The other night, when I walked the dogs it was so dark and so still, I could almost touch the air. Wind, trucks on the main road, jets over head, usually clutter the night with noise. We stopped to listen, but it wasn’t coyotes we heard howling, but my neighbor grieving her dog. It was so still, I wonder if the night itself hushed to remember the neighbors’ dog, an old farm guy they kept chained by their machine shed during the day, kept in a stall at night. He’d slipped on ice. Our neighbors could not take him to the vet because he bites and their vet would not come to him for the same reason. They said he lived to be twelve, old for a German Shepherd.
Other neighbors have hunted the coyotes, their howling when the trains sing the rails, mute. Bruce is not happy they’ve done this, even though the coyotes have run through our yard, up our drive, because we need them to cut back on vermin.
I’ve howled like this, hoping no one heard, because sometimes, some days, you just plain break and it does no good for people to listen or bear witness. When my mom died, I shrieked behind paper thin walls of 121, 2021 South Wolf Road. When I returned my neighbors had changed.
I used to think my horses could stand by, bear witness to my emotion like the kind of therapist trained to listen without judgement. A few times I’ve lost my temper in the barn, just lost it at mean weather or Bruce gone silent. I figured the walls would cover my temper, hold my fury closed in wood. But not the horses.
I forgot that what I’m feeling can startle because they might think it’s them, when it’s not and I can’t say, no, no it’s not you, it’s the weather, it’s Bruce, it’s life in general. So when I kicked the bucket, Tessie jumped to the back of her stall, turned her butt towards me, which she does even when I’m grooming Morgen, who lifted her eye over the stall wall, and nearly said, “See you do it too–you snap.”
I saw myself from their eyes-unpredictable, and scary at times, but also a source of good things. They stand at the gate, waiting.
Now I see how Morgen’s bucking in hand, another strong opinion shouted–comes from me too, because sometimes I just want to dance with my horses because I see something beautiful and wild when they tuck their heads and buck. Tonight I ran along the fence with Tessie and she bucked and trotted to my hand. I should stop this, I really should, but there’s joy in me, a bow not unlike Night dog when he grabs a toy and invites me to play. I am teaching them to buck. I have taught Morgen this because of the energy bubbling up, you know, like how a song makes you want to dance, only I’m not good at dancing, so I tap a hand or foot.
So what place does emotion have with horses, with the land itself, if I can hear a neighbor’s wail across the field and she can hear mine and worse yet I tell it on Twitter? What place my joy or anger when I’m supposed to dress up my emotions, slap patience over them like I do with my students, and be calm with my mares? What place does joy have, when I dare not admire the bucking and playing (but it is so beautiful) because that’s what I will get, and please no, not under saddle.
Some people say we leave strong emotion on a place like grease and that it needs to be blessed away, so the land can be calm. Others say horses don’t like us lying about what we’re feeling. That we feel what we feel and they can see us, but if we act confident and we are afraid, we blur and became scary to them. I don’t know about any of this. I just know that my horses are calling me to be present when I am with them, that Morgen will tug at me if my mind has skipped away. They are calling me to drop into my body and feel it. They are asking me to tell them what I am doing. They bid me be better than I am, not unlike the last counselor I saw, who invited me to reach for my better self, just by her presence, her respect for my soul.
As for our neighbors, Bruce and I brought them a pot of daisies and a card with a note saying our dogs don’t stay with us long enough.