by Tracey Merrett
Fresh in from the barn, I pull off my brown cotton work gloves and turn on the warm water. As the soap bubbles rinse away, I sometimes find myself looking down into the sink and wondering, “Whose old weathered hands are those?” Could they be mine? Complete with a callus here, a crack there, and knuckles that tattle on the years. The nails are short and sometimes a bit uneven and plain.
Once young, with straight slender fingers and strong nails, these hands have had so many memories over the years. Adorned with rings and with polish, I wed my wonderful husband. I cradled my sweet baby boy. I comforted patients as I pursued my nursing career. These hands have shaken famous hands, done housework gladly, prepared meals for a cherished family, and held the hands of my mother and dad for over nearly six decades. These hands have so many stories to tell.
Tracey knows how important her hands are to communicate with her horse, Molly.
But these days, I am relishing in using these hands to take care of our horses. Barn work is a welcome chore. There is something particularly sweet about making horse stalls ready for the evening roundup. Raking, sweeping, and scooping each stall is just the beginning. Personally, I love the smell of the fresh wood shavings as I spread them onto clean stall mats so that each horse has a clean bed. Then there is the hay. I do so revel in the aroma of the hay. Taking off the bale twine, the flakes spread apart and that sweet smell of grasses floods the air. I can almost measure the amount of hay needed by the weight in my hands. No need to count the flakes or weigh – “it feels right”. The sound of the horses munching their fresh hay, delivered with love, is so delightful and satisfying.
Washing buckets and fresh water delivery is welcome in the summer, but a bit of a chore in the winter. It is a cold job then, and my gloves never seem to stay dry. But these hands gladly do the work. A little cold and red, they can be warmed in front of the fire and lotioned up before bed, but the geldings will be glad that all the chores were done. They will know that these hands readied their beds, gave them fresh drinks, supplied them with hay and delivered the prize – A scoopful of grain and sweet feed as a special “good night treat”. They will know that all this was done gladly for them with these hands.
Perhaps most important, though, is the way these hands have become matured with riding. In my younger years, I’d hop on a horse, wheel around and charge off. I’d get where I wanted to go using the shortest possible path. Over hill and dale, through water and woods, all with precision and breakneck speed, I had the world and maybe a horse or two by the tail! But with experience, age, and practice, these hands have weathered for the good.
Now, when I fetch a horse from the pasture, it is more leisurely. The halter is easy on his head and neck. The rope is loose. There is a pet or two and a casual walk to the paddock. These hands curry and comb with care. Brushing and stroking are easy and patient. These hands ask for each foot to pick and inspect. Blankets are softly placed. A seasoned saddle is cozied onto my horse and secured in no less than three steps with the cinch. Gone are the days when I was rushing all the time. These hands have learned that a measure of patience is worth a lot to the one on the receiving end. So when it is time to slide the bit into his mouth, these hands say, “please” and secure it without force.
All of these horsekeeping steps – from cleaning stalls to grooming then to tacking up have evolved with years of seasoning. What was once “good enough” is not even close to adequate anymore. These hands have done each step hundreds – maybe thousands of times. They have been hurried, hurt, lazy, cold, sore, bleeding, sunburned, frost bitten, and rope burned. These hands have been gloved, bandaged, and bare. But one thing is for absolute certain – as time has gone on, these hands have become increasingly grateful for the opportunity to care for a horse. It is still the biggest pleasure and thrill of all to muster all of the experience, love, and understanding that I can and use these wiser, kinder hands to pick up the reins. From the moment a foot goes in a stirrup to the soft settling of a gentle seat into the saddle, I prepare myself to say, “let’s go”. So when those reins are in these hands, a magical connection begins – one that less knowledgeable hands and horses can’t know.
Sometimes I think aging is cruel. Just as it seems I am gaining the wisdom to truly take pleasure in life’s most important lessons, I feel hampered by physical limitations and the ravages of time. But no matter how brief the joys might be as I care for my horses, I realize that I am blessed to have the opportunity that eludes so many others. These hands that I see under the warm running water fresh in from the barn have been kissed with life’s treasures. Picking up a set of reins with these hands and sharing an afternoon on the trail with a trusted friend is a gift indeed - for both of us.
Copyright © 2009 Tracey Merrett
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