It’s a hot, dry day – perfect for a ride. When we get to the barn, our horses are with the rest of the herd at the bottom of a very big field. They seem happy – heads bowed, chomping on the grass, fresh and verdant from yesterday’s rainfall. But it’s a long walk to get them. I grab my mare’s halter and lead line and start walking down the field. Ben stays behind and tries a strategy that worked the last time we were here. He stands by the fence, puts his fingers to his mouth and whistles, a shrill sound that pierces the air.
Last time, all the horses raised their heads high and pricked their ears, bodies alert to potential dangers for a prey animal. Then one, a gelding the color of espresso, began trotting toward home – and me. Mane and tail flying behind him, he gathered speed. The other horses quickly followed, understanding that if he perceived danger, their best bet was to follow him back to the barn. There’s safety in numbers.
I stopped in the field as they thundered past me. I raised my arms sideways and waved them up and down. The movement was enough to keep them from getting close enough to run me over. When the last horse ran past me, I turned and headed back to the paddock near the barn where they had gathered. I slipped Heidi’s halter over her head, gave her a carrot and brought her into the barn for grooming.
This time, though, the horses are wiser. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Again, I walk through the field with Heidi’s halter. When Ben whistles, I stop and wait for them to come running. But they keep their heads to the ground, grazing contentedly on the grass. As I get closer, Heidi spots me. She knows I pose no danger. On the contrary, I come bearing treats and she will do almost anything for a treat, so she walks amiably to me. Ben’s horse, Sting, looks on with curiosity. They spent 18 years together alone in their own paddock. They were – and still are – like an old couple. But with a recent change of barns, they have become part of a bigger herd. Their adjustment was smooth, but there is still a strong connection between them, so he watches to see where Heidi goes.
When he hears her crunching on the carrot I feed her, he comes to join us. As I walk with Heidi on a lead line, he follows for a short while. Then he decides to return to his friends. Back at the barn, Ben is still at the fence, whistling to horses that are paying no attention whatsoever to him. “Good luck,” I say.
Fifteen minutes later, Ben arrives with Sting in tow. “Did he play hard to get once you went into the field?” I asked. Sometimes Sting waits until Ben gets close to him, then darts away just for fun. Ben shakes his head. “Ah, he’s just messing with you, it’s a game to him,” I say.
Soon we are tacked up and ready to hit the trails. Abby, the sweet, energetic chocolate Lab at the barn, joins us. We enter the woods with Abby in the lead, her tail pointing straight up like a flag for us to follow.
It’s cooler in the woods and puddles the size of small sink holes remain on the trails from the recent heavy rains. Abby zips in and out of the trees, sometimes going deep into the woods before rejoining us on the trail. We hear a rustle of branches and leaves before she bursts back onto the trail panting and tongue lolling, then rushing ahead of us again.
The trail opens to a field dotted with wildflowers – white Queen Anne’s Lace, yellow goldenrod and purple clover. Their scent is cloying and sweet as the flowers brush up against our thighs. Bright orange Monarch butterflies flit around us, occasionally landing on a flower.
We cross the field to another patch of woods and a trail that leads back to the barn. The horses know we’re going back and step up their pace, anxious to return to the security of their herd. We lose sight of Abby for a while and find her lying in a puddle in the middle of the trail to cool off. Then she is off again.
Back at the barn, we dismount and Abby lies on the ground with a contented sigh. It’s as if she is saying, “That was just perfect.” My sentiments exactly, Abby. My sentiments exactly.