If at this very moment I could read the minds of my wife’s two horses, I believe they’d be talking about me between mouthfuls of grass.
Having heard that a rider’s fear is transmitted through his seat, I figured my secret was safe so long as I wasn’t actually riding. But these guys sized me up long ago, back when Mary used to board them at another barn. Our meetings then were always polite—Nice to meet you, Treat…How ya doin’, Desi?—but my nervousness must have been obvious to them, and not just because of my reluctance to take part in those get-acquainted rituals Mary was always pushing me into—“Go ahead, give him the carrot, don’t worry, hold it like this and he can’t bite your fingers off.” Face it, one sniff and these creatures can read you like a polygraph.
Not that I’d be the first guy to feel a little uneasy around an animal seven times his size. And it’s not like I ever planned to ride these equine Ferraris. (The only horse you’ll catch me on will be the equivalent of a rusty old LTD.) But now that we’ve moved them to the little barn across the road Desi and Treat have become my neighbors. And, on some occasions, my charges.
So when Mary was out of town one recent evening it fell to me to do the feeding. No sweat, I’d done it before, you just head over there around five and get them out of the fields and into their stalls. But not this time. Maybe they were content munching grass. Or maybe a little disobedience is inevitable between alpha males like Desi and me. Or perhaps, as my more paranoid self is inclined to believe, the boys decided to play a game of “Let’s Dis Mr. Fraidy.” Whatever the reason, my repeated calls were entirely ignored. So was all the begging, wheedling, and cajoling I did for the next hour, culminating in my tramping way out into the field and waving handfuls of feed under their noses. Finally, I gave up and called a friend who, by the light of her headlights, was able to lure them back using a carrot.
Ah, the old carrot trick. Unfortunately that trick doesn’t work for me
because, as Desi and Treat well know, I’m all carrot and no stick. I may
be an alpha male on Madison Avenue but on Simons Road nobody’s taking any
orders from me.
Fortunately they were hungry enough to go right into their stalls this time. And when they finished eating and I let them back out into the pasture, something unexpected happened. I hadn’t realized how quickly night had fallen and so, when I switched off the lights, I was surprised to find myself plunged into complete darkness. Fighting the urge to switch the lights back on, I felt my way out to one of the posts that support the roof overhang—hugging it tightly so as not to be in the way of any charging horses—and waited for my eyes to adjust. Soon I realized I wasn’t alone. Desi had decided to linger, no doubt thinking Mr. Fraidy might have an extra treat to offer. (Even invisible I knew that looming presence was him from the unmistakable nervous energy it gave off.) Invisibility has its advantages, it turns out, for, without being able to see each other, we avoided our usual alpha male anxiety loop, which begins with my mixed signal “Hi-Guy/Back-Off-Buster” routine and escalates with Desi’s similarly schizo “Got-food?/Don’t-Kill-Me-Scary-Human” response.
Instead, I stood there perfectly still. Things got very quiet. The cold settled in. The moonlit fields began to slowly reappear. Desi sniffed my hair, then my shoulders, exhaling that unmistakable horse smell that somehow makes me nostalgic for something I can’t put my finger on. Perhaps it’s a kind of genetic memory of a time when there was less strangeness between creatures like Desi and me. That might explain the sudden ease I felt standing there next to him. I reached into my pocket, glad to have remembered the bribe, and pulled out the carrot. Desi took it and I did my best not to imagine my fingers going with it. Then, eyes and attitudes adjusted slightly, we headed for our respective pastures.
The Wannabe Farmer
A Chicken Murder Mystery