| Michael Fralich, Norumbega Farm |
Wednesday, January 1, 2020
I went down to the barn at approximately 7:00 am. It was not quite day yet but it was also no longer night. As I neared the barn, the heady aroma of large animals came to me in the cold winter air. Mocha was bounding through the new eight inches of snow to keep up with me. Cyra and her barn mate, Teddy, were out in the pasture. They were standing in the small stand of pine trees at the far side of the pasture. I grabbed Cyra’s riding halter and trudged through the new snow to get to them.
I gave Cyra’s shaggy neck a strong scratch before I slipped the rope halter over her nose. I noticed to my dismay that her forelock and leg feathers were full of burrs. Walking back to the barn with her I resolved not to take her out for our New Year’s ride until I had removed the burrs from her hair. When we entered the barn aisle with its concrete floor, Cyra’s studded shoes crunched on the hard surface. Mocha trotted after us, barking at Cyra to let her know she was herding her into the barn.
I pulled apart the burrs with my fingers as Cyra stood patiently, enjoying her hand grooming. I finished off my chore with a mane and tail brush, swept up the aisle and led my friend out of the barn and to the mounting block. I had added last year what I call my Senior Risers to the mounting block. These consist of 4×4’s attached to the bottom of the block. Because Cyra is so short (not technically a horse, she is a draft pony), getting on her is a joy. I always ride her bareback so when standing on the top stair of the block I actually am higher that her back. It makes this old man smile every time I get on her.
Walking down the driveway, I gave her a choice at the end to go either left away from the public road or right towards Intervale Road. She chose right. Mocha danced along side of us on her own adventure. The sky was a brilliant blue with the just rising sun about to clear the trees. The morning sun made the newly fallen snow a blinding white as we crunched down the road. Cyra was alert but a willing participant in our new year’s adventure. When we neared the Blackburn Homestead, she decided to turn in for a visit. No one was out as it was still early. We left our tracks to give them clues as to our visit.
When we returned to Woodman Road and neared the Bolducs’ driveway, Cyra became agitated and attempted to turn to go home. Having a physical “discussion” with a thousand pound plus animal while on her back is an interesting challenge. First comes strength and next comes patience. With considerable force (no bit in her mouth so all pressure is on her nose) I hauled on the reins to head her back in the direction we were originally headed. I asked her to stand. I took several deep breaths. I waited. After what seemed an appropriate amount of time, I soothingly asked her to walk on. She had shifted in her mind to accept my agenda and off we set.
With no more complaints from my partner, we made our way past the Thurston Wildlife Marsh and up the rise overlooking the marsh. Cyra continued to show interest in every driveway we passed but did no more “dancing” in the road. When a vehicle approached us, I called “Over” to Mocha and she trotted to our side and sat when asked. In a stand of poplars, we heard blue jays talking to each other. The low dawn sun cast a long shadow of Cyra and me on the white road. I, like Cyra, rode with awareness. My motto in riding is “Loose and Light”: loose on the reins and light on her back. Combined with an awareness of her body language and the world around us, we did OK.
When we got to the Pierce Farm, we turned into their barn road, turned around and headed home at a trot. Trotting bareback requires one stay as centered as possible. The movement transmitted from a moving thousand pound animal is considerable. With no stirrups to ground the rider, he or she must find a place of balance that is kind to one’s mount and keeps the rider over the horse’s core. The temptation is to clench one’s thighs but this prevents the rider from finding a physical harmony with the horse. It is a workout for both of us but great fun too. I let her choose her transition, coming down into as walk when she was ready. We would walk for a hundred yards or so. I would cluck my tongue and of we would set off at a fast clip. Mocha “dog trotted” beside us.
When we got to Durham Road we slowed our pace to a relaxed walk. I closed my eyes. I let the reins go slack. Cyra knew the way home. There would be no more trotting. She was not so anxious to get home that I could trust her not to bolt for the barn (she has never done that). I trusted her to take me home safely. I counted her strides for a while as a sort of moving meditation. I let that go and just relaxed into the movement of Cyra’s body. I felt when she turned into the barn driveway. I opened my eyes. We were home. We had seen in the new year and new decade just as I had hoped. I felt so blessed.