Yesterday, I was reminded of why it is that I like living in New England, even though it is a long, long way from home. It’s expensive and it rains endlessly, and is no kind of home for tomatoes, and I always stick out like a sore thumb, and find myself perpetually explaining that 1) George W isn’t actually a Texan, he’s from Connecticut, and 2) not all Texans are raving anti-intellectual lunatics. On the whole, it is best when our wack-ass politics are not on the public stage…Bill Clements: the Once And Future Governor, Kinky Friedman, and Marvin Zindler, Dolph Briscoe, and the Chicken Ranch notwithstanding. Still…there are some compensations. My husband and Huey are here, for one. Most years it doesn’t rain endlessly, and we get good seasons, for two. Better local produce and meats, for three. Farm Stands – can’t forget those. Proximity to Vermont and Maine…that’s also a huge plus. The Berkshire summer arts scene, that’s pretty great. Being able to have the windows open for months on end…nice.
There’s a flock of about fifty Canada geese flying low and loud under my window. They birds are on the move, which tells me that despite the bright sunny day, there is more weather arriving soon. If I must have a herald of a big storm, let it always been a horde of honking geese on the wing. It’s a warning that warms my heart to see.
Yesterday was one of those Perfect Days. It started with the sun (that was a nice surprise!) and moved on to spectacular fall color (finally!) and a brisk wind to make the leaves blow about. It had a long chat with an old friend, and moved on to one of my favorite places (right up there with Vermont and Maine)…the Barn. I think it’s been two weeks since I had an actual riding lesson, what with wanting to work on Huey’s manners with ground work, and the rain, and the tragedy earlier in the week. This was my first lesson in the new tack. It was also the first lesson where I wasn’t ready to stop when it was over – I didn’t realize how tiring it was to ride in the old small saddle. It helps that I got the AARP-approved flexible stirrups. (I don’t know that AARP has actually approved them, but if they knew about these things, I’m sure they would approve…they’re great for anyone who doesn’t have the hips, knees, and ankles of a teenager.) We worked on getting used to the new gear. We worked on a few 20-meter circles. We worked on upward transitions – Huey’s upward transitions yesterday were…explosive. Some of that, I think, was the weather – all breezy and crisp and sunny; some was that he had only been ridden once in the last week; some was that he just has a lot of Go; and some was the new tack – I didn’t realize how hard I’d been working to get a leg on with the old gear. Now I feel like I barely touch him and he’s off!
I’ve been looking forward, for ages, to riding at the stables in the fall. The Barn is the classic New England red, and the ring is the classic white fence, and it’s shaded by trees, all of which are turning the most splendid colors right now. And it’s tucked away in hills that rise off to the back. It’s too charming for words, really. I don’t usually ride in the middle of the day – this was a reschedule due to the rain – and I consequently had the Profound Pleasure of grooming Huey out with an audience of kids. Some very little kids who wanted to hand feed him hay, a potentially disastrous urge given Huey’s feelings about All Things Hay. Some older kids who gave me a huge grin, watching them try to get one of the more opinionated horses to cooperate with the grooming routine. But the best bit was when I had two or three of them come around to admire Huey, and ask what his name was, and what kind of horse is he, and did I ride him…and when I told them “Oh, yes, I ride him. This is my horse!” I got to watch their eyes light up and their jaws drop and listen to them gasp.
“You have a horse?!?!” they said. In tones that took me right back to my own youth. “WOW!”
Their mom showed up and we got to go through it again. “This is your horse? Wonderful! How long have you had him?”
I did a quick count. “Twelve days,” I said. Turns out mom was a horse junkie as a teen, setting the kids up for lessons, and having a distinctive and unique sort of Horse Person experience. Horse People are intoxicated by the smell of a horse barn. The leather, the horses, the horse poop, the dirt, the hay…it is like showing a white line of powder to a coke head. You can actually watch this happen: they look perfectly sane when they arrive in the car, but as soon as they open the door or the window, the eyes glaze over, the noses go up, they start inhaling visibly, and they’re drawn in like iron filings to a magnet. Heck, it happens to me, too. It happens more when I’m near my own horse – he smells GREAT to me. His new girth was itching him and I had to bring hit home to launder it – within five minutes it caused my entire study to start smelling like Huey, and I buried my nose in it all the way down to the basement laundry. Now I understand why people want to cut off and keep their horse’s tails and manes when the horse dies. I’m sure I’ll want to do the same. This smell makes you high. Non Horse People do not respond in this same way. I’m starting to wonder if it’s all genetic, somehow. Anyway, I gave kid mom a little push to start riding again, because – as I knew from earlier this summer – there’s nothing that a Horse Person likes more than hooking another Horse Person – or hooking them more firmly.
I’m thinking this probably sounds very silly, but I just don’t care. It was an absolutely indescribable pleasure to impress a band of small horse-crazy kids by telling them that Huey is My Horse. Maybe it’s the thrill of hooking a fresh generation of Horse People. I don’t know…maybe it’s the thrill of Huey. At the risk of sounding like the infatuated new parent I am, he really is Something Special. Everyone agrees: even the farrier and the vet and the vet’s Girl Friday. He’s huge and he’s sweet and he’s got a cute little blaze and his winter coat is coming in a little wavy and he’s got a goofy, good-natured look and a temperament to match. Yeah. He’s really something great.
He also has hair-trigger reflexes, as I discovered when my trainer moved a rake to a place he hadn’t seen it before, and he spooked. And again, as we were trotting around the ring and a gust of wind blew one of the chairs over. He shied out a good three paces before getting it under control. That was a bit hairy for a moment, for sure…
So with this kind of start to the day – Huey being awesome, impressing little kids, fine weather at last – everything else was just gravy. Only, in this case, “everything else” involved hopping into the car and driving to Stamford, and taking a train into the city for a dinner date. We discovered a terrific pub on the upper west side. I had an amazing pumkin beer – just the right amount of pumpkin and spice, not too much – and an even better IPA. We called to wish my mother-in-law a Very Happy Birthday, and went on to dinner at a little French bistro tucked away in an improbable neighborhood. Had a delicious duck pate to start, followed that up with a rosemary roasted rack of lamb, and an insanely good dessert – a pear, sliced and held together by the stem-end, served with a light chocolate and cognac sauce. Holy cow it was good. And wrapped it up with a snifter of Calvados.
From the Horse Barn to Manhattan in four hours. That, alone, is enough cause to love living in New England.