REMEMBRANCE OF TWO HORSES AND ANOTHER TIME AND PLACE
By Dr. Lorin Swinehart
“All the horses of heaven are in the pasture tonight.”“All the horses of heaven are in the pasture tonight.”James Tipton“After Years of Listening”
At first, there were three. I was very small when I first came to know two of them. I cannot say that I ever really knew the third. The two that I did know were huge draft horses named Bonnie and Sorrelly. Sorell is a color common to many horses, dark brown with lighter manes and tails. Both of the two I knew were sorell colored.
As for the third horse, her name was Jennie, and I only remembered her coming into my grandpa’s barn once, when a severe thunderstorm came rolling out of the sky to the west and pummeled the farm with gushers of rain and hail that rained down on rooftops like buckshot, all of it accompanied by nonstop rumbling thunder and streaks of lightening. Grandpa decided to interrupt Jenny’s years of easy grazing in order to offer her indoor shelter.
Jenny had been retired from all farm work by the time I entered this life and was free to graze away her days in the pasture. When I was about six, Jennie developed a sore, swollen hoof. As time passed, her condition only worsened. My mother convinced everyone that it was wrong to let the poor old horse suffer in such a way, and so one day the knacker came and took Jennie away.
From then on, there were only two horses. Bonnie and Sorrelly were huge presences in the lives of my sister Linda and I all the while we were growing up. Jean Piaget tells us that small children regard animals as persons and attribute human motives to them. I don’t know that we thought about it one way or another. Bonnie and Sorrelly were just big friendly parts of our young lives. They were stable and reliable. Warm and welcoming whenever we entered the barn, probably because they anticipated that we would provide them with a treat, either a handful of alfalfa or oats. In that, they were correct. We could not resist their huge soft noses. All children seem to be drawn to equine noses. Now, at nearly 80, I still am. Recently, we gave in to nostalgia and visited the annual county fair in my hometown of Ashland, Ohio. Without fail, once I had sampled the world’s greatest pizza from the wagon of a local family named Puglisi, I headed for the horse barn and the soft noses of my hoofed friends.
Sorrelly was a bicolor, with one beautiful blue eye and one equally beautiful brown eye. This phenomenon is rare but does occur. Many years later, my husky dog and best friend Lexi was a bicolor, as was one young woman in my high school graduating class. I remember riding round on the mower with Grandpa while cutting alfalfa one sparkling summer afternoon. When we stopped for a rest, Sorrelly came to a complete halt, staring in wonder at something a short distance away.
“Now, what do you see?” Asked Grandpa.
It seemed that a flotilla of small white butterflies spiraling over a stand of clover blossoms had caught her attention. The attentions of both horses were easily distracted from work. In my experience, horses desire only two activities, hanging out with their fellow horses and eating. The older I grew, the more adept I became at driving Bonnie and Sorrelly as we mowed hay, gathered it into the barn, threshed wheat and oats, husked corn and gathered firewood. Working with horses is far more exhilarating than driving a noisy tractor. Same with traveling by horse. Your horse hangs upon every word you speak. You can tell he is listening by watching his ears.
In Bonnie’s and Sorrelly’s case, each time you rounded the corner of the field toward the barn, they were filled with energy and equine mirth, speeding up with all their energy, convinced that the workday was over, and a bin of oats awaited them. Each time you headed away from the barn they would slow to a creep. Tired horse. Dying horse. Dead horse. Animals do think and anticipate. I have witnessed it many times.
As an example, when I was very small, not much more than a toddler, I would be seen standing out in the pasture petting Bonnie’s and Sorrelly’s noses. They were just great big pets, loving the attention. However, when Grandpa went out to fetch them for a day’s work, they would go galloping off in another direction. It took time, energy and not a few cuss words to round them up.
I felt that I had reached manhood of a sort when I was old enough to lead the horses down to the pump and the stone trough in the pasture to water them. We only took one horse at a time, leaving her stable mate to neigh and whinny in agony until it was her turn. Bonnie and Sorrelly did not like being separated, not even for fresh cool water on a hot summer day. Again, horses are happiest when accompanied by their fellow horses.
When I was still very small, Sorrelly had a colt. Every year, a new calf would enter the world of the farm, and a litter of kittens joined the other barn cats with some regularity, although most of them soon died of feline distemper. But a colt was something new. In all my years, there had never been another colt on Grandpa’s farm.
I have an old black and white photo of Grandpa and Grandma standing on the front lawn with Sorrelly and her colt. On the back is printed “June, 1944”. I was born in 1942 while World War II was reeking and smoldering across the face of the earth, so I would have been two years old or less. It was a sunny green summer day. I vaguely remember the colt. I have only the vaguest impression of him stamped indelibly on my very young mind. Part of the reason for my sketchy recollection of him is that he simply did not live long. I have been told that he developed some sort of hernia and died soon after first entering the world. His remains were interred in the corner of the potato patch along the creek across the pasture from the barn. All I have is the old photo, one of my favorite pictures.
When she was a very old horse, Sorrelly went blind. One summer day, Grandpa heard her screaming in anguish. She was trapped in the creek and could no longer find her way up the bank to the pasture where she had been peacefully grazing. At about the same time, her lifelong friend Bonnie died without warning one night. Grandpa, well up in years himself by then, had no option but to have Sorrelly taken away and put down. One can only imagine the terror experienced by the blind, lonely old horse as she was driven away from the farm that had been home for all her days. I have heard it said that when a family member passes, survivors are sometimes asked if it had been an easy death or a hard death. I can only hope that somehow Sorrelly’s was an easy death. The toss of the celestial dice does not always turn out well for horses or for humans.
All the high ground that once composed part of Grandpa’s farm has now been smothered beneath layers of ridiculous suburban style homes and lifeless, sterile lawns. For me, the land has been raped. Only the bottomlands, susceptible to severe spring and summer floods, remains inviolate. The road itself is paved now, and the flickering lights of myriads of fireflies on summer evenings is now blotted out by hellish blue-green security lights. People seem to fear the night, whereas the garish day can be even more fearsome. I am certain that red wing blackbirds still serenade from the tips of cattails and tree frogs continue to send their tunes out over the adjacent swamp at night, but I no longer go there. I ceased going there years ago. I found that I could no longer force myself to drive up the winding township road that once bisected Grandpa’s farm. Eden, once forsaken, can never be regained. Perhaps the Shawnee, Wyandot and other peoples who once dwelt on these lands felt much the same when their forests were decimated and replaced by the farms and towns of European invaders.
Only a vanishing few of us are now left who can remember Grandpa and Grandma, Bonnie and Sorrelly or the farm as it once was. In a few years, there will be none. I want to believe, though, that Bonnie and Sorrelly continue to graze and frolic in bucolic joy across the pastures of heaven.
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