Who Have We Here?

It’s 6:15 am and I’m sitting down to a hot cup of coffee, just like any other Sunday morning. Except this time I’ve made new friends and been on a 2 mile stroll around the neighborhood with a horse I didn’t know in 13* weather.

I woke up at 4:40 this morning to the sound of dogs barking. A LOT of barking. I thought briefly about waking Tom but he looked so peaceful I decided I could handle this on my own. Pulling on my sweats and sweatshirt I grabbed my phone and headed to the garage for boots and a gun to go see what all the fuss is about.

I never get tired of the whoosh of activity in the chick brooders when the garage door opens. All those little wings and fuzzy bodies just zooming around, flapping in response to they don’t even know what. And then they all freeze as if to say “What, we weren’t doing nothing”.  Their water is empty again but I’m on a mission and they are not going to expire before I return.

Equipped with boots, a coat and a flashlight I head out to see what what the dogs are freaking out about. The sheep are clustered where Mia left them, on the high spot in front of the barn where they have ample room to flee in any direction. The dogs are both actively barking, coming back to check the sheep are still parked and safe then running back to the neighbors fence. I here the horse next door give a squeal and I move to investigate.

The dogs are so very loud. I’m AMAZED the neighbors are not out here. But I see nothing wrong along the first section of corral fence. I duck under a tree branch and move closer to the dogs trying, in vain, to get them quiet. They are intent on the neighbors corral and there is a snort and squeal so I look again. I see their Arab gelding at the gate, nothing alarming there, but wait, there’s more. A fuzzy white horse is nose to nose with the gelding, but it’s on the outside of the fence. A lose horse  is generally not life threatening, especially if they are off the road, but in this case the only way my dogs are going to leave off of this is if someone puts a hand on that horse.

I tell them to come with me, now that I know what the issue is they are much calmer and easier to quiet. They are still upset, a strange horse is over there making “their” friend snort, but they are willing to come help me get my act together. As soon as the barking stops the sheep go back to business as usual and wander off into the trees.

I head back in to the garage, grab a halter, lead and an extra long lead (just in case) and then I decide to take the car so I have to find my purse and keys. You see the neighbors house is accessed by the road that runs behind our house and the only way for me to get there is to drive around the equivalent of a large city block.  I could go around the fence between our properties and go through their fence and be there much quicker but A) I do’t want to be greeted by their Rottweiler, even though she is a sweetie – it’s dark and she doesn’t know me that well. And B) it’s Alaska, if we hear a noise in the barn we come armed and I’m not in the mood to get shot. So in the interest of being obvious, I grab the car and tootle around the block and park in the driveway.

No lights are on and really, if the dogs haven’t woken them then I need to let them sleep so I just go collect the strange white horse. I’m sure it’s a genetic defect that it never even occurs to me to be cautious of horses I don’t know, even in the dark under weird circumstances but there it is. I’m not afraid. And this poor soul was so calm, he and the neighbors gelding were just sniffing and grooming each other across the fence. I talked to them as I approached and then he let me slide the halter on with no resistance at all. And when I walked he followed quite easily.

I wasn’t sure what to do now. I didn’t recognize him, and there didn’t appear to be anyone out looking for him. It’s amazing how dark and quiet our corner of the world is at 5 am.I posted a quick status on Facebook just in case any of my neighbors were up and might know where this guy belonged. He has a crooked leg so it’s obvious he’s just a yard ornament not an actual working horse.  I was at a corner and looked both ways and there was no sign of a vehicle or flashlight so I let him pick. He started moving so I walked with him, most horses, if given a chance, will go back home.

It’s amazingly comforting walking in the dark, no sounds but the horse walking next to you. The familiar pattern of hoof beats crunching in the dry snow. He’s not an athlete, his breathing is rapid and shallow, this stroll is a workout for him but he’s making good time. He’s alert and focused so I guess he must know something about where we are headed. I remember there is a white horse in a corral behind a house on the next street over and that is where he is leading me. We get to the house and there is lights on so I ring the bell, it’s just after 5:15 am. The nice man who answers isn’t missing a horse but he tells me where he thinks it belongs and we set off again.

I gotta give it to the old guy, he’s a trooper. I think all this walking may be a little hard on his leg but he never acts like it’s bothering him. While we are walking I check my Facebook and see that a friend has shared my status but no one has responded. That’s ok, I’m kind of enjoying the company. It’s a beautiful night, a clear sky full of bright starts, clean crisp air, it feels good to walk with my new friend.

I hear a car behind us so I click on the flashlight and point it at the vehicle, just to be sure he knows we are on the road. He turns his high-beams off so I turn my light back off. The main road follows the 90* curve, we went straight instead of turning, walking on a spur rd, an old dead end that is access to local farms. The car stays on the main road and as it turns the corner I see the high-beams click back on. My friend and I are back in the dark.

Dark is a relative term, it’s night and there are no street lights where we live. The stars are bright, I don’t see a moon, and yet, although I carry a flashlight I don’t have it on, I can see well enough to walk without it.

And so we go, this horse and I, walking down a dark dead end street. That sounds like the set-up for an action sequence in a horror movie. I wonder if zombies feel cold? Or if ax-murderers are hindered by cold weather gear? You never see Michael Myers wearing a ski jacket. Things to ponder…

Suddenly my friend quickens his pace an wickers softly. Now I know we are almost home. He wants to take me to a barn but I’m concerned about surprising dogs or people I don’t know so I direct him up the driveway to the house. It’s all dark and I feel bad about knocking but what else can I do?

A soft knock brings a startled lady to the door. I apologize for the hour and ask if this is her guy. At first she’s confused and then she seems to wake up a little more an says she needs to dress, give her just a minute. She comes out and looks at him, talks to me for a minute and then turns to find a halter and rope. She tells me she calls him Mister so now I can introduce myself and I find a horse treat in my pocket. I carry them for my sheep.

She is still a little out of sorts, spinning in circles as if she’s not sure which direction to go first, so I explain she can keep the halter, I made it, I can always make another one. She asks where I live and then says she knows my daughter. We have a lovely chat in the dark and the cold about how she knows my daughter and where Mister and I have been. She says there were some boys hanging by the fence with Mister yesterday so she needs to go check the fence because it’s soooo not like him to be out. The others, yes, him – not so much.

As I stroll up the road to collect the car I left at the neighbors I think how lovely a morning it’s been. I’m warm enough, the walk has been invigorating, and now I have new friends. It’s calm and quiet, all the dogs were barking when I got up, none are now. The only sound is the squeak of my boots on the hard packed snow. It appears no one has noticed me being up and about, the neighbors home is still dark, everyone still sleeps.

I get a sense of deja-vu as I come back into the garage, the flurry of activity from the chicks reminds me they need water. I complete that chore and head upstairs for coffee. It’s going to be a great day!

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