted and unfettered by me.

Was it the right time?  I don't know. I only have Belle, with her horse nature, telling me how it is.  She feels good enough to graze at ease, knowing that she can run.

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