I am on the road playing release shows for my new album, “The Grass Widow” this week. But exciting things are happening at home during my absence — a new colt is coming to live with us! Please enjoy a little missive from back before I had human children and was raising my first equine child …
Lady Jane is growing up so fast — just like all babies. Her red hair has thickened, and her chocolate-brown mane is growing out of its short, coltish bristles. Her legs are longer, and her knees not-so knobby.
She is my first colt, so I suppose I might be a bit biased, but I am pretty sure she is one of the greatest colts of all time. No, really! She is sweet and calm, with an equanimity beyond her half-year.
Despite being raised by a mostly wild mare, Jane warmed up to us right away, eating hay and grain from our hands, letting us pet her fuzzy rump and scratch her shapely neck. She nickers when we approach and follows us around the corral while we do chores.
Give and take
And now we are starting to halter break her, another first for me. While I stand by the gate, she nervously approaches the rope halter I hold in my left hand, coaxed close by the sweet feed I hold in the palm of my right.
A few rounds of this, and Jane steps back, snorts loudly and turns her back to me. She is thinking it over. A few minutes pass, and she decides the halter is harmless. She approaches me (and the grain) again without hesitation.
I put my hand through the loop of the halter. Now she has to put her nose right up to it to get the grain. A quick retreat, a snort, another pause, and then she is back, nose in the halter.
We proceed for a few more rounds until the halter is up over her head, though I can’t tie it one-handed, so it remains slung around her ears for a moment before it falls to the ground.
Tying it will have to be another day’s lesson. It’s been about half an hour, and Jane steps away and turns her back to me. She is ready to be done. I give the last handful of feed to Orville, the donkey, who has been waiting patiently off to the side.
He and his brother Wilbur, though their personalities are as placid as Jane’s, are not interested in befriending us humans yet. They don’t mind treats every once in a while though, and today is apparently one of those days. Orville munches the handful and steps back to the fence with Wilbur and Jane.
Taking it slow
The pace of all this suits me. Human animals have long been hunters, but there is evidence to suggest that our earliest ancestors were primarily prey animals. The advent of weapons changed the game, but we evolved with our prey instincts still intact.
The result, according to nature writer Rob Dunn is, “a legacy of ancient fears.” Dunn writes of early humans: “When we saw or heard a sign of danger — a movement in the grass, a strange shadow — hormonal reactions screamed out inside our bodies … These fight-or-flight signals and associated jumpiness and anxiety are part of the problem in modern urban life, part of our discontent …”
Modern life — even in a rural place — can feel very fast, so I don’t mind that Jane and I are taking it slow, learning a little more about each other every day, building a bridge of trust one careful brick at a time.
I can send this article to the editor in an instant through the internet, but it still takes as long as it takes to halter break a colt. There is no rushing our relationship to the next level.
Instead, there will be plenty of time spent waiting, watching the flock of pigeons clatter onto the tin of the barn, and then lift off again, dark against the blue sky; taking a small, slow step towards Jane, and then another, just as slow, away from her.
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