Conversations with the Silent by Katie Cerminara

Katie and Sassy

Katie and Sassy

I met Katie Cerminara through her work with Canine Adventure. We needed someone to care for Biscuit over a string of upcoming out-of-town engagements. And, Bub and I were both working so much that we thought Biscuit might like to get out of the house and onto the trail for some adventure walks.

When Katie showed up that first day to meet Biscuit wearing jodhpurs to go trail walking, I pretty much fell in love with her on sight. And, Biscuit, did, too. Though not because of Katie’s outfit and passion for horses, but because she has a true heart for animals. Continue reading

Blue Eyes

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The weather on Sunday was just right for lingering at the corner stall. And for offering one, two, three peppermint treats and for letting my horse lick peppermint sprinkles from my palm. He was clean, still damp from his first spring bath, and with a belly full of clover, chickweed, and dandelion leaves. Thick crumbs of his white winter coat traced our path from the crossties to his corner stall.

The weather on Sunday was just right for facing the yard. Like always, I waited for him to turn away, nose put to corner. His way of good-bye. Only, he lingered, too, on Sunday. We watched the field, the woods, and the mares way down yonder, across the road nearly to the horizon. A yellow tiger swallowtail lit along the fence and all along the yard.

I leaned my back against his stall gate on the side of his good eye, his only eye. Good because it’s still in its socket, though the midnight blue iris lets nothing in. He only sees what he remembers or imagines. So, I stood there with him, and he tilted his good blind eye close to me. His only eye.

What did he see?

I saw my citrus shirt and my cheeks filled with joy and my eyes made small by my reflected grin. I stood, smiling in the light he remembered and imagined. My heart hurt. My chest hurt. Like when I held my newborn daughter and looked into her mountain blue eyes. Like when my dying grammy held me, and I looked into her radiant blue eyes. Like that time I held my pointer out to a dragonfly and said out loud, “Hop up here on my finger. Let me look into your turquoise eyes.” And that bug prayed on my finger for a long time.

So, we turned toward the butterflies and killdeer. While the sunlight shifted lemon to amber, we faced the mare field. My blind horse rested his head on my shoulder. And, he fell asleep there on me, for a good long time.

On Courage

Judith and Starry Night, 2008

Tomorrow I’ll drive my daughter and her good friend to riding camp in Vermont. Judith loves Vermont; she adores her friend. Of course, they will have a fantastic week. Judith would rather spend her days and nights at the barn than at a mall or a movie. At camp, they’ll do horse yoga (!), ride cross country and stadium jumping and flat and trail and, probably, the whole gaggle of them will sneak around looking for cell phone service on rocks and under bushes.

I’ll just miss her. And, plus, I leave for California for a week the day she returns.

She went to this same camp a few years ago and grew so much in her riding and in herself. Each girl cares for and rides one horse during camp. Last time, Judith paired up with Starry Night, a sweet bay mare. There were times during camp when Judith and Starry needed courage for one thing or another. I am surprised to find that tonight I need courage for the two weeks without my girl. Am I getting to be a big baby?

I just worry. She’s seventeen and that’s pretty near grown. Will she eat enough? Will she keep hydrated? Will she stay safe? Will she be all right?

Sometimes, I am scared to leave someone I love or let go for them to leave me. There’s always that possibility. I think that’s it. I have never said it before, but there is always that little fear of no returning. You know, if one of us doesn’t come back. That fear flares up in me now and again. Like when Bubba leaves for work or Judith for school and I’m already in the zone, some mornings I just nod and mumble, “love you, too.” Then, the door closes and my heart calls, “Wait! Come back! I mean, I REALLY love you. Like I love belonging with you.”

So. Courage is a practice, too, huh?

I remember when Judith was eight years old and Albert came to the barn where we were riding. He had a reputation, shall we say. A bad-boy, gelded late. A regular equine Fonzarelli. But, right from the start Albert and Judith made each other happy. They were so intent on each other that I didn’t even get a vet check until after he joined us, because it wouldn’t have mattered what the vet found. Albert had found Judith and that was the beginning. When the vet came out post-purchase and discovered the cancer in his eyes, well, that took courage all around. Albert’s courage practice goes way deep.

Judith and Albert on a hunter pace in Lexington.

Judith and I have these phrases we offer each other whenever one or the other of us needs to power up our courage:

  • Dig Deep!
  • We’re strong; all the women in our family are strong!
  • It takes guts and it takes determination. You can do it!
  • I’m here for you, darling.
  • and when courage feels especially out of reach, “Here. Take my angel. I don’t need her today.”

Tonight, Bubba and I went out to see Albert to shed him out a little. He really holds onto his coat these days. Okay. Really, we went to see him because he knows my girl about as good as I do, and I just needed to breathe him in and remember that she is who she is because of Albert. She’s a good little rider. She’s a gal who grew up with an Appy for God’s sake. Independent. Stubborn. Capable. Loyal. True as they come.

Gelding field in Vermont

Lazy, Breezy Tuesday

Albert and I shared an apple this morning – a perfectly crisp Gala from Washington State. It was such an unseasonably cool morning that I think neither of us wanted to be anywhere but right where we were: looking out over his gate, across the hilly fields, and listening to the cat, the girls, the swallows racing around the barn.

After a few minutes of poll-scratching, he just leaned against me, and that one eyelid he’s got left started drooping and drooping. His head dropped; he drooled a little bit. Then, he gave it up.

It reminded me of when I used to watch my daughter resist sleeping at nap time. Nothing beats having your horse or your kid fall asleep in your arms. Or in Albert’s case – on my arm, actually.

Albert in May

My sis came out to the barn on Saturday and took some great photos of Mr. Albert. I think I’m going to clip him; he’s still awfully thick in the coat. He nearly falls asleep when I start pulling out the old hair from his face and legs.

Lost and Found

Albert Grazing

Albert Grazing

This morning, I met a good and dear friend for coffee in Carytown. We shared a quiet conversation – in tone and in heart – about loss and the continuity of personality during and after loss. Since my friend and I last enjoyed a really good sit down together, we have both lost someone precious to us. For both of us that someone held decades long layers of our personal history – threads that no one else saw, or felt, or touched.

Over lattes and banana bread, we wondered together: How does loss change our future? Can it also change our past or the way we recall our past? Who are we now?

I am thinking of Albert and his loss. Who is he now?

To me, he’s remarkable. One year after losing his eye, we’re cantering again. He has gamely gone on short trails with me. He is, I have thought for a while now, back to his old self.

I learned, again, this weekend that he is a changed horse. Learned is probably the wrong word; learned implies a completeness and a finality, and this lesson is one that I seem to revisit too often. Maybe, I am learning that like any of us after some kind of loss, Albert is emerging into a new self.

We count on Albert to be calm, steady, and reliable. After all, he taught therapeutic riding for sixteen years. On Saturday, he had a little melt down during a bath when the barn crew pulled the tractor up near us on his blind side.

Looking back, I wonder why didn’t I just unhook him, turn him around, and let him watch the tractor? Instead, using a firm and deep voice, I more or less demanded that he chill out.

A long time ago, a friend tried to teach me to play squash. I am hopeless with eye-hand coordination and kept missing the ball when I swung the racquet. My buddy started yelling at me to relax. “RELAX. JUST RELAX. YOU CAN’T HIT THE BALL IF YOU’RE SO TENSE.” Did that help? No, of course not, yet I think this is the same way I responded to Albert’s tractor freak-out. RELAX, ALBERT. IT’S JUST A TRACTOR. YOU KNOW WHAT A TRACTOR IS; CALM DOWN.

He couldn’t see the tractor, but he could hear it coming closer to us. Clipped into the wash stand, Albert had no way to get his right eye over there to check out the ruckus. Because he is Albert – dependable, quiet, Albert – I expected him to just deal.

But, he is a changed horse.

How have I not changed along with him? Have I been waiting for him to “get back to normal,” instead of helping him create a new normal that considers who he is after the loss of his left eye?

I know it is a bad idea to get yourself into a girl vs. horse situation, so I did eventually end the bath and walk him over to the tractor. He stood there for a minute giving the crew the old hairy [right] eyeball, and he was fine. This situation needed Albert Yoga – not striking a pose, but sinking my heart into a deeper awareness. In the moment, I didn’t find it. Maybe, I have I found a new place inside me that is ready to stretch out to meet the new Albert where he is instead of where I want him to be.

Beautification

Tomorrow night, I’m visiting a local 4-H club to talk about my book, Chancey of the Maury River.  This club meets at our barn, right across the green from Albert’s stall.  We have sunny, warm weather here in Virginia today, so I think  we’ll hold our talk outside, with Albert.

A week of rain turned the fields mud-ee! Albert’s feathery legs are pretty well caked.   While a month ago he  still looked like a fuzzy marshmallow – his coat gets nice and fluffy in the winter – now, I’d say he looks more like a splotchy marshmallow, in his transition-to-spring phase.

Truthfully, I’m relieved to see Albert shedding by the handfuls. Last year he never really shed out, and I worried about Cushing’s. His vet ventured that the impact of Albert’s surgery – two operations  in four weeks – stressed his body into a bit of a shut down. He got a lot of baths and hose downs last summer to keep him cool.

Well, he needs some serious beautifcation before he meets with those 4-Hers!

It could be worse

It could be worse

I feel a trip to the tack shop coming on. Certain essentials  – shedding blade, hoof pick, sponges – seem to disappear into the Universe of One Sock and One Sock Only.

I’ll reload today and pick up some fly spray while I’m out. The frogs are croaking already, and I saw a butterfly and two bees this week. The flies cannot be far behind.

So, big job, getting both of us ready to meet the CSF 4-H club. I’m looking forward to meeting this group of girls and hearing their horse stories.

I better make a list:

  • Run to the tack shop (shedding blade, a couple of hoof picks, sponges, fly spray)
  • Call Fountain Bookstore to confirm they’ll meet me there with books
  • Albert Spa Treatment
  • Pack up the Chancey show-and-tell box (toss in the camera)
  • Pick out a good outfit!
  • Retrieve my paddock boots back from my daughter (How does this even happen that with four pair of boots between us, I can find not one pair?)
  • Think about how to best tell the CSF that I wrote Chancey for them – people who love horses with their whole hearts, and
  • After we’re done, kiss my horse and tell him thank you.