26 March 2008

A horse is a horse...

I'm a city girl.

Well, technically I guess I'm a suburban girl but there never was a Suburban Mouse in the fable and so I've always identified with City Mouse. Plus Suburban Mouse sounds so....ordinary.

City Mouse is at home on the mean streets.
Country Mouse is at one with the land.
Suburban Mouse, well, she just goes to the mall.

So...let's shed the last 35 years and concentrate on the past 9 months.

(or squeak)
Now that we've got that out of the way let me tell you all about City Mouse's trip to the country.

A friend of mine knew I'd be alone for my first St. Paddy's day in Ireland, and while claiming she wasn't promising any dramatic entertainment, she invited me to her family's horse farm. As it turns out, I could not have been more entertained and delighted by two simple days!

We headed up Sunday morning, arriving in time for an early lunch, a bit earlier than her Mum expected us.

Early? Last minute guest? No problem! Rebecca's mother had a delicious lunch on the table in less than 30 minutes. I watched her swirl and twirl around her big comfy country kitchen, a dance of efficiency and long practiced capability. Tea, tuna salad, spinach soup, homemade bread AND scones (two kinds!! herb or raisin!! Is it any wonder I adored her right off the bat?) Not only this but she kept up her end of the conversation with Rebecca, listening to what was new in her daughter's life AND made me feel welcome with small talk.

Do you already get the feeling I'll be using the astounded and amazed "AND" a lot in this entry?
Damned right I will be.

After lunch I rolled up my jeans, was fitted with a pair of old muddy boots and given a tour of the farm with Rebecca and her dad. I think we were out there for at least two hours, maybe even three; I was enthralled, educated AND entertained the entire time.

It was all old rambling farmhouse, stables squared around a courtyard, outbuildings, stream with vine choked stone bridge, wooded lanes, grassy paths, mud so deep it almost pulled my boots off, a genuine and bona fide ruin AND a real live (award winning) bog!! I learned all about how a bog functions and was used AND I was able to stick my hand into and pull out a wad of like-mud-but-not-mud peat that I rolled up like a meatball.

Walled gardens, haylofts, daffodils, paddocks, stone walls both intact AND crumbling, foals gamboling playfully around their mamas!!!

We tramped from one field to the next, sometimes we opened the big ol' gates separating them sometimes we clambered over them...One thought kept popping into my head: what a magical place to grow up! Lucky Rebecca.

Near the river the mud is so thick and deep that if one person jumps nearby you can feel the jelly-like jiggle of the ground when they land.

I met a shaggy old pony who lived down by the river. (By the way, my city peeps: a pony is just a small horse, something I've always suspected but had confirmed.)

Rebecca's dad showed off by jumping up on a pony bareback; I was completely and utterly impressed!!!

In one field the mares ran right over to us, nudging and inspecting and bumping (aggressive? friendly? how the hell should I know? I am city mouse remember?) I was exhilarated AND maybe just a wee bit scared.

Now might be a good time to mention that I am deathly afraid of horses, due to an unfortunate experience with an angry horse in Florida who, through no fault of his own, tried to kill me. After my stint as Country Mouse I am willing to go down to DefCon 3 with regards to our equine friends.

The occupants of other fields mostly ignored us though we did get the yearlings and sheep (who share a field) running from us as we walked through their space. Sheep make a funny clicking sound when they all run together. And they only go far enough to get out of perceived harm's way then they stop...but the whole lot of them never stop looking at you, weighing you and measuring your threat capacity. It was funny and unnerving at the same time. Oh yeah, and sheep are much dirtier looking close up than they seem from the road. Sheep of the world, do not worry, I still like you, just no longer want to hug you.

And I learned...well...what didn't I learn?? I saw a piebald mare who was wall-eyed AND she had adopted a foal whose mother died. I saw an old limekiln for making the precursor to cement. I helped mix two kinds of feed and put a bucketful in each stable for the horses when they came in for the night. (wasn't it sweet of them to let me think I "helped?")

I met a "teaser" pony with long blond hair. A teaser pony's job is to get near a mare to see if she's ready to mate, or be "covered" as we say down on the farm. If she is not she'll let him AND everyone else know in no uncertain terms. Only Rebecca's fancy footwork saved her from a mare hoof in the belly as she held the not-ready-mare's reins.
If the mare is ready she'll submit to the teaser pony, at which point it's Rebecca's fathers job to pull him away and not let the poor pony finish the job. It's a tough life for that pony and frankly, I thought, a scary task for Dad. Is it any wonder I kept my distance during the whole process?
And for the record, lest you lose sleep at night worrying about this pony's frustration, occasionally they bring in a girl pony who is not too good to be "covered" by him and he finally gets to do the deed.

I met two sweet dogs named Shep and Pedro and an affectionate barn cat named...Momma I think. They all come right over as soon as you step out of the house, and if you pet one, you must pet them all. They insist. (Much to my delight.)

I saw the remains of a 1200 year old ring fort or as Rebecca called it, a fairy fort.
Fairy fort!?!?! Yay!!
A tree ringed raised mound, probably surrounded by two rows of palisade type fencing back when it was used for...well, we speculated what it was used for. People? Animals? Protection from other tribes? The elements? All the above? Maybe the fairies moved in after the people stopped using it? It was located on the highest bit of land and that circular space has never been razed or plowed or used at all. Besides the remains of the earthworks you can recognize a fairy fort from the white thorn trees encircling it. Be warned - it's considered bad mojo to mess with it.

I "helped" get the horses into their stable after Dad drove them in from the fields. Rebecca and I waited in the stable yard as they came in in small groups. Our job was to get them into their appropriate stalls (and I use the term "our" very loosely as I did almost nothing but watch and try not piss any horses off.) I did manage to be useful once by steering a foal into the stall with its mother. I did that by standing in its way, raising my hands and saying Hey where do you think you are going?*

*This is an absolutely true story.

I also held one horse by her....bridle? I am still learning the lingo, but the thingy coming out of her mouth. And I sort of led her to her home for the night, or she led me there, I am still not sure, but I was in mortal fear that she would realize I was a fraud and trample me on the spot just on principle. As she didn't, I count that as a win for me.

AND all this was just the outside!! Rebecca's family was almost all there: three sisters and the parents, we were missing just the one brother. I loved having meals surrounded by a table full of chattering, funny girls. Anyone who has met my family will know what I am talking about when I say it was fun being on the other side of things.

I could go on and on: the big ol' house with a thousand rooms and fireplaces everywhere, more delicious meals from Mom, all the classic and authentic country estate touches - made me think "Martha Stewart - eat your heart out - this is the real thing!" But most impressive of all was the warmth and hospitality - watching a loving, smart, funny and generous family AND being made to feel welcome.

Thanks Rebecca and thanks to your peeps, you are all amazing!!



beckajane said...

Hey Kelly, that was perhaps the cutest thing I have ever read!! you make it sound like i'm from some fairy tale place where it never rains... ;) thank you so much for your company, you made the family more bearable. chris and you are totally invited back.. i mean you got it straight from the master of the house (thats my dad.. )

come back soon...

Anonymous said...

OMG! Ponies! Foals! Scones! Becca!

This is an amazing essay, Shirl. Magical AND well-written. I feel like I was there, and I wish I was!

I dream of one day going to the place where Becca's and fairytales are made...but I am deathly allergic to horses, so maybe that's not a good idea?

But WOW, I already know there are going to be some drawings inspired by this post...thanks for sharing!


Anonymous said...

Can you book me and my family for 10 days , summer of 2009 ? Serious !
great essay, Kel. I am most intrigued by the fairy circle. I ahve to to this lovely place. Love, Helen
PS Tell Beccajane that we have a LAurajane.

Anonymous said...

Quickly run to the nearest newspaper and get a job writing a column!! You have such a way with words, my dear sister. I, too, want to go the Rebecca of Sunnybrook farms house! Actually, I'm thinking, you and alli should collaborate and write/illustrate a book together. I see great things happening! love you,