That Mother

I hate being called out. Gordy actually knows this about me and, while that knowledge doesn’t stop him from doing it, it does cause him to choose more obtuse ways of getting his point across. Self-preservation is a powerful teacher.

I am talking about Filou here, though I have not shared much about him lately. I haven’t because I was afraid that big things were happening, that he was nearing the end of his life, and it felt wrong to narrate that in real time. Filou is Filou though, and like the proverbial cat, he has recovered himself and is settling into yet another rendition of life as he knows it.

Here is what is important to know about Filou. He is a proud horse. And opinionated. Lots of things matter to him. This was the source of his brilliance under saddle, both as teacher and performer. You had to ride well and correctly for it to work for him and when you did, he blessed you with the most perfect expression of your shared efforts. Bliss. How he put up with me when my riding was amateurish and shitty I do not know and perhaps, because he did, I feel particularly motivated to tolerate his eccentricities now. We go way back, Filou and I.

One of the things that Filou is opinionated about is the company he keeps and for the longest time that has meant only one thing — Andante.

Filou and Andante.

He is singular and devoted. She matters to him, no matter what. She (the only she in the herd) is aloof and plays the field. When Filou took a step backwards, health wise, I tried to keep him with her in the herd. It mostly worked, but the parts where it didn’t work were brutal; physically for him, emotionally for me. So, after all these years together, I had to separate the herd and that meant Andante needed to be with him or he would die. I am certain of that.

Filou and Andante now share space with Boo and Belle, the fragile with their able-bodied support system. They have full access to the barn and the smaller pastures. The geldings and donkeys go out together in the big pasture and I have to chaperon them into and out of the barn for feedings and down time.

Breakfast at the outdoor cafe.
Gelding breakfast at the outdoor cafe.

Together, but separate. I do what I can to accommodate Andante’s occasional restlessness and mostly we have settled into this new routine.

Making sure they don't forget her.
Together, but separate.

All of this is for Filou. This and the twelve new things I do everyday to address his physical needs: The special leg wraps, the medication, the extra feedings, the monitoring of his sun exposure, his water intake, his rest time…you begin to see where this is going, yes?

My first wake up call about all of this came through Marco. He is a maremma dog and his livestock guardian instincts are deep. Still, this was quirky. In the midst of something I was immersed in at the house, he barked me down, grabbed my hand and dragged me outside: Filou was at the gate wanting reprieve in the barn. Later, I told Gordy this story, marveling at Marco’s keen read of Filou’s needs.

Wonder where he picked that up, Gordy mused into the air to no one in particular.

Marco on duty.
Marco on duty.

The other night I startled out of a sound sleep, rousted by Filou and aided by Monroe, who now responds to Filou’s whinny by sounding a full-on bark alert, in this case from the pillow beside my head. Filou had lost track of Andante in the dark. I know because I have cataloged each of his whinnies on a scale of urgency and this one ranks quite high, thus compelling me to stumble to the barn, flashlight in hand to guide him to her — and check his wraps and top off his water bucket and give them some alfalfa to keep them still.

Did Filou lose his pacifier? Gordy mumbled from the other side of the bed when I crawled back in.

Yes, yes he did, I responded, a bit too earnestly.

This weekend we worked at the barn together, Gordy and I, getting ready for the weather threatening to hit this week. Well, Gordy worked, I took care of Filou. He needs in. He wants out. He needs more fly spray and his legs re-wrapped. He wants his fan on. The wrong gate is open for him. His face needs rubbing, maybe some eye drops.

No need to stand in a stall, Filou, we can treat you special right here.
No need to stand in a stall, Filou, we can treat you special right here.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this, Gordy nonchalantly threw over a departing shoulder:

So, Filou seems to have this all figured out

Whoa, what’s that supposed to mean?


Somewhere in the walk down this caretaking path, I took one hundred steps too far and turned into That Mother — the one bundling her baby up in three layers of clothing, when one would be sufficient, the one leaping to attention over every sound, every bump. That Mother. The one who has become convinced that the sheer force of her own, single-handed efforts will ward off evil spirits, will prevent any chance of bad befalling her baby.

Only it won’t.

He will still leave me. He is 29 years old, an old man in horse terms. Maybe he will go peacefully. Most likely, it will be a choice made with him, that living in that big, old horsey body has become more of a struggle than his spirit wants to bear. Until then, he deserves to be what he has always been, a proud horse, an opinionated one; not the mama’s boy, the baby, I am turning him into because I need to make myself feel better, the price paid to quell the anxiety demons running amok in my own head.

He's still got it.
He’s still got it.

This is not going to be entirely easy for either of us. He has grown quite accustomed to my hovering, to his little privileges. As a nod to my freshly minted insight, tonight I fed the horses in normal order, first the stall on the left, then the right, and so on. From within the confines of the second stall on the right, he pawed in indignation at his drop in status. Pretty sure he wasn’t going to die because I have deviated from the act of feeding him first, but he was working hard to convince me otherwise. Andante, on the other hand, is all in on this.

It' so good to be first.
It’ so good to be first.

So we adjust, again —  me to the tribe, the tribe to me. I see in the mirror they hold up for me, the depth of my desire to bring well-being and also my false sense of being able to control toward some outcome. We find balance and move on. Perhaps now, I should turn my attention to dealing with a certain little mini who has also taken her caretaking role a bit too seriously. Ah, maybe next week.

Can I help you with that?
I came all the way into the tack room to help you with that. 

Writing about what sings to me from a life made full with animals.

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