Thursday, May 25, 2017

Summer of the Horse: Serendipity

Sign on the wall of Galloway Stables in Linden, NS.
Three things happened to me last year that resulted in me being in this barn this morning with a curry brush in my hand.
One, I wrote a book and one of the essays in that book is called "Communion With the Livestock" in which I described getting to know the cows and horses on my rural walking route.
Two, I took a writing workshop with Nova Scotia author Marjorie Simmins who had just published a memoir called Year of the Horse (Pottersfield Press). When it came time for blurbs to be done for my book, Field Notes, Marjorie agreed to read it and blurb it. She also corrected my mistakes in that particular essay regarding "mini ponies (there are ponies and there mini horses; there is no such thing as a mini pony).
And three, I met Gail Simmons at the Pugwash Farmers Market, who recognized me from a reading I'd done a week or two earlier at Art Quarters. I ended up interviewing her for a column, and we hit it off immediately. Shortly before she was heading back to her other home in Ontario, I stopped by the stable to give her a copy of Marjorie's book, and Gail let me ride her horse for a bit.

As I explain in the Field Notes essay about goats, I grew up knowing that horseback riding was out of the question because of my mother's severe allergies. Not being an "F*** you" kind of girl -- meaning that attitude of not letting anything or anyone stand in your way -- I never insisted, never defied, never resented. I merely longed all my life.

Until now. I'm in my forties, damn it, and that's the middle of my life. I live in rural Nova Scotia and while I'm happy keeping chickens, I'm ready for the next adventure. I haven't lost my love of horses or my envy of those who live and work with them. So, Mother's allergies be damned, I decided these horsewomen with the same last name came into my life for a reason: to help me fulfill a lifelong yearning to be confident and competent -- fearless -- around horses, and to be their companion.
As the 19th century writer George Eliot (a woman who had to publish under a man's name) said, "It's never too late to be what you might have been."

Guiding me on this journey is Dawn Helm, who owns Galloway Stables in Linden, Nova Scotia, and has had horse companions since she was five years old. This morning was my introductory session. Dawn knows I want to learn to ride but she also knows I want to know everything. Riding a horse isn't merely about climbing onto a saddle and kicking your heels so the horse moves forward then hollering "Whoa" when you want him to stop. All that other stuff -- all the communication and the care, the body language and the brushing -- I want to know it, every bit of it.
Even the challenging "lead with your bellybutton" command.

With her teaching horse, Dakoka, in the cross ties, Dawn showed me how to use three different brushes on him and as I brushed his thick, muscular body, sloughing off the dust and bringing out the shine in his coat, Dawn talked about being the boss around a horse.
When you're working with an 1800-pound animal, she said, you can't let yourself be pushed around.
"I think of young girls, when they're 12 and 13, who are timid and quiet, who don't have much self-confidence, how they end up in relationships where they are controlled, even abused," she said. "They don't know how to stick up for themselves, to speak up or defend themselves. This sport is the best thing for them. It's 100 per cent life-transforming."

This is so much more than merely learning to ride a horse. My education in horses, and in a unique breed of strong women, has begun.

Dawn posted the above sign inside the barn because of random visitors in the summer who just show up and walk around wearing flip flops. Who walks into a barn without boots on their feet? Sheesh, those city people! 

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