In Chinese tradition, this is the Year of the Horse, a year of galloping forward, of fast victories, unexpected adventure, and surprising romance. No wonder my new friend is a horse.
He lives on the hill right next to Paradise Park. I watched him all last year from afar, and then he was gone. But a few days ago, on my way to the beach, I saw him and I swear, I squealed, out loud, “The horse is back!”
That night, a little before sunset, he was standing about 30 feet away, on the other side of the old, rusted, falling down, barbed wire fence. I held up a carrot and he trotted over. And I realized that he was actually a she. She ate the carrot and then kept licking my hand. I closed my fingers into a ball and she started to nibble me with her gums. I talked to her, out loud and silently, and we looked each other in the eyes. When I walked away, she followed along the fence until she couldn’t see me anymore.
When I thought she was a male I called him Waldo, because he was always so hard to find on the big hill. Now that I know she is a female, maybe I will call her Jessie, for the stripe of gesso paint on her face. I wondered, what do you call that long slope of the head between the eyes and the mouth?
I found several diagrams online that named the parts of the horse, like coronet, at the top of the hoof, and chestnut, a spot behind the forearm. But there was nothing identifying the area between the forelock and the muzzle.
I have had very little experience with horses. I have a picture of me feeding sugar cubes to the milk man’s horse when I was three. When I was seven I went to Rocking Horse Ranch with my uncle and cousin. They rode horses all weekend and I played in the indoor swimming pool.
None of my friends took riding lessons or dreamed of having a pony. The first time I rode a horse was for a friend’s twenty-fifth birthday. I remember the jerky motion and the saddle and the soreness for days after. Since then, I’ve had no contact, nor have I felt any connection or attraction to a horse.
But in the past three months, I’m suddenly very curious about them. I met some a few weekends ago, waiting in their horse trailer in the parking lot at the beach. There were four sleek, brown horses standing against the open-rails of their trailer and I walked up to them. I looked them in eyes, I talked to them through my heart and they made noises I didn’t understand.
And now, this horse has appeared, right outside my big wide windshield. I saw her several times during the day, grazing up near the water tower, then behind and above the trailer directly across from me. And sometimes I don’t see her at all. I’m guessing she’s behind her feed house or on the other side of the hill.
Yesterday, my neighbor Muriel walked over to the fence with her 12 year old son, Ethan. The horse came right up to them so I joined them. Muriel was raised on a farm and she said the horse is young, maybe three, very friendly, social, alert, interested. And she has good teeth.
She showed Ethan and I how to hold our hands with our palms open, so the horse could check us out. “Hold it like a fist and she thinks it’s an apple. Point your finger and she thinks that a carrot.” No wonder she had started to nibble my closed hand the night before.
Later that morning she talked to our neighbor Mark, who knows everything about everyone in town, and it turns out that this is not Waldo, the horse I watched all those months last year. Waldo was 20 and died about eight months ago. This is a new horse, also owned by Marvin, an old-time cowboy who lives in town.
This morning, Ethan was standing at the fence with binoculars, looking toward the horse’s feed house. I assumed he was watching the horse, but when I followed the line from his binoculars, I saw a hawk perched on a tall, lone pole on the hill, near the house.
I went outside and met Ethan on his way back to his house. “What did you see?” I asked. The hawk was no longer on the pole.
“It was a red-tailed hawk. He’s over there.” Ethan pointed to the grove of trees on the bluff. “See the darker tree? He’s at the very top. On the right.”
I found the bird’s silhouette, a sharp protrusion at the top of the ragged outline of the tree.
“Have you seen the horse?” I asked.
“No, not today.”
I scanned the hill for her among the wisps of dried brush, but she wasn’t around.
“So have you named her yet?”
“Well, according to Elise, (his five year old sister), it’s Lucky.”
“My first dog’s name was Lucky.” I said. I’m sure I smiled.
“I got two bags of carrots at the store today for the horse,” I said. “They were only 37¢ each. So if you get permission, I’d love to have you join me in a carrot feeding.”
Ethan’s mom has taught them not to feed other people’s animals, unless you have permission because you never know if there are special circumstances.
And besides, there was a sign.
“So, here’s a question…” I pointed to the worn wooden sign with faded white letters that said Please Don’t Feed The Horse. The top right corner of the wood, including the E in please, was gone.
“So, do we respect the sign? Or, did it apply to the OTHER horse? Can we feed THIS horse? Because this is a different horse?”
Ethan tilted his head toward his left ear and shrugged. “I don’t know.” And I didn’t know either. But I knew that I wanted to.
Later in the afternoon, I was sitting at my picnic table writing and scanning the hill to see if the horse was grazing nearby. Julie, another neighbor, walked by and she knows Marvin, the horse’s owner. She said the reason he doesn’t want people feeding the horse, is so that she doesn’t lean over the fence.
“But she leans over even if I just go up to her,” I said. “And I’m not going to stop doing THAT.”
Julie smiled and said, “Oh, just do it. I won’t tell.”
“Well, still, maybe you can ask him for permission to feed her carrots?” I said. “And can you find out what her name is, too?”
That evening, as the sun disappeared behind Horse Hill, I watched and waited. I had cleaned the RV windshield so I’d have a clear wide view. I felt like a kid, waiting for my new friend to come over and play.
The red-tail was back on the post. And the horse was grazing in a flat patch across from me, about twenty feet away. I ran out with my carrots and called to her from the fence. But her head was down, facing away from me, and she didn’t even notice I was there. I waved my hands. I whistled. I took a bite of the carrot. It was crunchy and sweet.