Anyone who says animals can’t have hurt feelings hasn’t been around animals much.
Usually, even when I’m pushing to meet a deadline, as I was this May for Harlequin, I manage to sneak away to ride my horse. I was also marketing my new Belle Books carriage driving mystery, One Hoof in the Grave, the sequel to last year’s The Cart Before the Corpse. Okay, crunch time, but I could still squeeze in an occasional ride.
Until my husband was hospitalized for surgery, and had a stroke that requires extensive rehab. Crunch time turned into gridlock.
I ignored my big dressage horse, Sailor, a seventeen-two hand half Clydesdale dressage horse, from the end of April until last week. He was well taken care of. Not only his physical needs, but as much attention as my trainer had time to give him.
But she isn’t me. She says that every morning he would come up to be fed with the other pasture horses, and if anyone was brought into the barn for any reason, he’d stand at the gate saying a silent ‘pick me, pick me.’ It broke my heart, but between going back and forth to the hospital, and then looking after my husband at home, Sailor had to take a back seat.
So did my endorphins. If I don’t get me some horse at regular intervals, I get grumpy. So last week while his caregiver was at home with George, I put my britches and boots and went out to my trainer’s barn to reacquaint myself with Sailor. Since he hadn’t been ridden in four months, and I am no spring chicken, I planned just to walk a few minutes. Being in the saddle would be enough.
First I loaded the pockets of my britches with treats. Carrots, apples, and best of all, horse peppermints. Horses feel about peppermints the way I feel about chocolate.
Sailor loves treats. I felt certain I could woo my way back into his affections by comforting him with apples. If it worked for Solomon and Sheba, it ought to work for me, right?
Sailor was out in the big pasture in the shadows when I arrived, standing in the center of the herd of six geldings. They all took notice of me at once, and on the off chance that I might be carrying treats, they came up to let me rub their noses and give them each a peppermint.
Everyone, that is, except Sailor. He took one look at me and turned his back. He didn’t actually walk away, although he’s been known to do that when he didn’t want to work. No, this time he was telling me that if I hadn’t known him for four months, he no longer intended to know me. He looked everywhere except at me, even when I walked straight up to him and slipped his halter over his head. I held out a peppermint—sure to do the trick. He refused to touch it.
He came with me into the barn peaceably enough and allowed himself to be crosstied. He basically gave me permission to brush, curry and love on him all I liked, while he made it clear that getting back in his good graces was going to take a while.
I did climb into the saddle for a few minutes. My endorphins soared, my mood lightened. Never mind Chanel No. 5 or Joy. Give me Eau de Cheval any day.
The difference between horses and people is that horses don’t hold grudges for long. Sailor allowed me to cosset and pet him to earn my way back into his good graces. By the time I brushed him off after my ride, gave two apples, a carrot, and half a dozen horse peppermints, we were friends again.
Except that when I offered him his final carrot once he was back in the pasture, he took one look at it and at me, and I could hear him thinking, “Hah! She’s going away again, and she thinks she can con me with treats.”
He took the carrot in his teeth, stared straight at me, and spit the whole thing on the ground. I got the message. I’m riding at least once next week.