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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.
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!
This is Forty.
At least that’s what’s branded on his neck. He only drops by occasionally to say hello, get his head scratched and of course to nibble a hay cube.
And then another.
And then maybe another five or six!
He’s a nice horse. Friendly, mannerly, and really, just a sweetie.
I’m told there are ten senior citizen horses in the pasture right now. It’s no surprise that as we age, our animals follow right along beside us.
I don’t know about you, but I find it inspiring and somewhat comforting. I like sharing space with these wise, old, sweet things.
And I’m sure they’ve passed the word among them to be on the lookout for the Snack Lady.
I’m good with that too!
My son suggested making a photo book of the oldsters in the pasture. I’m thinking it could be fun.
“I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that.’
This is Neighbor. I don’t know his official name, but we call him Neighbor. He sometimes watches us feed from the turnout beside the road.
He’s a gentle old guy and I find him adorable.
He doesn’t push.
Or pick fights with his paddock mates.
And is ever so grateful when I give him an alfalfa cube.
In the summer his coat turns nearly white, making him look even more like the venerable old sage that he is.
What does your face say about your life?
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, suffering, struggle, & loss, and have found their way out of the depths.
They have an appreciation, sensitivity and understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.
Beautiful people do not just happen.”
Elizabeth Kubler Ross
I’m looking at my friends in the pasture, the ones that have been around this earth for awhile.
And as I look, I see the wisdom and value they’ve brought to my life.
Beautiful horses do not “just happen” either.
Here’s to celebrating all of life!
Pepper is one smart horse.
She’s quick to figure things out. In her partnership with Bud, he was the strong one; the leader. But Pepper was the quick learner.
And then she’d show him the way. They were a good team – playing to each other’s strengths.
As she’s aged, Pepper had grown increasingly fearful of being around the younger, stronger horses in the large herd. She particularly dislikes having to make her way through any horses gathered at the gate. I think she feels even more vulnerable now that Bud is no longer running interference for her. It has made her daily feeding rather stressful.
So after Bud died, I started taking Pepper to a second gate to put her back in the pasture.
It was a short walk, and she seemed to be much more comfortable with this plan. For some reason, the horses don’t congregate there. After only a couple of days, she knew that when she finished eating, it was time to head up the hill. She practically put herself back in the gate.
Like I said – quick learner.
Somewhere toward the end of the second week of the “new plan,” Rick and I decided it might be easier to simply take her out that same gate.
“What a good idea,” we said to each other, high fiving and smiling at our cleverness.
In truth though, we’re not nearly as quick as Miss P. She knew it was a better gate for her from the get go.
The first day we showed up at the new gate, she ran through and kept going down the hill to the place we used to feed her. But that was only one time.
Now she’s got it. She knows this is where we feed her.
She’s much less stressed. Which in turn makes me less stressed.
There are so many changes to get used to when you lose your life partner.
Some are huge and some are small, but they add up to an awful lot of change.
I know many of you reading this blog can relate to Miss Pepper’s experience.
And here’s what I know: all of you – horse and human – will get through it.
Here’s to the Old Ones!
There is something poignant and wonderful about old animals.
They know their way around. Not much surprises or worries them. They’ve learned to accept life as it comes.
Look into their faces and you’ll find wisdom, grace, and experience. Perhaps they’ve lost some of the spit and fire of the youngsters or even the middle-agers.
But what they’ve gained is a beauty that to me is haunting and timeless.
“The most beautiful people (*animals) we have known are those who have known defeat, suffering, struggle and loss and have found their way out of the depths. They have an appreciation of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.
Beautiful people (*animals) do not just happen.”
Elizabeth Kubler Ross
* apologies for my adaptation
Bud had a special visitor over the weekend.
She’s a longtime friend.
And a pretty girl who came bearing fresh, sweet apple slices.
He loved the attention. What old guy wouldn’t? What young guy wouldn’t love that kind of attention?
It’s been a rough few days for Bud with abscesses on both of his front feet. That makes for one very sore Appaloosa.
And many very worried people.
For now he’s doing better and we’re grateful beyond measure.
But we know it’s a slippery slope. We find ourselves trapped on a sort of roller coaster ride that we didn’t really sign up for. Unfortunately that’s part of the gig when you share your life with old animals.
We have hard conversations ahead of us. And even more difficult decisions.
But for now, we choose to enjoy this beautiful present moment where Bud is feeling better, his spirits buoyed by pain meds, fresh apples and a visit from a beautiful old pal.
She may be thirty-years old with arthritis slowing her down and making her legs ache, but our girl Pepper is as funny as ever.
She’s a sprite.
She has this slightly snarky, in-your-face kind of humor that some people might not appreciate.
It makes me love her all the more.
She likes to mess with Bud. She teases him. Pushes him a little – especially when they’re eating. If she gets it in her mind that she wants a nibble or two or three from his feed pan, she goes for it. I’ll direct her back to her feed and a minute or so later she’s got her nose in Bud’s pan again. This game can go on for several minutes.
When she has this twinkle in her eye and look of pure determination on her face. I know all the re-directing in the world won’t matter.
She is a mare on a mission.
And Bud being the gentleman that he is, just scoots over to share his pan of grain with her.
The only time he’d get upset is if she tried to completely move him away from his feed. That wouldn’t be pretty.
But Pepper knows better than to try that.
On the other hand, if Bud noses into Pepper’s feed pan, she usually gets huffy and walks away.
Her idea of sharing only seems to extend in one direction.
These two have been together twenty years and are much like an old married couple.
They know each other’s quirks and accept them.
They finish each other’s sentences – the horse version.
They know what to expect of each other.
There are few surprises anymore. In fact, I suspect the predictability is comforting to them.
Bud is completely unconditional in his acceptance of Pepper. He’s her rock. I think if he were able to speak, he’d tell me he likes her spunky sense of humor.
And Pepper, well she’s Bud’s comfort zone. As long as she’s around, he’s okay. We wouldn’t even consider vet care or farrier work with only one of them. They keep each other calmed down.
Come to think of it, Bud and Pepper have one of the healthiest, most stable relationships I know of.
We humans could learn a thing or two from them.
It happens to me quite often.
My mother used to tell me that I wear my heart on my sleeve. I think she worried that if I allowed myself to be vulnerable, I’d spend my life getting hurt.
And I guess she was right to some degree.
I’ve had my share of hurts.
But my emotional vulnerability has also opened me up and allowed me to experience wonderful, amazing, deep and rich feelings. Feelings that I never would want to miss out on.
So how does this relate to a blanket for Red?
Well, a storm was predicted yesterday. They were calling for heavy, wet snow and a lot of it. When I was out feeding our two old sweeties, I saw that many of the horses had blankets wrapped around them.
But the one that punched me in the emotional gut was Red, the rough and ready Mustang. In the years we’ve known him, he’s never worn a blanket. But he’s getting up there in years, and like Bud and Pepper, the winters are starting to be hard on him.
So when I saw him in this obviously old, well-used, torn blanket that is a bit too small, my heart just sprang open. I felt a rush of love for this sweet old boy and his people who clearly wanted to offer him some protection from the storm.
For just a moment, I felt all gushy. I commented to Red about his blanket and he seemed okay with it, even though it was tight and not all that stylish. Perhaps just the thing for a formerly wild horse of the plains.
These horses have become my family, and to some extent, I hope yours as well.
Doesn’t it feel reassuring to know they’re taken care of?
This human-animal bond is something else, isn’t it?
P.S. We got the snow!