Sunday, July 20, 2014

Day 255 - July 13th

Calera, Alabama
MS left today in his Sunday best, a tailored grey suit and his staff carved into the shape of a horse’s head. Dressing up is not an easy task for MS. He joked it takes him a half hour to button his shirt. Knowing what labor went into wrestling with his suit for church gave the Sunday ritual a surprising dignity. He cuts an elegant and handsome figure, a true Southern gentleman. We shook hands and as he strode down the porch steps he turned, looked directly at me and said, “I envy your adventure, Sam.” There are moments in conversations when eyes convey more meaning than words.

Haleigh and I helped Donna with chores around the farm. What I appreciated about staying with Donna was her involving me in the daily tasks and putting me to use. We hung chicken wire around a small area where Donna’s two game chickens could graze without running loose. I’m out of practice with a hammer but by the end I got a handle on hitting staples into trees. I collected chicken eggs from the coop before we returned to the house for sweet tea made with honey produced by Donna’s bees. I love the subtle sweetness of honeyed tea.

Afterwards Donna and I observed Haleigh work the horses. Over the course of many sit-ins on Haleigh and Donna’s work, I had the opportunity to learn how little I know about horses. Haleigh was prepping a horse named Diesel to be ridden for what may have been his first time. Haleigh proceeded slowly and measurably up to the saddle, first stepping into a stirrup, then down. Up then down. After a few times, she applied weight, leaning back to test Diesel’s comfort with what she was doing. Donna’s teaching emphasizes incremental adjustments in behavior when training horses. When a horse moves or acts even a little in the way you want, praise it; horses learn from the release of pressure, not its application. When Donna was in her twenties, she and her friends would leap onto horses with few precautions and utter recklessness because they were young and good at what they did. Their wild approach to wild horses had consequences though and Donna has a long list of broken bones to show for it. She doesn’t want the same for Haleigh and has taught her a new methodology. Older and wiser now, Donna understands the relationship between horses and humans and how best to elicit the right behavior from her charges. She laments the fact that after a lifetime spent mastering horse training, her body can’t act with the same vigor and agility she exhibited in youth but she passes on her knowledge to Haleigh. Even so, Haleigh has already broken a foot and cracked her ribs and pelvis. There were other injuries but I don’t remember all of them. All I know is I’ve never broken anything in my body and I’m 8 years older than her!

At dark, Haleigh and I drove the golf cart to the barn to feed the horses. Haleigh admitted she was a bit afraid of the dark so I accompanied her. Haleigh did most of the chores since she knew what to do but I had a very important job that only I could do: wield the spotlight. It was a nice way to get to know Haleigh better. During the day, Haleigh’s focus on work is in full-throttle and she’s naturally more introverted. But at night she’s loopy with exhaustion from waking up at 5:30 a.m. and working all day and we joked around the whole time as she opened and closed gates, prepared the feed and filled water buckets. Then whooping and hollering in the warm night, we whipped the golf cart around back towards the yellow lights of the house.  

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