Sanity in a Wheelbarrow

I confess: cleaning stalls, scrubbing water troughs, and slinging hay have been my lifelines to sanity this year. Add in horsehair in my mouth as I groom the summer coat from our horse’s bodies, and I can almost forget this is 2020. The barn, the horses, and all the chores that aren’t really chores are places where life, if only for an hour, can feel normal.

I’ve never been one for hope, thinking it an ineffective form of wishful thinking, but these times at the barn, I can almost feel the deeper meaning of hope. It is carrying on doing the best we can, practicing fortitude while knowing that when the times change once again, we can worry less and breathe more. Or maybe hope is closer to faith; faith in my own resilience, faith that there are many more good people in this world than not, faith that whatever happens, we will find out way through the next set of changes some kind of way.

Between the fires, the smoke, the ash on our cars, my worry about the air the horses are breathing and oh-the pandemic, (and oh! Politics!) I pretty much feel like a wrung-out dishtowel. Everyone I know expresses the same feelings; more anxiety, less peace of mind. We are all bracing ourselves for the next tragedy.

But once Mark and I jump the dogs into the truck and start our drive over to the barn, I feel my breathing slow down. I get to admire the Rocky Mountains and the changing leaves. I look for our horses as soon as we top the small rise before our turn. I think these slices of normality are good. They remind me that what is good can still feel good, and that not all of my waking hours have to be so fraught. Aren’t we all lucky to have horses?

Today we hauled our herd of six down to the pasture where they will spend the winter. At this time of year, it’s 35 acres of lush green grass, with a creek on both sides and big shade trees in a corner. This is where they shelter from sun, wind, and when it is deep into winter, snow. All six horses were so joyful, they didn’t know whether to roll, stuff their mouths with grass, or run. They did all three within a few minutes.

Watching them buck, throw their heads, and rear, I felt a similar sense of joy. The sun was warm on my arms, the grass a green I’ve missed all this drought struck summer. The sight of running horses set me free from myself for a moment, and what a gift to be released, to enjoy the thrill of a gallop of horses across a smooth expanse of pasture.

This is mindfulness for me. Perhaps it’s the lazy version, only paying attention to things that are easy to bring my attention to. Pema Chodron talks a lot about pausing whenever we are overcome with anger, or grief, or sadness. She talks about making friends with these difficult guests as a way to not only be mindful, but gentler with ourselves.

I’m all for this brand of gentleness. If we can be gentler with ourselves, perhaps treating who we are with as much care as we lavish on our horses, maybe these times would feel less messy. Maybe we wouldn’t go through our days trying to untangle knots that haven’t any end. And maybe right now putting our full attention on the parts of life that allow us some relief is the kind of gentleness we need.

My horse Rusty reminded me of the practice of being gentle. As the rest of the herd trotted away to roll, he stood by me after I’d removed his halter and turned toward me, closed his eyes, and placed his head against my chest. I whispered to him that I loved him, that I would see him soon. He ambled away from me, lifting into a trot before dropping to the grass and rolling his belly toward the sun. A gallop and a fart later, Rusty was stretching his legs for all he was worth. It wasn’t long before all of our horses were dark dots against the green grass.

Our herd was happy at that moment, and so was I. The gift of that experience is that I can recall it anytime I want to ease off the pressure that life shows up with. To feel the gratitude that we are able to have horses, and a pasture they can go to for the winter. This kind of purposeful willingness to balance out all this chaos with the beauty that life also gives us isn’t always easy. And there are days I can’t always get there. But with a small effort, I feel big shifts. The kind of shift that going from a dirt paddock to a large green field must feel like to our herd.

The complexity of these times can often fool me into thinking that I need a complex solution. More often than not, the solution to feeling better is simple. A walk with the dogs. Looking into my horse’s soft eye. A hot cup of tea. A reminder that where ever I am, gentleness is an option and sanity just a manure-laden wheelbarrow away.

41 Comments on “Sanity in a Wheelbarrow

  1. Our horses are in the backyard. I get tremendous joy every time I go out to feed them, make sure there is plenty of water, or sometimes just to pet them. I often get a nicker, and one of them like to put his head near or on me, or play with me, or even gently lean against me. It’s good that he is gentle and playful. Mark, in one of his books, says that most people get a horse that they can get on. I am not that smart. I have to climb on something like the old picnic table to step on. He is almost 16.3, and I am pretty short. I like big horses and this fellow in particular.

    I, too, worry about the smoky air, full of toxins and particulates. I won’t ride if the air is too hazy, and I have a constant concern about wildfires (climate change fires). As for the pandemic, I take solace in the solitude and not having to make excuses to socialize less. I have my wife, our sheepdogs (pulis) and horses. Phone calls and the occasional zoom are more than enough. Occasionally, friends come over and sit with us on our outdoor deck six to twelve feet apart. I am wildly busy with some work, and some writing and photography (a book on Uganda wildlife and then later on the underwater worlds).

    I am hoping and praying that good will come out of all this. It’s terrible that so many people have been ill, lose loved ones, and experience hardship and suffering. Perhaps, in the future, not only will we be better prepared, but also, there will be less driving, polluting and commuting, less waste of time in cars, and new habits for the health of the world as well as for individuals will develop?

    • Thank you, Jon, for your thoughtful comments. Your work sounds fascinating; what a good antidote to all the chaos that threatens all of us right now. Horses are a good antidote too and I don’t like to contemplate where we’d be without them. Thank goodness, we don’t have to. All the best–Crissi

      • You are right, Crissi, it’s amazing to have horses around. A miracle really. So fortunate.

  2. Yes!!! I often think to myself that the only place I feel like I can breath is with my horses. You are so wonderful at finding the right words.

  3. Making friends with difficult guests as an exercise to being gentler with ourselves. I like the thread of thought those words unleashed in my being.
    Gee thanks Crissi. And good boy Rusty.

  4. Amen! I felt the dis- ease melt away while reading. Thank you, Crissi!

  5. Thank you Crissi, that last paragraph really says it all. Life is still good, beautiful and amazing moments abound. I don’t have my own horse (yet😊) but am part of a small barn family, where I can muck and groom and be with the herd (and the barn kitty). Hugs to all the “meditating muckers”!

  6. What a lovely picture. Your winter pasture is what my heart sees on the other side of the rainbow bridge where my spirit herd resides. A piece of horse heaven. Thank you.

  7. Loved it!!! Horses take us away from it all. Chores give us strength. This is what allows me to be in moments like no other. I’m honored to care for these awesome creatures.

  8. Always inspiring to read your posts, Crissi, and feeling the peaceful picture they paint for me. I continually strive to be kinder to myself and always think of you and Mark and reflect on the kindness you always showed me. Inner strength and kindness are more important now than ever.
    Be well my friends. Nancy Bourdeau

    • Nancy! It’s wonderful to hear from you. Thank you for your kind words. You are right: inner strength and kindness are vital these days. xo

  9. Crissi this is wonderful!! sanity indeed is a manure laden wheelbarrow away, and we are so lucky that it is. Id love a winter pasture like that instead of my muddy soaked fields, sure my horses would too! but yes, a place of peace and joy exists wherever they are .thank you .

  10. “The kind of shift that going from a dirt paddock to a large green field must feel like to our herd.” We are so fortunate to have these beasts in our hearts and souls as well as our proverbial backyards. We can observe and touch our inspirations, our teachers, our most amazing best friends.

  11. Amen! I can’t imagine life without the serenity of horses to keep me grounded in what really matters.

  12. People will often comment that having the horses in my backyard must be a lot of work and they seem to have pity in their eyes. while they are not wrong about the work, what they don’t know is that taking care of the horses is part of the rhythm of my days and it gives me a space to be quiet and breathe without a phone ringing or email pinging or any of the other million cries for attention throughout my work day. I come home from work sometimes tight and a bit frazzled. I change and go out to the barn and feel the small annoyances and tension fly off my body (and heart). When I come back in I am a different person.

  13. Oh yes Crissi. So true. I ss this time as a gift xxx

  14. My horse plus my young pup and the older dog are my safety valves right now. When things start to feel toxic, grooming Miss Cricket lets those heavy feeling escape and we both feel better. Mucking and cleaning the paddocks and stalls always have been my release since you not only feel better(mentally and physically) but the farm looks good! Yes, in these turbulent times, the critters ground us and give us joy. And teach us to live in the moment and enjoy the space you are in!!

  15. Crissi, a “wrung-out dishtowel” is an acutely accurate description of how I feel most work days. I can’t escape the pandemic because I work on the pandemic response in our county. Politics, air quality, climate change, and economics are inescapable. Thank goodness for the church of the holy horse! Sanctuary among the quiet, the routine, the satisfaction of caring for these wondrous creatures, is the antidote to our worldly angst. I hope that I will have the opportunity to see you again when life falls in a more normal pattern. I still have my little Arabian. Raz is 20, though he still acts like a 10 year old as he did when you first met him.

    • Hi Laurie – what a pleasure it is to hear from you! Yes, you put it perfectly, “…the church of the holy horse.” There isn’t any better antidote for the chaos in this world than them. Please give Raz a pat on the head for me; I do like that horse and I so liked working with you! I too hope that we can connect sometime soon. Please be safe and well. xo

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