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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.
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?
On New Year’s Eve, the Golden Girls had a cowboy pedicure – aka the farrier trimmed their hooves. I am always so grateful for his gentle manner with the old girls. He whispers sweet nothings to them as he allows them to set the pace. No quick movements or jerking of legs.
He’s been a true gem.
This was his first time to meet Chickadee. As he worked on her he said to us,
“There’s a place in Heaven for you for taking on the care and expenses of another old horse. Not many would do it.”
Rick and I looked at each other, shrugged and smiled.
We have a thing for old animals.
It was never really a question about taking Chickadee into our tribe. Truth be told, we’ve loved her for a long time. This latest move was just about making it official.
We weren’t always so enamored of old horses.
I suppose that came with our own animals growing older. And with us joining them. There are no “spring chickens” among us anymore.
Loving these old animals has taught me a great deal.
I think the main thing I’ve learned is patience.
Or maybe kindness.
When you lovingly care for an old animal and look into their eyes, you see such gratitude.
These are old souls who have much to teach us. And I am trying with all my might to learn their lessons.
I know that I’m a better person having known them–kinder, gentler, less quick to judge. And for that I am forever grateful.
I was doing my thing with the horses one day last summer. Bud and Pepper were queued up at the car happily eating their grain, and I was fussing over them as they ate.
I was brushing their coats and combing out Pepper’s mane and tail. But mostly I was simply enjoying being with them.
A man, who also boards his horse at the same facility, rode by on a beautiful chestnut gelding. He stopped beside my horses, gave them the once over, and then offered a derisive snort.
“Doesn’t look like that gelding (Bud) needs any more calories,” he said, contempt apparent in his voice.
I didn’t respond. This commentary came from a man who obviously hadn’t missed many meals. I felt for his horse, whose job was to carry this guy and his huge belly around.
“You still ride these old things?”
“They’re retired,” I said, my voice flat, my posture board-like. I didn’t make eye contact.
“Well, what good are they? I’d get rid of ‘em.” He paused to look around the pasture and adjust himself in the saddle. “Feed costs money you know.”
I didn’t know what to say. I was seething and wanted to lash out at this idiot, but I didn’t. Instead I shrugged and said, “We don’t share your opinion.” Then I went back to grooming my horses.
He took the hint and rode off.
I’m not a violent person. In fact, I abhor violence. I don’t read it or watch it in movies or television. I don’t want violence in my life. And yet, at that moment, what I wanted to do more than anything else was beat this man to a bloody pulp. It was his arrogance that pushed me over the edge.
How dare he suggest that our old horses had no value?
This interchange has been on my mind lately. Do we live in such a youth-oriented society that we honestly believe that people (or horses) of age are no longer worth anything?
Does value come only from productivity? From youth?
If I can’t ride my horses anymore, are they worthless? Should they be put down?
Of course, you can guess my answers.
I was never that much of a rider, so the fact that Pepper is arthritic and unable to carry me is of little consequence.
I feel honored to share my life with these magnificent animals. Just getting to hang out with them is enough. A young woman, who also boards at the pasture, told me she calls retired horses pasture gems.
I like the term. It’s a job description I’m adopting for my next stage of life. I want to be a pasture gem.
I still see “Mr. Arrogant” on occasion, riding around the pasture like a landowner surveying his sharecroppers.
We don’t speak.