A Lesson about Squeamishness and a Donkey.

WM mucking attire

Look, it’s a selfie of me mucking last week. I like to get an early start in the summer. Over six hundred blog posts about this horse/life, and no one ever asks me for fashion tips. I wonder why?

I wasn’t always this sophisticated. I remember when I was maybe fifteen; it was morning and I was standing out waiting for the school bus. I glanced to scrutinize my outfit. I didn’t dress a whole lot better back then, but I certainly worried about it a lot more. That was when I saw them–maybe ten or eleven dark brown hairs that I’d missed while shaving. They were on the inside of my ankle, like a furry cuff. Like a Friesian fetlock. I simply could not be seen in such blinding disarray. It was totally mortifying. Then the light on my fetlock went into shade and the school bus door opened.

Not many of us remember small ordinary things. Scientists say the brain remembers an incident if our emotions color the event. It makes sense, looking back at memories is a parade of special occasions. Some of us have fewer memories because we didn’t attach our emotions. Some of us are haunted by trivia because we have emotional runaways. Naturally I remember this incident rationally because it meant any possibility of dating would be put off until after high school. Because teenage boys are so fastidious about personal appearance.

Snap out of it. I was ridiculous–squeamish about ankle hair and in the habit of being my own worst enemy. If horses hadn’t taken me into their care, I might be whining about chipped nail polish right now. Being squeamish is a luxury that gets in the way of mucking, cleaning messy leg wounds, and getting mice out of the grain bin. I gave it up.

I can’t imagine what would qualify as totally mortifying at this age. For crying out loud, if I’ve been known to do a quick sheath cleaning in the middle of a riding lesson.

Alas, I’m not perfect. Last fall I had foot surgery, with a heaping side of squeamish. It was all I could do to let myself be wheeled in to the operating room where the sharp knives are kept. Once I was home, I was afraid of my own foot, and afraid of the pain meds; they made me sick and crazy. And if you aren’t squeamish about physical therapy, you’re doing it wrong.

I’m sure my hair was a mess, too. So what?

At the same time, I noticed my compassion for chronically lame horses increased. I wondered about what it would feel like to have this kind of chronic pain, but be a flight animal. To feel the fear of predators, and then on top of that, the fear of knowing that there was no escape.

So, I started taking lessons from a new foster here at Infinity Farm. She’s a donkey so old we make jokes about carbon-dating to find her age. Her neck has broken over into a slouch and there’s a hitch in her hind. She has no teeth and a few seasons of hair, felted into a crusty shell over her body. She’s squeamish about people, but that’s just sound common sense.

It had been “Donk’s” job to protect calves from coyote, but the cattle left the land a decade ago. It was just her and a lame gelding, with no way to run. Did she stand her ground and bray when the coyotes came? Her voice is still strong. She’s prairie tough but being “rescued” nearly killed her.

Change is just so very hard. At first she didn’t eat or drink. She was frail and when I came close, she’d turn her wobbly backside to me and kick… clearing the ground by maybe four inches. She stood outside in storms and I thought she might die. She had earned that right at her age.

Donkeys are funny about water containers but she finally drank out of the third one I tried. I brought her an overripe pear and she carefully considered her options for a few days.

Then she surrendered to change. It was crazy; there was mush and Thrive feed a few times a day and soon her belly appeared. She was terrified if hands come near her ears, but she had to admit those same hands did a great job of scratching. Years of hair came off. Like me, she’s still touchy about her feet…and she can kick as high as my knee now. But she’s decided to have an open mind; she even asks to be turned out with the home herd.

Then and Now

This ancient donkey thinks my ratty little farm is the most elite equine facility in the world. Perception is really all that matters.

By the way, I don’t recommend Crocs for mucking. I’m in favor of boots for barn wear; I just can’t get my foot in any. I was a size 10 before. Now I’m a size 10 on the right and size 10, wide and thick, on the left. It’s been the better part of a year since surgery and the swelling is gone. So are all my shoes and boots; I’ll never fit in them again. I’m gratefully back to training for long hours, the work I love. Surgery helped, but like most of us of a certain age with chronic lameness, it’ll never be as good as new.

This week I’ll go boot shopping again, but this time I’ll try the men’s department. Have you taken a look at their feet? I’m sure something will fit. Yes, I’m turning into one of those women. So it goes, with thanks the equine gods for rescuing me once again, from squeamishness and superficiality. And women’s shoes.

On the high side, I’m always looking for a mentor and I think I’ve found one. She brays like the roar of a lion, she never misses a meal, and against all odds, she’s curious about her future.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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