What does the horsey say? Neigh!

My first day of work after arriving in Bridgeport, Connecticut was with the Aspetuck Land Trust, one of our project sponsors. Sunday was their annual family fun fest, a fund raising and awareness event at which families in the community can participate in various activities like a nature walk, tractor ride, face painting, and pony rides! My job for the day was assisting with the pony rides, essentially lifting east-coast kids up into the saddles all day long and laughing to myself as their parents walked along side in their penny loafers, taking pictures and side stepping shit. Monotonous, but fun. And it made me miss the farm at home so much.

From Ardor, Zest.


I suppose my fascination with the farm, or even farming lifestyle, began at some unidentifiable point and has grown rapidly since I was immersed following my junior year of high school in the manual labor my male (but not female) relatives were entitled/obliged to do.

From Ardor, Zest.


Trying to remember my earliest memories of the farm I am taken to thoughts of climbing on what seemed to be an ancient wooden fence with corrals... and drinking penny-flavored soda water. Soda Springs, Idaho is a rural place where our family's cattle ranged and we took (to my memory) a single camping trip. I remember the wind, tall grass, steers and heifers, and the four-wheeler we rode around on. The details are vague.

The horses, however, are an ever-present memory I will always keep with me. I distinctly remember being lifted as just a little girl into a saddle with my older brother on his horse, I can't remember her name now, and holding onto his shirt so hard my hands went numb for fear of falling to the ground. I'm sure I pinched him hard as we were lead around the backyard for my earliest trips. I also remember sitting in an uncomfortable position near the saddle horn while sharing many rides with cousins and friends during Easter gatherings, summer visits and farm trips. Worried that the old and tired horses' backs would sag like the old mare in so many children's books, I wonder if with all the weight of the many kids our horses carried they would have irreplaceable back problems and we wouldn't be able to ride anymore. Happily graduating to the large-enough size that guaranteed single placement on a sprier horse, I rode by myself and began to help on the farm. Eventually learned to saddle the horses myself for weekend rides around Plymouth when I wasn't working and enjoyed the personal time spent luring them with grain to ease their bridles on, grooming their shiny coats, and imagining beautifully braided tails like Patty gave to her horse when she showed.

I think the fondest memories I have of horse riding are those from time spent gathering and herding cattle out west & on Merrill's Mountain. I looked forward to nothing more than the mid-summer round-ups, in spite of the impending soreness I knew lay ahead from 10+ hours spent in the saddle. The cranky old men my grandpa brought in to help, my brother teaching me how to ride for extended periods of time, and my dad teaching how to canvas an area for any cattle hidden in the trees.

An emotionally intense experience stands out in my mind from a hot summer day on Merrill's rounding up the cattle. It was my first real cattle push, from the top cell tower down near interstate where we would load the cattle on the trailers, and my dad explained the basics to me as we drove up as high as the truck and trailer would take us, unloaded, and rode the rest of the way, checking the fence-line for any problems as we went along. He explained that I should weave back and forth while making a fair amount of ruckus, hootin' and hollerin' or singing songs as I worked my way down and listening keenly for sounds of movement that signaled a straggler. Higher and higher we rode, through wide open grassy areas and through trees and eventually the rocky area at the top. After I asked what questions came to mind and he reminded me that it was imperative I don't leave any cattle behind, we started working our way down. Within only a few minutes he announced he would go down the southwest side and I would be alone working down a canyon just below the tower on the west face. Alone?! I began stumbling over my words and begging to stay together a little longer, but dad took off on his own and left me to figure it out.

I suppose I should give a little background information about my dad's teaching methods. They've always seemed rather abrupt to me and every time I've learned a new task from him I have spent the first 5-45 minutes cursing his name, often shedding a few tears, and sometimes making a hesitant phone call to announce my (hopefully not too major) mistake and lack of knowledge to fix the problem. You see, dad works like this: He gives a demonstration, no longer than one round of the assigned task or 10 minutes (time is precious and he's a busy man-- at least that's how I perceived his quick departure), asks for any questions, and then flies away to his next project. This type of teaching was true for every single farm task I was given: Irrigating; using heavy farm equipment such as the tractors, swather, steiger, 10-wheel silage truck with as many gears as wheels; loading hay and straw bales onto a flat bed trailer; and of course, all work related to cattle. I realize now that he's just not a micro-manager and I appreciate that he trusted my ability to problem solve and learn quickly.

Anyhow, dad took off to work his side and left me to work my own. My brother Tyson was missing work that day for whatever reason and his absence left me with Shorty, his usual horse. There were other horses I thought were more appropriate for a first-timer, horses that weren't so independent or stubborn or fiery, but because it was a big day and we had enlisted all the help available, my dad gave those mild-mannered horses to my cousins and I hopped on the horse my brother said would do all the work himself. Great!

Not so great. Shorty wanted to do all the work himself; unfortunately he wanted to do all the work in the ridge line, not near the ravine, and I suspect that all my coaxing, pulling on the reins, and foul mood only aggravated him. We came to a complete deadlock. I wasn't about to give in and let him take the easy way out and he wasn't going to let me tell him how to do his job. I begged, I cried, I got off the horse and threw a temper trantrum. I cursed my father, I cursed my sore bottom, and then sucked it all up and walked that horse down the mountain. I felt defeated. I had no cell phone reception to make a call and ask what I should do and I had very little experience communicating with animals-- after all, they are just dumb animals, right? Wrong! After giving myself blisters on my feet, losing one of my leather gloves, and crying in the shade of the ravine after finally getting to where I needed to be, I decided this wasn't going to get the best of me.

I found what I needed to find, strength within myself to keep going and a couple of heifers relaxing near a small grove of trees, I told Shorty that we were going to be partners. It worked. Over those next few weeks and months I familiarized myself with the most effective ways to transmit my expectations to the horses, and I learned a great deal about their personalities. Yes, Shorty was an ass to me that day, but my brother was right in saying he's an independent, well-trained working horse. Oh, the horses. So many fond memories.

Blackie, the gentle old horse that was great with the kids but lazy when it came to herding cattle; Shorty, the spunky horse we acquired when the Evans still lived at Severson's during my 4th grade, a horse who could round up cattle on his own and also the only one to nearly buck me off; Pepsi, one of the many names for another brown horse was often in the pasture in our backyard; Pup, the reddish-brown horse with white hooves that Josh rides and that spent so much time recovering from a nasty encounter with barbed wire; Bali, a beautiful red horse my grandpa always rode-- not sure if this the same one on which he was injured; Dizzle, another kid-friendly horse that was assigned to the youngest or least-experienced riders; A beautiful butter-colored horse, whose name and breed I cannot remember, maybe a palomino, that dad or Joe rode.


From Ardor, Zest.


I miss those days. I talked my dad last weekend and he said the horses are in the pasture-- it wouldn't be hard to saddle them up and take 'em out when I get home. I look forward to it.

In the meantime, I am trying to gain a better understanding of American agriculture and rural society throughout the last 50 years. When I was in New Haven, CT last weekend browsing a used boookstore/coffee shop I bought what seems to be a sentimental book, titled Broken Heartland: The Rise of America's Rural Ghetto. It isn't necessarily a scholarly explanation of the rise and fall of farming in America but it is giving me a great understanding and some knowledge to work off for future research. I only recently started the book, which kicks off with the description of a mid-western family struggling to keep their farmland because of debt and eventually having to sell, or have it repossessed and auctioned off. It's a familiar story where I grew up. It then turns into an explanation of the farm crisis in the 80's... and this is where I stop explaining. I'm trying to learn more before I really talk about it because my knowledge is small. Both my brother and dad have tried explaining to it me and I feel that if I do some serious reading I will learn more from them when I get home and try those conversations again.

It's late. I love my family. Good night.

Comments

  1. I am really kinda jealous that you got to work on the farm! I wish I could help. I love you and see you SOON!!!!!!! :D

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love this post. It makes me smile and cry at the same time. Love you and miss you more! :)

    ReplyDelete

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