Saturday morning was great. The overnight temp was around 50 degrees so all of the barn doors were left open without worry that the horses would get chilled. They greeted me — heads over their stall doors, eyes bright, ears forward — as I walked in. And this is how I became a morning person.
In her fantastic book In Service To The Horse, Susan Nusser writes about Samantha, a groom to a set of elite sporthorses, who says of the horses and the early start to her days “Mornings are when they love you best.” In my experience this is absolutely true and I suppose Samantha’s words have become my mantra.
I have long mused that mucking is my meditation and I really mean it. There is a quality to a horse barn in the early morning that imparts a feeling far more spiritual than that of any cathedral I have entered. There is a stillness to the barn that paralyzes busyness. Frenzy and rushing have no place in the barn. As the sunlight peeks in over the window sills the horses calmly begin to eat their breakfast hay and the mucking meditation begins.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “mucking” is the act of cleaning manure and urine-soaked bedding out of a horse’s stall. A stall must be mucked out at least once a day, and if a horse is unfortunate enough to be injured and is required to live in his stall for a period of recuperation, the stall will need to be picked and mucked out more often. There is an old adage about little girls who refuse to clean their bedrooms but who will ride their bikes through heavy rain to get to the barn and muck stalls. When you are lucky enough to work with horses even the act of cleaning their stalls for them is an enjoyable task.
My horse Hero has been with me for three years. In those three years I have missed only eight mornings with him because I was traveling. When I am away I miss him and our routines intensely.
The early Saturday morning sunlight brightened the barn and the warm spring air made it comfortable to work in shirt sleeves. As Hero ate his breakfast hay I scooped manure and wet bedding out of the stall and into the manure skiff. His stall door was wide open and he was completely comfortable with me walking around him, sorting through the stall shavings as he sorted through his hay. I don’t worry that he will kick me. (In our early days together, before we knew each other, I was careful to always touch his hindquarters and talk to him as I worked around him so he wouldn’t be frightened and kick, and in time I earned his trust.) When I finished with the stall, I left the door wide open as I went to get him fresh water. He looked over his shoulder at me, acknowledging my whereabouts, but he made no move to leave. Thus, Hero has earned the privilege of an open stall door. And I have earned an intense feeling of connection with this horse. I crave our time together.
Once the horses finish eating, they are groomed and turned out in the field for grazing and exercise. At this point the day begins to lose some of its charm because they are off on their own being horses and the magic of the morning has faded. I linger in the barn, cleaning out water buckets, sweeping the aisle, emptying the manure skiff into the ever-expanding manure pile at the edge of the farm. I store the horses’ halters and leads and grooming kits, tidy up, and make my notes about their daily care. Other commitments begin to enter my thoughts and as the sun rises higher I reluctantly leave the barn, already missing the quiet moments with my boy, silently wishing him “have a good day, buddy” and already looking forward to the meditation that awaits me, God willing, tomorrow morning.