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Do You Believe in Magic?
My first sight of Merlin was out in the sun, laying in the pasture like a large cat would. Feet splayed, resting up on his elbows so his head was up. He was out with a few other Fells enjoying the warm winter sun. When Lisa (his owner) whistled and called him in there was a burst of powerful activity. He erupted up, all black muscles, girth, and hair—came bounding towards us in a way that made the earth shake. At nearly 1,000 pounds, Merlin was no meek creature. He was a pony, sure, but this was no Shetland. As he galloped towards us I realized he was larger than the pictures showed, not taller, but larger! He was stocky and strong and (I mean this in the best way possible) kind of like a rhino with a wig. If Jasper was a Labrador Merlin was a brawny Newfoundland. He slowed to a trot and joined some of his friends about ten yards away from us. I was so excited. I just walked right up to him.
I came over to him and reached for his forehead, and he didn't mind. We regarded each other in that way species that live close and depend on each other do and always have. Dogs, cats, people, livestock, all of us know down in our bones we make sense together, its the finding the right match ups that's the trick. So he eyed me and I eyed him. Both of us suspicious but game. I grabbed a hold of his halter and asked him to walk with me over to my friends and his owner. He did, calm as St. Peter at the Gates. I felt calm too. This horse was not going to run away on me. I guess when you are that massive you don't need to make a fuss.
Patty of Livingston Farm was there and so were Melina and Robert. They were on their way home from a night in Cambridge and were willing to come along and meet the horse, too. It was their last stop before heading home to their own Farm, their car loaded with beer, brats, and two young rabbits from CAF. I gave them two of the young bucks Meg had given me to eat. I thought they would do better helping other rabbit raisers get started (either as recipes or breeding bucks) than added to my freezer, already happy with hares. (I hope that is okay Meg?. Anyway, when your car is full of homebrew, case meats, and livestock the idea of checking out a rare draft pony isn't that crazy.
Melina snapped some pictures of Merlin and I while I overheard patty asking the 34,000 questions I should have had the wherewithal to ask, but I was not really present. I was a couple inches away from an animal I had only seen in photos and had only dared to day dream of. Now his giant nostrils and black nose were in my hair, his deep eyes considering me, and his dusty coat and beautiful mane under my lanolin coated fingers. This was the shepherd's pony. I was a shepherd. I walked around the farm's pasture with him, talking and taking videos. He seemed curious but not concerned, almost bored following this crazy lady around his backyard. All I felt in my gut was comfort
We got him saddled up in western tack and after Lisa demonstrated his walk, trot, canter and some basic dressage moves I was impressed and excited to jump up into the saddle too. I was helped up onto his back and amazed at how wide it was for a pony, and how right it felt. I didn't feel a bit of fear, just confidence. I asked him to walk and trot and realized I was as out of practice as he was. Both of us were winded, hot air coming from our noses. I jumped down and kissed his soft nose. I was falling, and falling hard.
Then both Robert and Melina were invited to ride him, neither of them having any experience with horses. They were to sit while being lead by Lisa, and I wanted to see how he reacted to a stranger without any use of leg, reins, or purpose would suit him. It was like a fair ride. Robert seemed very happy on a horse. I bet he's next...
We left shortly after, I was allowed to lead him back to the barn. I told her how excited I was and that I would contact her soon with my decision about him. Patty asked some more questions and I stumbled drunk around cloud nine.
All last night I wondered what I could do at this point to make a rare, highly trained, beautiful pony mine. I knew what I could and couldn't afford, but I also knew I had a lot to offer him. I would be able to board him a few months while I took lessons with him, each of us getting to know one another under the care of professionals, vets, farriers and riding lessons. I would have a pony wonderland built soon as the days got a little longer. Brett, Patty, and Mark were willing to help fell (ha) trees and plan out the new two-horse shed behind the barn. I had a plan, I had it all figured out. I just needed to convince the owner I was worth it, and worthy of her fine animal. I fell asleep going back to the barn I always go to.
The next morning I had a plan. I started the morning taking the usual farm chores in stride, but I did them extra well. I scrubbed out the sheep's water trough. I wiped off the crud on the defroster. I cleaned out the rabbit cages, gave extra feed in their little crocks and scritches on their heads. I gave Jasper a good curry combing and made sure he was properly outfitted for a day of piss and vinegar, a carrot in my pocket. I took my dogs out for a long walk and while they smelled the doggy news I thought about this horse, the ramifications, the possibilities. I felt the extra close attention to my chores was a prayer in itself, a ritual of rededication to my animals and this farm. I listened to my heart. How it felt to hold those reins, sit on his comfortable back, and how safe it felt up there. I am an anxious woman. To feel like a 1,000 pound animal was a Lazy Boy is not common for me. I prayed. I paced. I asked for guidance and for the best possible outcome.
Then I came inside and took a long shower, prayed some more, and opened up my email. I took a deep breath and then sent Lisa a long, heartfelt letter. I told her how I felt about the Fell, how much Merlin meant to me. I told her my honest financial limitations, my plans, and ran through some options to make that beautiful boy mine. I asked her to consider these things with an open heart. I told her I looked forward to her reply. Then I turned off the computers to let the magic happen. I jumped into the truck and headed over to Livingston Brook Farm. I had done everything I could do. I didn't want to stay at home constantly checking emails, worried about what would happen. I was thrilled when I was invited for an afternoon drive, and thought no matter what the outcome I would have the next few miles logged behind a working horse to dream and hope before any bad news landed on me. I would truly savor this afternoon.
Patty had invited me to go on one of her favorite drives. Her neighbors are good friends and have over 400 acres of farmland. It is a beautiful, hilly landscape that tumbles and rolls with old farm roads used to get from field to field. It was the perfect place to drive a horse cart. No cars or trucks to fuss with, just the smell of dead corn, fallow ground, deer scat and wood smoke. The hillside trail lead to what Patty called "The Top of the World", a high field that looked over all of our area's mountains and peaks. When we reached it we turned Steel around and from the metal tractor seat of a forecart I could see Colfax Mountain, Equinox in Vermont, Bunker Hill Farm, other peaks and the Adirondacks in the distance. It was breathtaking. And silently, as I listened to Patty share stories of the same hillside covered in mustard and butterflies, or a buck leaping out of the hedge in front of Steel, I prayed again. (You can never pray too much.) I asked, over and over, if Merlin and I were meant to be that a path would reveal itself. Some sort of option? Some sort of magic?
When we got back to her farm we took off the harness and fed her two horses for the night, then retired to her farmhouse for black bean soup (with workshop cheddar brats!) and good homemade bread. We talked about a lot of things, and I realized in just two weeks I had made some fairly serious friends. How lucky was I to find a pair of folks just as crazy about farming, working horses, working dogs, as I was? And the hilarious part? Us two women, practically Luddites in our past times, found each other because of an online publication of Barnheart at Mother Earth News. A woman with a draft horse 7 miles away and she found CAF through the net. It's magic all in itself, this friendship.
I left for home, heart in my throat. I knew soon as I got inside the door an email would be waiting. Lisa would have had plenty of time to make a decision. I fired up Ye Olde eMac and saw her reply, bold and black the way all unread messages are. Hope in bold san serif. I clicked it with my eyes closed. This is the first sentence I read as I slowly opened my eyes.
I loved your email, it is truly heartfelt and I can say I know just how you feel. Letting go of Merlin is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. He's been my dream pony too. I will definitely work with you to make sure he becomes yours. I can't imagine a better home for him..."
15 years ago, somewhere in North England on the wild hills Merlin trotted and breathed in that fine British air. 25 years ago I was a toddler in a small town in Pennsylvania with a sidewalk, streetlights, and the only farm I knew came from Fisher Price. Starting the first week of March we will ride together. I already have a stall waiting for him at Riding Right Farm and we start lessons together in a little over a week. Lisa said we'll work out a way to make it happen. He is mine!
I believe in magic.
Jenna Woginrich will present workshops at the Seven Springs, Pa. 2012 MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS.