My fellow barn worker Lois, is a tough cowgirl of the strong and silent variety. The first day we worked together, I wanted so badly to appear tough too because there are few things worse than a co-worker who can’t carry her own weight.
Lois quickly worked her line of stalls, shoveling, hauling muck buckets and hay bales like there was nothing to it. I tried to keep up, working my line of stalls across from her, as we enjoyed the shared solitude of good hard work. The stalls had automatic waterers which we scraped out to allow fresh water to flush in. This is one of the easier jobs -- except that my first one had a drowned mouse in it.
I have worked in various barns for 20 years and have yet to get used to a mouse sighting, dead or alive. I think barn cats are worth their weight in gold but sadly this barn’s cats missed out on this little snack. Ugh! I stifled a scream but couldn’t bear it. Embarrassingly, I had to go beg Lois to throw it out for me.
She glanced up from picking through wood shavings sure I was joking. I wished I was. She shrugged and grabbed my scraping bucket from me. I couldn’t even watch as she took care of the corpse. Stifling a sigh, she passed the bucket back to me and suggested I give the waterer a good cleaning.
After chores, side by side, we groomed the horses we were going to ride out on the trail. Both belonged to the stables’ owner, and Lois and I had work-to-ride leases. I asked her how long she had been working there.
“Five years now,” she said, rubbing the gelding’s poll affectionately. “Finding this stable was one of the best things that ever happened to me. This is Thunder. He saved my life.” I could barely make out her last sentence as she stopped currying his back to stare appreciatively into his eyes for a long moment. That was the first time I saw her take a break from working all morning.
I may not be as tough as Lois on the outside but we share equally tender insides and were immediately soul sisters. I didn’t need to ask for an explanation. I get it. I know I would have had an emotional breakdown years ago had it not been for the horses whose paths I had crossed. I had instantly connected to Sport, the horse I was now grooming. I could tell that he would be my next 'lifesaver' to get me through the many upheavals of my ever-changing life, as he continued to lick and kiss my hand long after my peppermints were gone.
Recently I saw an ad for an animal rescue where a woman cradles a trembling kitten in her arms and the banner underneath is the story of my life with horses: “He thinks I rescued him but he’s got it backwards.”