I wanted to tell you about the team of horses I used to drive when I worked at Bunker Hills Stables. After spending 6 to 8 hours leading trail rides all day, the hay rides would begin. There were three teams to pull hay rides, but if I needed to drive one, I always got Bill and Bob.
To harness them, I’d bunch up as much of the harness as I could in my hands, bend my knees, rock up and down a few times to gain momentum, and then jump up in the air, throwing the harness on. I suppose a stepping stool would have been handy.
Once the team was ready, I’d walk them out to the hay rack (or sled, if it was winter) and hitch them up. I loved the hitching part of the process. It’s an amazing feeling to walk behind two draft horses and have them respond to your “Gee” and “Haw” and “Whoah” and “Back” when they could just as easily have run to Timbuktu with you.
K was driving one of the other teams one evening, and she called on the walkie talkies we carried, sobbing so badly, we could barely understand her. Joe, who had been working with K’s team all week, grabbed Bill and Bob and told T and me to come with him. Joe took off at a trot that developed into a gallop, as T and I clung to the front of the rack and spread our feet for balance.
It had been raining earlier that day so there was a lot of mud and water on the trail. As Bill and Bob galloped, their huge feet threw mud and water up at us. I looked at T and burst out laughing because his face was flecked with big blobs of mud. I felt my own face and hair and found I was no better off, as puddle after puddle splashed up at us.
I felt like I was in an old, western the way we were running, Joe slapping the reins and yelling “Hee aaah” at Bill and Bob, urging them to go faster. The trail was narrow and it wound through the middle of a swamp, with muck to get stuck in or to tip us on either side. Trees ran dangerously close to clipping our wheels. My heart was pounding, partially with the fear of being killed, but also with the thrill of racing down the trail.
I listened to the rhythm created by the horses steady hoofs and the loud rolling sound of their breathing. It was one of the many times I was with a horse that I felt my awareness of everything around me amplified – how it smelled, sounded, looked, and felt. Like when you just have to smile and laugh, maybe even cry, because you feel so alive.
We found K holding the team, while the hay rack sat smashed between two trees. Fortunately, no one had been on the rack when it crashed. K and I took the people back with Bill and Bob, while Joe and T dealt with the other team and the broken hay rack.
It was funny the kind of weather that people would show up in to go on a hay ride. They came stocked with schnapps and other liquor and stayed huddled in the hay with blankets so I guess they didn’t feel the cold the way we often did. Anyone remember Moon Boots — those big, puffy, foam-filled boots that made you look like your feet were as wide as they were long? Well, they kept my feet warm through the worst weather.
We were kind of like the postal service — neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, could keep us from going out. One snow storm was so bad, I couldn’t tell exactly where the trail was or where the other two teams were. I relied on Bill and Bob to not get off course or run into anyone.
It was a wet, icy snow that landed on my eyelashes and froze, making it hard to blink and see through. My face, gloves, feet, everything was soaked. Using our walkie talkies, all of us drivers sang songs and told stupid jokes to each other. We laughed at how crazy we all must be, not to mention the idiots that were riding with us, to be out in such a storm.
Horse people often talk about the lessons they learn from horses. Well, from Bill and Bob I learned that I was stronger and more capable than I thought I was.
My husband at that time was not very nice to me. I’d go to the stable feeling powerless, incompetent, and afraid. Then I’d harness up Bill and Bob, pick up the reins and walk behind those huge, muscular butts feeling like Xena the Warrior Princes, getting ready to drive my charriot.
My Xena and Callisto action figures
I loved those horses for how they respected me and listened to the cues I whispered to them through my hands and voice. They were gentle giants who were in my life at that moment to help me feel like a worthwhile human being, worthy of respect and gentlemanly treatment.
I don’t have any team’s to drive right now, but I do have two good boys to help me recall those feelings of strength and just the simple, fun pleasure of being outside and enjoying life again.
p.s. If you used to watch Xena or are curious, check out this clip of Xena and Callisto. You might not like the music, but I love the horse race scene.