Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Foxhunting and Safety

For many years I worked at a boarding school for girls. Faculty and staff were expected to wear many “hats.” A teacher or administrator might also be a dorm parent, a coach, or the head of a club. My favorite hat was being in charge of foxhunting. There was a beautiful stable and riding facilities at the school. Some girls even brought their horses with them. Not all of the riders had ever foxhunted, so it was my job to teach them about foxhunting etiquette and to be sure they were ready and safe on the field.

     Horse people know about early mornings. If an event started at 7 or 8am, we not only had to be up in enough time to get there, but also to get the horses ready. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to ask the girls to meet me at the barn at 4:30am. They were so excited that no one was ever late. Despite cold temperatures, rain, darkness or snow, we were not deterred.

     Entering a barn at that time of the morning had an ethereal quality. The horses were asleep in their stalls, steam rising from their breath. The light was switched on and their eyes would blink questioningly with long-lashes. They’d stretch out their front legs and waft up on all fours, shake the straw off their bodies and walk over to their stall doors. Horses say hello by breathing into each other’s nostrils. We imitated this with them. The feed and hay and grass gave them a sweet, earthy breath. Saying hello in this manner invited a smooth rub on your cheek from a luxuriously soft muzzle.

     The girls arrived and the quiet was shattered. The nervous giggling and chatter of the events of the night before would wake up the last of the horses, and the nickering for breakfast would begin. They were fed, tack was placed in the trailer, and horses were loaded. Safety was paramount. These 1000lb-plus creatures had to be maneuvered around each other, backed into narrow slots and secured with chest bars and halter ties.

     I had driven horse trailers for years, but this gooseneck, six horse model, pulled with a diesel dually pick-up was challenging. Only once was there a problem. On a very muddy day we had to be pulled out of a valley by an old Ford 8N tractor. I learned, then, to scope out our destinations beforehand. I admit that I rarely wanted to back it up. Even the McDonald’s parking lot became negotiable; we were hungry after hours galloping and jumping fences. We had one horse, Hercules, who loved to stick out his long soft tongue and flap it at people. We came out of the McDonald’s after one hunt to see him with his head sticking out of the trailer window, performing for a group of laughing people.

     I’m at the age now where the memories of past experiences are very satisfying. I feel blessed to have lived through what I did, and thankful that I was kept safe despite my mistakes. I watched an episode of “Star Trek Next Generation” where the main character, Captain Jean Luc Picard, was given a chance by an immortal, omnipotent being named “Q” to change an event in his past which caused a terrible injury. Assured that major events in history would not be altered and no one would be hurt by his change, Jean Luc agreed to it. He changed a key event and stopped himself from being a cocky, arrogant young man. Later, we find that “Q” has not been completely honest. When zipped back to the future, Jean Luc is no longer Captain of the Enterprise, but a science officer who has “played it safe” his whole career. At 50 he has no chance of a command. I disagree with the show on the point made that it was essential that Jean Luc make his mistakes. The show could very well have ended with a alternate positive outcome. It is not good to be cocky and to make trouble, to do wrong and to sin. But we are human and we will make mistakes, and we will need to deal with the consequences.

     We should strive to do what is right. We do need to consider safety and not be fools who rush in, disregarding all warning signs and wisdom of previous generations. I’ve heard some parents refer to their teens’ poor choices: “Well, look what we used to do!”, or “I did it, I guess it’s inevitable that he will, too!” Poppycock. Our mistakes may have contributed to who we are, but they should compel us to protect our children from making the same ones. Their futures have not been written. They can be saved the major mistakes that we made and be much better for it.

     I am thankful for all of the wonderful experiences of my life. I regret the mistakes I‘ve made and I will strive to scope out where I need to travel, or park my trailer. I may still need a Ford 8N from time to time. But I hope to call a spade a spade and to ask forgiveness of anyone I’ve offended, and from God. There is no “Q” or “Ghost of Christmas Past,” or “Clarence,” perhaps, but we can be entertained and moved by the stories, discern any nuggets of wisdom, and  mend our ways.

Here’s to your safety and wisdom and blessings,

The Abbey Farm

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