A Hug From A Horse

Boerderij Dronkers - Belgisch trekpaard

Boerderij Dronkers – Belgisch trekpaard

It was stunningly cold, the frost was going to be a hard one that night and it was coming on top of the fog that had descended over the fields like a white duvet just before dusk. I had been inside all day with my mother, we were cooking foods for the weekend’s events in her big farmhouse kitchen. The large cooking range was as hot as I had ever felt it in my life and the whole house had the distinct odour of warm yeast and baked foods. After some ten hours I was all but half-baked myself and had to get some air. My guide dog and my oldest daughter’s assistance dog were also itching to stretch their legs outside having patiently hung about indoors for much of the day – though the procurement of scraps of fresh baked cakes and pastries did at least provide some other reward for them.

 

This time of the evening my wife was busy bathing our youngest two little ones so my sister offered to be my escort for a walk. With the dogs harnessed up and all of us wrapped up well in country outer coats, hats and scarves we ventured out. As my sister was going to be my eyes so she held my left forearm. Sissi was in her usual guard position on my right with my right hand having a firm grip on her handle of her harness. In the city at night I can see blurred lights, I can tell when I pass shop windows as the light pattern that my brain registers changes, but on the farm, away from the house or barns, it is simply black and so I would be blind. As I stepped into the blackness I was aware of my heart rate leaping towards panic and anxiety, these days I find it very hard to step into the dark. When this happens I have taught myself to think of all those who are truly blind and have to find courage for each step they take, thinking of them helps me to keep control of my own mind and stopping it from turning to mush. The sharpness of the biting cold air was permeating every centimetre of my lungs now, blasting out the day’s oven heat and re-energising my body. The skin on my face started reacting to the coldness and I felt my skin tightening as if the capillaries under my skin were freezing. While I could not see my breath as I exhaled I was aware of the warmer cloud of it as it condensed and drifted away, I was also aware of my sisters breath next to me floral and sweet. Not so sweet was the breath of the dogs wafting up to my nostrils. Happy to be out in the air they were snorting down great gulps of the country air and doubtless revelling in all the farm’s smells which to them must have been a bright colourful smorgasbord of sensations – wouldn’t it be wonderful if those who lost their sight gained a dogs sense of smell in return, imagine the pictures that must be painted in their minds by scents !

Boerderij Dronkers - Belgisch trekpaard

Boerderij Dronkers – Belgisch trekpaard

The further we walked the deeper the cold night air seeped into us, it was wonderful! Little tendrils of cold were working their way around my neck between scarf and flesh, and up under my hair where it was not covered by my fur hat. My moleskin pants, while fairly heavy, were slowly succumbing to the cold as my knees and thighs started to taste the cold breath of the freezing fog oozing through the tight weave of the fabric. From where my body came into contact with my sister’s I could feel she was talking to Hilke. In the dark we would not be straying off the farm paths both for my sake and Hilke’s so I guessed we were heading out towards the woods that screened the eastern flank of the farm and provided shelter for the house and farm buildings from the worst of the cold winds that swept off the North German plains and continental Russia. A tap on my left hand indicated that Carol wanted to talk to me so we paused as I removed my glove so she could sign onto my palm. The cold air gripped my hand like an icy handshake and only slightly warmed again as Carol held my hand and signed onto it. She told me that Hilke wanted to stop at the horse fields which lay between farm and woods and give the horses something. It would mean stepping off the path for a while, but the horses were well worth the risk. My parents have always helped with preserving rare and old breeds of animals and these included providing stabling and space for some Belgian Trekpaards (Belgian Plough Horses), the gentle giants of horses.

 

It is not easy walking over uneven ground when you cannot see, if you doubt this just try it for yourself with a blindfold. It is however very much easier when you have a sister and a guide dog who you would trust with your life. After a few minutes of slowly stepping over now frozen mud ruts we came to rest at the fence. Carols hand was replaced with Hilke’s much smaller, but much hotter, hand. With a speed I struggled to follow she told me that Opa had given her a big sack-bag of apples for the horses. She must have pulled the draw string open on the bag because a wave of sweetness hit my senses. There is no doubt that toffee made from Molasses has a very distinct smell. These were horse toffee apples and I knew from experience that on a cold night like this they were cap nip to any horse. Sure enough I felt the ground begin to thump under us, so did Sissi, she became nervous and I had to talk to her to calm her. In my mind I could picture the scene now unfolding – several very large animals, bred especially for their size and strength, would now be belting across the fog bound field shrouded in darkness. At a tonne a piece they would need every square centimetre of those very big feet of theirs to come to a stop before the fence and our little group and the slightly disturbing thought was that this was happening on a grassy field now covered in frost.

 

Boerderij Dronkers - Belgisch trekpaard

Boerderij Dronkers – Belgisch trekpaard

One moment I was standing there at the wooden fence surrounded by still blackness, enveloped by fog, smothered by cold, wrapped in the warmth of good clothing, an island of myself thoroughly internalised despite being out in the big external world. Then as the ground was pounding enough to feel like it was lift the soil underneath my boots the air suddenly exploded about us.

 

A wall of hot air was blasted over us, saturated with the dense, heavy odour of horses. The combined snorting, puffing and blowing of five pairs of huge horse lungs was being pumped out over us, radiant heat from five 16 hand horse bodies was suddenly right up against us. Excited horse heads were insistently nudging us now and it felt like they were amongst our little group despite the intervening fence. For a few moments I realised I would be on my own as carol would be busy making sure Hike’s fingers were not mistaken for food as molasses apples were snatched up by enthusiastic equine mouths. Once the horses realised that there would be enough apples to go around they started to calm down and took time to snuzzle us and playfully search through coat pockets. Despite their considerable size they are the most gentle, placid and considerate of breeds and are very affectionate. One of the mares, Dotty, draped her head over my shoulder and for all the world I felt like I was being hugged. She was pushing her nose into my part open coat over my chest and taking deep breaths in clearly enjoying something in my scent and her breaths out practically blew my coat off ! I thought it only fair to do the same so I pushed my face into her neck and breathed her in, as I did so I felt a ripple in that massive neck that seemed to be almost like a giggle rippling through her. For a while my entire universe consisted of enormous horse. I held myself close to her body running my hands over and over her head, neck and chest and her life pulsed and throbbed against my face. I drank her in and she filled my denuded senses, I was being hugged by a horse and my senses seemed complete – if I had ever been asked to guess under what circumstances this might have occurred – hugging a giant plough horse with a mother’s instinct during a black night of freezing fog would not have been it.

 

Dotty and I must have been locked together for some time. I was eventually aware of my daughters hand tugging at my coat gently, and slowly I came up from my immersion in this lovely horse. Sharp night air started to replace the warm muskiness of Dotty. My sister was holding my arm again and I felt Sissi stirring about my legs. A hand wrote on my palm, asking if I was ready to return but I was not sure. I was already aware of the sensory hole that was left as I broke contact. As we made to leave there was a blast of hot horsey breath on the back of my neck, Dotty was saying goodnight. I gave her one last rub on her face before the black walk back.

 

That night I did not sleep much but instead I ran my recollection of the experience around and around my mind enjoying it more each time. I had started a walk into total darkness fighting down my anxiety, working hard to stamp it down, yet finished it with my senses filled to overflowing and anxieties washed away, all thanks to a horses hug.

Author:

Judith vd R.

 

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