Horse poop is recycled stardust. Sixteen hours of hard labor a day to take care of twenty-four horses. Every day. All year long. No vacation. Now suppose one of the three key adults that does the work falls ill. That’s what I portray in Broken Gait, and that’s what I’ve seen happen recently at the stables where I ride.
The riding teacher’s adult daughter got sick and had to be taken in. The other adult daughter had to go to classes.
“Would you mind doing the watering?” Our teacher asked after our morning class and before her daughter’s appointment. Sure enough, we didn’t. All four middle-aged women and one preteen daughter agreed to fill the water buckets as well as hose down our sweaty mounts. We picked a few stalls (i.e., we removed horse poop), we hayed the horses (i.e. we put hay in their baskets), we swept the aisle of the barn. That, together with taking care of the tack, took us a whopping ninety minutes.
Imagine having a full-time job every day of the year and no vacation. Hard labor. Wheel-barrows full of stardust, recycled through the rear end of a horse, that you heap on a manure pile – a pile that needs to be removed every other week. At seventy pounds per horse each day, the manure pile grows fast.
All that manure has to come from somewhere: hay and grain deliveries need to be stowed away on a regular basis. Same goes for the sawdust that comprises the bedding in each stall. There is maintenance: weeding, mowing, painting, fence repair, raking the riding arena every day. There is more – the farrier, the vet. Horse shows.
In order to pay for all that, you teach classes and lessons and hope to break even. It’s a tough, back-breaking business.
Wild Horses, my first novel, addresses some of these harsh realities. I’ve always thought of this book as ‘Kai’s book,’ because Kai gains a sense of accountability and pride. He pushes way outside his comfort zone as he coaxes his natural talent for work with horses into a tangible, useful skill.
Even though Broken Gait is my fifth book in print, it’s a direct sequel to Wild Horses. This time, however, it’s Attila – the quiet, reclusive, misdiagnosed Attila – who struggles and who needs to push hard to get himself to a better place. I love his courage and inner strength, the sort you’ll find in your friends and perhaps even in yourself. I also adore Kai for his unconditional support. Yet Kai’s hard work isn’t enough, and that’s where the volunteers come in.
The little that I do at the stables is rewarding in small quantities. Picking up piles of ‘stardust’ in a stall has an almost hypnotic effect. Sweeping the floor is satisfying. Gentling a grumpy horse forms a rewarding communion with him. This is because I don’t have to do these things every day. During my little emergency stint, I was miffed to find that filling twenty-four buckets with a water hose took forever – and since the horses drank a lot on a hot day, I had to spend time and top them off once again. I brought a horse into a pristine stall, and he crapped on the floor within twenty minutes.
How do people do this every day, year in and year out?
Suddenly I realized why Hercules had to clean stalls as one of his monumental tasks. It’s endless, like dishes or laundry or vacuuming. Like life and death. We might as well make the best of it, then. After all, we too are nothing but recycled stardust.
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