Horse Love

odysseo

A scene from Odysseo by Cavalia

I just went to the show Odysseo by Cavalia last Thursday night with my youngest daughter – she and I are the horse fanatics in our family. I was given the tickets for a Christmas gift and then had to wait all those weeks and months to finally be able to go. My daughter and I were ecstatic and so worked up about going, that we went to the big white tent on the wrong night, a week too soon…

lascaux-horses

Horses from the Lascaux Cave c 25,000 BC

… Horsies, ponies, horses and horses and more horsies and ponies… We weren’t the only ones excited by the upcoming show – many of the drivers I encountered that night in the parking lot (and on the long lines of cars) had the same bright hysterical glint in their eyes too.

The passion for horses is shared by many cultures across the world. People have been admiring and worshiping the horse for centuries.

Some writers like to get all Freudian about horses – “the horse is a phallic symbol and that’s why pubescent girls love them”… well I say that’s a load of crap – horses are noble,  graceful creatures full of power, warmth, and intelligence and men and women both have always been in love with their beauty and their companionship.

parthenon frieze 3

Rearing horse from the Parthenon frieze, c 443-438 BC

When I was small I was like most kids – I liked horses even though I didn’t personally know any.  I saw them in art at museums, on TV, in books, on the streets of NY. I used all my birthday cake wishes over the years for a pony of my own (which never came true BTW). I’d grown up knowing that my mother had ridden at a military stable on Staten Island when she was a teenager (I still have a picture of her with High Top on my dresser), so the dream was within possibility.

Reynolds John_Manners_Marquess_of_Granby_1763-65

I always wanted my portrait done like this – standing nobly with one arm draped over the back of a beautiful horse. Horses have long been considered a status symbol – the finest horses were always owned and bred by the wealthy. This is a portrait of John Manners, Marquess of Granby by Sir Joshua Reynolds 1763-1765.

But I didn’t meet an actual horse til I was 12 and my family went to Eastern Canada to look for real estate in the spring of 1972 (see earlier posts). We stayed at my aunt and uncle’s “gentleman’s farm” in Jolicure, NB. They had a couple of cattle, a goat, a rabbit, some chickens, a lot of cats, two dogs, and a beautiful black mare named Mammy Fortuna.

Mammy was my cousin Lorrie’s horse. She was black with a white star and a couple of white socks. She was sleek and shiny and though she wasn’t a big horse, she had a big personality.

Betty Mammy Lorrie in barn 1972

Meeting Mammy for the first time in the Spring of 1972. My beautiful older cousin Lorrie is holding her.

From the moment I was introduced to Mammy and she gently nuzzled my hand and puffed her warm breath into my face, I was smitten.

And when for the first time I was given a boot up into the saddle and was led slowly around, precariously balanced on her back, I suddenly saw the world differently.

My cousin taught me to ride – head up – heels down – back straight – and also taught me how to take care of Mammy – all her grooming, feeding and stable needs. She even taught me to jump Mammy – and though it was all very basic riding, I loved it. I rode Mammy in the fields near the farmhouse, in the riding ring by the vegetable garden, and down the back roads onto the Tantramar Marsh.

Eventually I was given the responsibility to exercise and take care of Mammy when my cousin would go away for several months at a time. We lived maybe 4 or 5 miles from my aunt’s farm. I managed to get there by bike, by school bus, or I’d walk in from the corner when the road was bad, and often I’d have my mother drive me.

Betty Mammy Lorrie 1972

My first riding lesson with Mammy and Lorrie 1972 – I’m wearing my groovy psychedelic striped elephant leg pants –  it is the early 70s after all.

She’d visit with my aunt while I was busy with the horse.

I love all animals, but there is nothing like the friendship that you can have with a horse.

Mammy was an individual with a complicated personality. She wasn’t a push button horse, and her spirit wasn’t broken like many of the horses I’ve seen lugging tourists and children around at parks and camps. She had deep passions and demanded respect.

I learned that the only way I could work with her was to remain calm and to acknowledge her moods and needs. I needed to remain in control but never be a bully – I had to work with her, not against her. That calm state of mind, that peace that comes with being centered, is what made riding Mammy so wonderful.

When we got to the point of knowing each other we shared the world and our friendship became strong. She looked forward to my company and would whinny at her stall when I’d arrive at the farm. There was no greater joy than that shared with Mammy on a beautiful day on the Marsh.

Tantramar Marsh valley road

One of the roads I rode on near my Aunt’s farm went across a valley of the Tantramar Marsh.

Luke the dog always came with us. He ran alongside Mammy and explored all the smells of the wild along the way. He was my buddy and a beloved member of our little team.

Betty and Luke 1972

Meeting Luke for the first time 1972. Lukie Daddles, as I called him, became a dear friend and always accompanied me with Mammy on rides. Every time I’d arrive at the farm he’d run to the wood pile and bring a giant log out for me to play stick with him.

I have rarely felt the trust and closeness of the animals I’ve loved, in people. With animals there is an unspoken bond that is powerful and requires a kind of communication and honesty that people are often unable to create. If you gain the respect of a horse or a dog (or any other animal) there comes a peace and comfort and an innate closeness that cannot be replicated.

Whatever the weather – cold and snowy and icy, or warm and sunny with wildflowers around us – riding Mammy was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

When I returned from graduate school one Christmas and asked to see Mammy I found out that she’d been put down. It was devastating – I’d never contemplated the world without her. Later that night my father held me in his arms while I sobbed. He cried too – because he said I hadn’t cried like that or hung onto him like that since I was a little girl.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When I was getting married my father asked me what I’d like from my parents for a wedding gift. I asked him for a painting – and left it at that. A few months later he gave me this beautiful painting of me with Mammy on the Tantramar Marsh. Its one of my most prized possessions. Betty and Mammy by Bernard Safran, oil on masonite 1988.

Mammy will always be in my heart. Though she wasn’t my horse, I loved her like she was. I am eternally grateful to my cousin for sharing her with me.

A few years ago a painting came up for sale on eBay of a black mare done in the 19th century. We won the painting to my joy. I was contacted by the people who came in behind us – they asked to buy it from us because it looked like a racehorse they’d owned. I wrote back that no, I was keeping it – because it was like the horse I loved and rode as a girl and I needed it. And it hangs on my bedroom wall across from my bed where I see it every morning and every night.

frants-henningsen-horse

We won this painting on eBay a few years back – it reminds me of Mammy. I believe the painter knew this horse – its a study of an individual – full of love and warmth. Black Horse by the Danish painter Frants Henningsen c 1890.

Things I loved about Mammy:

her big beautiful eyes

the warmth rising off her on a cold day

her smooth shiny coat and long mane and tail

the strength and firmness of her body

her soft velvet nose

her biting teeth

her swinging walk

her joyful gallop

her breath

her smell

sharing the excitement of a ride…

… of a jump

enjoying the sun and fresh air together…

being best friends and loving her with my whole heart.

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Eating Wild Things in Jolicure

Labrador Tea

Labrador Tea

Living in the country provides many opportunities to graze and harvest wild berries and plants – particularly in areas like ours in Eastern Canada where there was a lot of abandoned farmland and nature had overgrown and reclaimed its place. We quickly learned to identify the plants in our vicinity and to learn which were edible and which were best left untouched.

We tried many things like wild Tansy Tea and Labrador Tea that grew along our lane way and along the edge of the forest.  We did it as more of an experiment to see how they tasted. They never became a habit like our Red Rose brand orange pekoe tea that we drank all the time. (Nor did we use them medicinally.)

LambsquartersWe gathered the wild greens called Lambsquarters. It grew like a weed in our garden so we were more inclined to rip it out of the ground than cherish it, but we did eat it in salads and cooked it like spinach on occasion.

The area we lived in (Jolicure) was connected to the great Tantramar Marshes – you only had to go a few miles in most directions to find your way to the these wetlands. So there were many boggy places around – not only in the marsh proper.

Not far from our house we found a lovely patch of cranberries growing in one such bog. We were able to pick these for ourselves every year, but we had to act fast because other locals would show up and pick them too.

Wild cranberry bog, photo by Chris Seufert

Wild cranberry bog, photo by Chris Seufert

They grew right on the edge of the forest in an old cleared field.

We also had raspberries near the house – but instead of local people, we had to be quick to get them before the birds and wildlife found them. They were hard to get quantities of – so you’d just eat what you could find right away and enjoy the sweetness in the fresh air.

Wild strawberries grew along our road and in various small patches near our house.

wild strawberries

Wild strawberries

We sometimes did manage to pick enough for a few pies – but again it was a challenge to beat nature to the prize.

There were other wild treats growing around our house like the patch of Fiddlehead ferns that grew in our backyard by a big old stump; we could harvest them once or twice a season for a few meals – usually as an accompaniment to the fresh trout my father caught in the lake.

Wild fiddleheads

Wild Fiddleheads

To pick blueberries we went to a commercial blueberry farm and used blueberry rakes to gather the fruit. Here we were guaranteed enough to freeze for the winter.

And on occasion we harvested the fallen fruit from abandoned orchards – though this fruit had to be used for making jelly – as it was generally worm ridden and had to be carefully cleaned for use.

We  experimented with our rose hips from the wild roses that grew along our lane. We made rose hip jam one year and brewed a tea from them on other occasions – rose hips are very high in vitamin C.

Rose hips, photo by Andy & Susie Vanable

Wild Rose hips

Once we tried making dandelion wine because our friends made some that was yummy and we had an endless supply of organic dandelions – but ours wasn’t a great success – it turned out more sludge than wine, but we tried.

We didn’t harvest wild mushrooms, of which there were many varieties. It was too chancy a risk that we’d poison ourselves and we didn’t trust our guide books for identification. Its important to really know what you’re doing with these things…

King Bolete mushroom (Boletus Edulus) http://northernbushcraft.com/

Here’s an example of what is considered an edible mushroom: “… An unknown bolete is safe if it does not bruise blue after being cut, is not red on the underside of the cap, and does not taste foul.
Small amounts should be consumed when testing an unfamiliar bolete.”

We had a stand of giant fungi that grew on our property along a tall stand of pines; a wind break treeline at the back side of the house. I loved looking at them with their big and brightly colored caps – but I was very wary of them and never touched them as someone had told me they were Death Angels, a very poisonous and deadly fungi.

I’ve since found out that what we had were toadstools; a kind of fungus that is also poisonous (you can die from renal failure after a long and horrible decline) and psychoactive. So they were pretty much just as bad as Death Angels  and  Death Cap Mushrooms (all three kinds of mushrooms are in the same family). These are the mushrooms famous in European folklore and fairy tales and you can see why…

Fly Amanita, Amanita muscaria var. guessowii

This is the same kind of yellow and orange toadstools that we had – ours were huge – like a foot tall and 6″ across: Fly Amanita, Amanita muscaria var. guessowii.

Toadstool, Fly Amanita

We had giant red toadstools too: Fly Amanita.

When I was in college at Mount Allison University a group of students got hold of a bunch of local, wild, hallucinogenic mushrooms which they happily ate until someone realized they were full of worms – upon which all of them got violently sick and apparently had really really really bad trips.

The moral of this post isdon’t eat what you don’t know!