5/20/08

Mending Fences

A couple of weeks ago, two of my horses found a breach in the fencing and took full advantage of it. This breach was the result of a tornado two years ago. It had ripped across the back corner of our property which borders our neighbor's property and severely damaged some trees. But, several of the trees were left with their tops dangling.

We've been busy over the last couple of years and only occasionally survey the area. The high winds this spring have finally either toppled the dying trees or blown the damaged and dead tops out of them. In this particular instance, the top landed on the fence. It wasn't much of a challenge for the guys to walk right across. What was interesting is that only the two "handicapped" horses made the walk.

Minnie was given to me last fall by a young man who simply could not afford the increase in hay and feed prices. She was underweight, completely blind in one eye and only slightly better sighted in the other eye. Throughout the winter, we have fed, loved and cared for her and her weight is beginning to increase. She's learned the boundaries and she's bonded with the others.

Radar was 8 years old when he won the 1986 Spotted Trail Horse Competition with his owner, Mr. David. In 1997, Mr. David callled me to ask would I be interested in a "trade". I had a stud-horse who had become quite the challenge and he had Radar. In reality, the stud-horse was a dud-horse. I spent more time trying to avoid his feet than riding him. In contrast, Radar was a champion. He is red spotted with the bluest eyes of any creature I have ever seen. It's like looking at the bright blue sky.

My husband and I met with Mr. David. I rode Radar and did not even want to dismount. It was like riding a dream- a perfect combination of spirit and wisdom that made me most assured I could trust this horse on any trail. When I rode him back to Mr. David he shocked me with his statement. "I've heard about you young lady. You have that old horse Trusty and you have refused to sell him to anyone. You know he's gonna get old and die, but you have told so many people that you will bury him before you sell him some of these fellas have decided you are half-witted."

I couldn't disagree. Trusty was a retired "Therapy" horse and he taught Leiren and any other person terrified of horses what it was like to really ride a horse. He didn't love anyone but he devoted his life to teaching people to love him. That was enough for me.

I was offended, however, that people would talk such talk about me being "half-witted" and in my half-witted way, I tried to respond. "Look Mr. David, I don't appreciate how people think I have to sell a horse because it's a good horse and let it go to the next person simply to eventually send it to glue factory when it can no longer be ridden. That's just wrong. If you don't like that, that's just too bad! I won't trade Trusty for Radar even though Radar has another five years on him. So, I'm sorry we wasted your time."

As Dave and I were heading back to the truck, Mr. David followed closely and said. "You know what? You have this and me all wrong. I don't want your Trusty, I want Radar in the pasture next to him! My plan was to take that rogue stallion off your hands in exchange because I know you won't just take him but he's yours. I have two sons who want him so badly they can't stand it but they will sell him next year after I die! I don't even need a promise from you, I already know that you will never let me or Radar down! What little time I have left, I can spend whooping that stallion into shape, it will distract me from the pain."

Have you ever had a moment when you stop and try to rewind the last scene of your life in your mind? I think Dave and I both had that moment right then and there. There, before us, was a man, a well-known man in our community, outlining to us his destiny but working to preserve the destiny of his beloved horse. This was a man I could connect with. This was a man I instantly loved.

He delivered Radar the next day with one condition. He did not want to see us or Radar again. He simply could not bear it. He would be gone, Radar would go on but he wanted to be in control of his goodbyes and he wanted Radar to know that he got the best goodbye the man could give him.

It was not until many months later, when his son came by that we realized Mr. David had passed away. First, his son tried to purchase Radar. That was the hardest "no" I have ever held my ground to. But, I made a promise to a dying man. However, Radar was not my possession, he was a gift to me. And I offered to the son unlimited riding and unlimited visitation to Radar. The son outlined for us the stories of Radar and his Dad - in the shows, on the trails. Radar hated the son and would toss him straight off. So, he assumed the Dad believed the son would hurt or eventually sell the horse.

For nearly two years, the son would visit. He never got the saddle out, just some goodies for Radar. He would sit on the fence or stand there with his head buried in Radar's neck, Radar hanging his head as if to completely understand the grief and pain.

You can do the math - Radar was 8 in 1986 - he's 30 this year! That's a long time for horse. I don't ride him anymore. We just talk and walk around the field. That neck of his is the best tear catcher in the universe. The warm skin and soft fur are just the right texture for one who is hurting or grieving. And those ears will lean back so they can catch every word. He's healed many the wounded spirit - both human and horse. I have even seen Brutus sitting underneath him on occasion.

As my neighbor was screaming at me to get rid of my horses, I looked at her first with contempt but soon realized that Radar was nuzzling her shoulder ever so slightly. Her husband died last year in a bizarre accident. Radar seemed to believe her rage was more grief and he simply stood there, in her personal space, head down, blue eyes staring. Oh yes, he had destroyed her precious son's feed plot and he had oh so enjoyed the fresh foliage. He was in deep you know what! But as she turned around, fully angry with the situation, he caught her attention. It was then that I explained to her who he was - just a 30 year old horse - a promise to a dying man - a source of strength when nothing else in the world made sense - a neighbor! She wasn't quite sold on it- she's a tiny woman and he looked like a giant next to her. However, her rage eased into compassion as she tearfully said "just please, mend that fence".

We mended the fence that very afternoon - after walking the old horse and the blind horse back up the hill. I am sure we will have to work harder to mend the fence of hurt feelings and neighborly love between us and the lady down the hill, but it's the learning to love - something taught to me by a few old horses - that makes the journey so enjoyable. I have already started mending the fence she has put up. Hopefully, I can get through it and install a gate instead of barbed wire.

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