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I’m revisiting this post from 2010 because I think it’s timely. Again.
My mother-in-law, who is
82 88 years old, says that getting old isn’t for wimps. The first time I heard her make this statement, it was probably ten years ago, and, hard as it is for me to admit this, it irritated me.
I wanted her, and really me, to focus on aging gracefully, without complaint or malady. Well, ten years down the road, I can say with 100% conviction, that I get it. Aging challenges people in ways I couldn’t even imagine a decade ago.
And that brings me to the topic of hipbones.
Pepper and I are in very different places when it comes to our hipbones.
Hers jut out, barely covered with flesh. Her bones would make runway models in Paris jealous. If she were wearing jeans, it would be the low-rider style. You know, the ones that jauntily sit on the hips. In my day, the 60’s, we called them hip-huggers. Okay, now I’ve carbon-dated myself. Oops!
It’s been years since I even considered pulling on a pair of hip hugging jeans. Where all we can see on Pepper is bony hips, I have the opposite dilemma. I know I have hips because I can still stand and walk. And when I put my hands on my hips, in a stance familiar to most of the women in my family, I can feel my hipbones. But I assure you, there are no Paris models envying my body.
Hormones and aging and not enough exercise conspire against middle-aged women. The result is that our hipbones go under cover. Way under cover. It doesn’t seem fair, and yet, baby, it happens.
Old mares, on the other hand, have a different struggle. It’s often hard to keep weight on them. They lose muscle mass and fat. The result is the ribby, bony look that my dear, sweet Pepper has.
We work to get more calories in her, while I work to get fewer into me.
And to my mother-in-law, I say, “You’re right. This aging business takes a gritty kind of courage that thirty-year-olds can’t begin to fathom.” As long as your body is working, you never even consider that it’s going to be any different.
Until it is.
What is it about human (and horse) nature that keeps us from doing the things that are good for us?
We procrastinate, avoid, rationalize, and deny.
“I’ll get to the gym tomorrow,” we promise.
“I don’t really need that much sleep,” we say as we stay up much later than our body wants/needs.
“I’ll start eating better right after my vacation, or right after the holidays, or right after our guests leave, or ?? You can fill in the blank on this lovely excuse.
I could go on, but I’m certain you get the idea.
In Miss Pepper’s case, she isn’t making up excuses or telling herself little white fibs.
At least I don’t think she is.
But playing games is her speciality.
And she has nailed it.
Because of her achy, arthritic legs she gets a daily anti-inflammatory pill. It really helps.
That must be why she doesn’t want to take it. 🙂
Every day we place the pale pink half-moon-shaped pill into her grain pan. Sometimes right on top. Other times we cover it with a bit of grain.
It doesn’t matter. She always finds it.
And without fail, she proceeds to push it around the pan.
We spend our time peering into her grain, searching for the pill. “Has she gotten it yet?” We sift through her food examining each little morsel of grain, as intently as if searching for weapons of mass destruction.
Sometimes we look at each other and laugh at our total folly.
We figure Pepper must enjoy our attention, because she pushes that pill here and there, avoiding it until she’s down to the last few bites. Sometimes she even spits it out, which sends us scouring the ground, looking for a pink pill in the dirt or snow, depending on the season.
Pepper keeps one eye on us as we go through our silly pill search.
And she usually has a mischievous glint in that same eye. I think we really entertain our persnickety old mare.
As for that promise to get to the gym. Went this morning.
Winter is hard on old horses.
They use their calories for warmth or weight. It’s either/or, and the main reason we keep Miss Pepper blanketed most of the time. She can take a lot of heat. I think she gave up sweating long ago.
But when the weather gets warm, we remove her red blanket and let her old bones soak up the sun. We hope she revels in the heat.
Let me tell you though, when that blanket comes off, so does our denial.
It’s when we really see our bony old girl. It always surprises me. Somewhere in the recesses of my memory, she remains the strong, muscular alpha mare of the herd, the horse she used to be.
I remember her in her glory days.
It’s much the way I think of myself–though I was never an alpha.
I’ve had many conversations lately with my companion baby boomers about how we don’t think of ourselves as old. We still remember our glory days, when we were taking on the world. In our minds we haven’t changed, and are often shocked when we catch sight of ourselves in a mirror.
“Who is that person?” We wonder. “Surely it isn’t me. Where did those wrinkles come from? And that tummy?”
Like Pepper, my body has changed with my ever-increasing journeys round the sun. I’m not suggesting I’m ready to cash in my chips.
Far from it.
But like Miss P. I am learning to accept (with a modicum of grumbling) the adjustments my body is making.
How about you?
Isn’t it time we open this conversation?
Years ago, when my mother was visiting during a particularly snowy winter, she was walking down our snow-covered front steps, taking her time. She was going very slow, grasping the handrail for dear life and cautiously placing one foot in front of the other. I recall that I had a flash of a feeling–not anger, but perhaps annoyance, that was quickly followed by overwhelming sadness.
It was the first time I really understood that she was getting old. And I didn’t want to acknowledge it. Didn’t even want to think about it.
And honestly, the feeling quickly passed.
I hadn’t remembered that moment for years, until recently as I watched Pepper come in from the pasture for her grain.
On this day, there were five or six younger horses hanging around the gate. These are horses that Miss P. isn’t so fond of. So as I laid out the grain pans, she began her walk. She made a huge arc around the shed, walking slowly, her focus forward, as if ignoring the other horses.
I called to her, “Hey Pepper, where are you going?”
She ignored me.
I thought she might be planning to come around the back of the shed to the gate.
I was wrong.
She kept walking, plodding really, until she arrived at a completely different gate. Then, and only then, she turned her head toward me. “I want to eat my grain here, today,” she seemed to be saying.
By now, Chickadee had already come out the first gate and was happily chomping her grain, so I couldn’t accommodate Pepper.
Then I sighed again.
I took the lead rope and strongly encouraged the younger horses to leave. It took a few swings, but they finally got the message.
Then I climbed through the fence and walked down the hill to fetch Miss P. She’d been watching me chase the horses away and looked to be considering her options. Eventually she walked toward me and got to her grain.
Interestingly I experienced the same emotions I’d felt all those years ago with my mother.
A flash of irritation followed by understanding, then sadness.
Pepper avoids the younger, stronger horses because I believe she feels vulnerable, and unsafe.
Her body doesn’t work like it used to, and she can’t protect herself. Hard for an alpha mare to admit!
Her caution and vulnerability tug at my heart, and in many ways resonate with my own aging.
I’m not as sure-footed as I used to be, so in snowy weather I walk more carefully.
I suspect my mother is smiling at that one.
As I get used to living in a sixty-seven-year-old body, I want to be kinder to myself as I navigate the world with a little less confidence about my physical abilities.
Like Pepper, I may need to learn to take the long way around the shed. Thanks old girl for showing me how it’s done!
What makes you feel vulnerable these days?
Our Miss Pepper is a character in horse clothing.
She definitely has her likes and dislikes, and lets us know exactly what she wants. In other words, she has trained us well. I don’t think that’s necessarily how it’s supposed to go in the “horse world,” but in our little slice of the pasture, that’s how it is.
Lately Pepper has decided she likes to mix her grain with nibbles of snow. Sort of like a grain snow cone or slushie. She’ll dump the pan by flipping it with her nose, so she can mix grain with snow.
I’ve wondered if she’s thirsty.
Or if she likes the taste of cold grain.
Or if she’s simply bored and ready to mix things up.
Who knows for sure?
Chickadee powers through her grain like an out-of-control freight train racing downhill. That girl gets right to business and doesn’t raise her head until she’s finished.
Pepper, on the other hand, dawdles.
She’s the stereotypical Sunday driver as she takes tiny little mouthfuls and carefully chews them. Then she looks around, enjoying the scenery and behavior of the other horses, before slurping up another tiny bite. On these frigid days, we’d like nothing more than for her to hurry a little.
But hurrying is not in her plan.
Pepper is practicing mindful eating-something most of us could probably do more of.
As usual, she challenges me take stock of my own life. What a sneaky little teacher she is!
If a grain-infused snow cone sounds good to you, you’ll find us around noon in the pasture. I think Pepper will share.
It’s time to wrap my head around winter feeding.
And if I’m being completely honest with you, I’d rather not be plunged into winter. Right now I can’t find my heavy gloves–something to remedy pretty darn quick!
I’ve moved the feeding time back to early afternoon, aiming for the warmest part of the day. By December I’ll be out with the Golden Girls around noon. Amazingly they quickly figure out the schedule and make the necessary adjustments to be at the gate waiting for their grain.
Coats, a little extra feed and a lot of TLC is what I can do for these old sweeties.
Both are heading into winter in good shape, which really helps. But it’s a tough time for old horses. And these frigid record-breaking November temps have been a rude awakening for all of us.
As a parent, I was never big on using threats to coerce my son to behave. I wasn’t one of those mothers who gave away her authority with comments like, “You just wait until your father gets home. He’ll deal with you.”
Just typing the words gives me a rather creepy feeling.
But in the spirit of honest and transparent communication, I must fess up to something.
It’s about Miss Pepper.
In her old age she has apparently decided that she doesn’t really have to do what I ask of her. At least not all the time.
For example, when I ask her to walk back through the gate into the pasture when she’s finished eating, she will sometimes balk. She’ll stand stock still and look at me with an expression that says, “Nope, I’m not going back. And you can’t make me.”
Then she plants herself and waits for my next move.
And yes, I’ve done the recommended horse behavior things.
“I know what you’re doing,” she screams with her eyes. “And it won’t work.” She’s well-versed in horse whisperer techniques.
I stand in front of her applying pressure to the lead rope, not yielding until she steps forward. She takes one TINY step and stops.
We do this frustrating little two-step for awhile, until, and this is important and maddening, Rick walks toward her. He doesn’t even have to do anything.
His presence alone prompts her to move. She hustles herself through the gate easy as pie, leaving me dumbfounded.
“Really? Girlfriend we need to talk.”
She ignores me.
I try again.
“Seriously Pepper this is 2014, the twenty-first century. Remember women’s lib? Feminism?”
That logic is lost on our Miss P.
I don’t know if it is that Rick is bigger and stronger than I am—definitely the alpha of our little herd of two, or that she is just messing with me.
Or maybe a little of both.
I suspect any serious horse people reading this are shaking their heads in disgust. They’d be justified.
With horses, and life, it is always something!
It seems Pepper has made her decision about her summer company.
She’s chosen to stay with Mr. Black, no matter what we have to say about it. Chickadee goes along for the ride, but it’s clear this isn’t her first choice.
And Mr. Black–well he’s all puffery and posturing when it comes to Pepper. He puts up a BIG fuss when we take her out of the pasture, and then makes an even bigger deal when she returns.
I think part of our problem is that this represents change.
And we humans seem to have such trouble accepting change. Mr. Black is not our dear old friend Jack, and we don’t like that. We wanted him to be the one tending to the Golden Girls.
As if we honestly had any say in the matter.
And perhaps more to the point, Mr. Black is not Bud. His presence makes it so very clear that Bud is gone, never again to be part of the Herd of Oldsters. It prickles at the edge of our consciousness and revives old hurts and sadness.
The lesson that seems to keep offering itself to me is learning to surrender to what is happening, rather than wishing or expecting something to be different. It sounds so easy when I read it, but in action it is far from easy.
And yet I’ve learned that when I do accept things in present time, just as they are unfolding, I feel better.
More at peace in my heart.
Which is exactly the feeling I want more of in my day-to-day life.
More peace, less angst.
The funny thing is that I actually thought I had a say in what goes on in the pasture.
Surrender. Yield. Accept.
Our girl Pepper has become known around the pasture as a bit of a flirt. The fact that she is now thirty-two years old and arthritic doesn’t faze her. Or her suitors it seems!
Over the years she has engaged in several dalliances.
Or Fred, the boyfriend none of us liked because he bullied everyone else in the Herd of Oldsters.
And then there was Mr. Big from the horse hotel when she and Chickadee spent a couple weeks there over the holidays.
I must say I was more than a little surprised when I arrived at the pasture a few days ago to find Jack banished from the Golden Girls and a new dark handsome stranger in his place.
Actually it was Pepper and the Dark Handsome Stranger together, with Chickadee off to the side, and Jack nowhere to be seen.
Truth be told, Chickadee seems a little disgusted with the whole thing. (haven’t we all been there?)
“Oh Pepper,” I said. “Not again! This is no way to treat your old friend Jack who has been so loyal.”
Sad to say, loyalty has never seemed to matter to Miss P. when she is driven by her wild and crazy love hormones.
But I have to remind myself that this will pass, like all the others.
And in the meantime, I’m happy that our old girl is still enjoying her life.
What a lesson that is for all of us who aren’t as young as we once were.
You go girl!