Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

I had today off from work, and what a gorgeous day to do so! 70 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, the multi-colored leaves still on the trees.

With plans for trail riding ahead, I arrived at the barn early to blow some steam out of Lim in the outdoor arena. She was docile as I groomed her but shortly before I led her over to the outdoor arena, her boyfriend Nick began calling for her from the pasture.

Lim called back and became riled up. We were alone in the arena and she looked about for other horses. If she spotted one, she whinnied at it. It wasn't looking good for the trail ride! She wanted to trot fast and long so I let her. During the canter, she wanted to eat the ground up with her strides and I let her. She slowed and I made her continue cantering. By the time we walked again, she was quiet.

A half hour later a couple of other boarders and I headed for the trails. One horse led, Lim was in the middle, and another horse followed.

Oh, what a beautiful day!

We trotted along tree-lined paths, the brightly-colored leaves a canopy above our heads and yet more leaves a rustling carpet beneath our horses' hooves.

We stopped by the Danada Equestrian Center and visited the Percheron foals. Mirror images of each other, they peered over the top railing of the pasture fence at us. Lim and the other Thoroughbred (a 21-year-old bay gelding) watched with curious, apprehensive eyes and ears. I remembered a time when Lim saw the Thoroughbred/Warmblood cross foals at our eventing barn a decade ago, how bright and curious and almost longing her eyes were. The Percheron foals did not rouse the same feelings!

We went beneath the tunnel--no problems there--and by the grass racetrack. When the lead horse trotted slowly I sat the trot on Lim and collected her. Her strides were so long (as is normal for her) that there was no other way to keep pace, and I was amused to find myself doing dressage moves on the trail.

We cantered a short stretch and she did not grab the bit and run, as I partly expected. I slowed her to a nice, collected canter and she was content and happy with the pace.

We went through a patch of thick woods--woods so thick that bicycles could not enter, and those on foot would be fighting the shrubbery. But the horses glided through and around it as if they had been doing it for thousands of years. The crimson, golden, and orange leaves high above us filtered the sunlight and I could hardly tear my eyes away from it. I let Lim loose on a long rein and she followed the horse before her, head down. The only sounds I could hear was the crunch and rustle of hooves on the forest floor.

We entered a clearing and followed a narrow path through tall grasses. A couple was ahead of us and the woman watched, delighted (horse lover, no doubt!) as we smiled and waved at her and her husband before disappearing through thick bushes.

On our way back, the woman riding the paint horse commented on how pretty Limerick was and what a nice trot she had.

Lim stumbled a bit and jumped, spooked by herself. She eyed a large patch of thick white fuzzy seeds in the grasses along the trail, wary. I laughed each time and that was the end of it.

We were gone for almost two and a half hours. What a wonderful Halloween!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A dream

I had a dream last night that I was on a racehorse. We were mid-pack and flying down the homestretch. A gap between two Thoroughbreds was opening up before me. Power surged through my horse and into my arms as she readied herself for her big move. Adrenaline.

The sun, a low early morning sun, was slanted sideways into my eyes. Strong golden light and dark shapes were to my right and the brilliant colors of horseflesh and jockey silks were in sharp detail to my left. My ears thundered with falling hooves and the roar of the crowd.

I balanced upon my horse, my thighs strong and tight, my hands hard around the reins but ready to loosen them as soon as the gap opening up before us was clear. My horse's mane flew in my face, her flat ears bobbed up and down with her head.

The gap cleared. I let my horse go.

Then suddenly, all was quiet. Time slowed. The urge to look to my right overcame me and I did.

And there she was.

She passed me, passed us, moving slowly yet much faster than the rest of us. Her long, long legs stretched out on and on as her strides let her fly over the track, her head and ears high in pure sheer joy, the sun breaking around her like a halo. She was all dappled dark bay hide, all lean muscle and flying tail. Her jockey clung to her back like a turquoise gem, his arms moving with her neck, body and whip tucked away tight. She was so long that she seemed to pass us forever, her stride hanging just-so, her hooves perfectly poised long enough for us all to see her.

And then she was gone and the roar of the crowd and the thunder of the hooves and my horse's strength within my hands and arms returned. My horse was as strong as ever, my horse flew through the gap and ahead of the field, but a part of her faltered at the sight of Zenyatta flying before us, pulling further and further away.

Monday, October 20, 2008

In addition... can I not post a photograph or two of Tiger?


It has been so long since I've posted here. I won't get into why.


1.the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
2.the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself: By means of empathy, a great painting becomes a mirror of the self.

The other day, I wondered if I was too nice. The question is not unfamiliar to me; I will stumble across it from time to time.

Don't get me wrong. I am not afraid to fight for my loved ones, or for my life--this fact have been proven to me. I am stubborn and strong-willed, and like a tired old plow horse, I know that no matter what I encounter, I will trudge on. When I lived in Chicago, I was one of those fools that would go running through Humboldt Park after dark. The worse the weather, the more alone I was and the better the run. I have a sweet memory of my feet treading fresh lonely tracks through fallen snow and the steam of my hard breaths shooting out of my mouth as if I were a locomotive. And indeed, I felt as strong as one. I know I can be as strong as one.


I am empathetic, maybe to a fault. I love to listen to the problems of others, and will rack my brain for any possible solutions to these problems. One part of me expects the same kindness from others while another, larger, part of me expects disappointment. I do not trust. I do not want to burden. I am always ready to help, but you won't see me asking for it in return. Despite my armor, I will decide to trust again at random moments, naively expecting to see the same sort of empathy and kindness that I believe in. It rarely ever happens.

Society is ever-cynical. I just can't follow along.

I realized the other day that those who work with the deaf are typically more empathetic than the general population. I had interpreters for high school and college classes. My college has a strong American Sign Language degree program and a small but fierce group of deaf culture supporters. The majority of these supporters are not deaf. Since I was close in age to my interpreters, I became friends with a few of them. I found them to be passionate about, and for, the rights and equality of deaf people.

I was a Fiction Writing major. My classes each had about a dozen or so students and, per the so-called story workshop method, we would sit in a semi-circle around the teacher. I was almost always on one end, near the interpreter (who sat next to the teacher). Each student was supposed to make a copy of his or her work, or give his or her work to the teacher so copies could be made.

Like English to Chinese, exact translation from English to American Sign Language is impossible. In order to properly follow the language and voice of a story, I needed my own copy to read from while the author was reading aloud. Other than unintentionally reading pages and pages ahead of the author and being stricken with panic when the teacher asked me about a certain part of the story, a section that had unfortunately faded from memory immediately after being read ten moments prior (“Heidi! What do you think was clear about Bobby meeting Sue?” When Bobby met Sue? Shit, that was…5 pages ago! Think Heidi, think…THINK!”Um, the uh, emotion of the moment was, um, clear?”), the method worked well.

But even artsy-fartsy liberal arts professors are resistant to changing old ways. A few teachers forgot, or even balked at, the idea of making photocopies for me to read. They could not wrap their strictly right brains around the fact that, as anyone who has visited knows, one language being translated to another can results in goofs or miscommunication, especially when done on the fly by hardworking, tired interpreters.

I was upset. The interpreters were even more upset. It was not their place to let the teacher know but at times, they did. I never faulted them for doing so.

These same people were often animal lovers. Despite living in big Chicago, they took pleasure in the simple, beautiful things in life. They were friendly and sympathetic—not just towards the deaf, but people in general. They all had many friends. They were empathetic.

Is it because, more so than other people, they knew that the deaf—considered by many to be a voiceless bunch—actually had a lot to say? Were they empathetic to start with? I think so. I have found that my closest friends are more empathetic and more open to new ideas and experiences than others. I do not have close friends that are cold and uncaring simply because I find them intolerable—it’s because these people don’t think I am worth getting to know.

At one time, the deaf were considered quite stupid—no smarter than a bag of rocks. No hearing devices and no sign language meant a totally silent, mute world. No effort was made to communicate with or educate the deaf. As a result we have the lovely phrase of “deaf and dumb”. As a child, I often had doors—both literal and figurative—slammed in my face because I was inferior to the other children, or so they believed. I was quickly taught that I was not fit for normal society.

And what did I do?

When I was born, my parents had three cats. One of them, an orange tabby named Tiger, was my best friend. Even before I lost my hearing, I was rarely apart from him. My first word was his name, and my one of my first memories is of following him around at a crawl. Before I ever knew what the words (or very many words, for that matter) meant, I recognized the old, wise soul within Tiger.

Shut away from human playmates, Tiger turned out to be the only friend I needed. He was patient and kind. He would follow me, and I followed him. I would talk to him and deep inside, I felt he knew what I was saying. When I cried, I would lay my head on his soft, dusky orange belly and sob into his fur. He would lay there, patient as ever, and quietly wait. Tiger was a vicious slayer of rabbits and would kill adults and babies alike. Tiger would chase any dog that entered our property. He would fight with neighboring cats (with the exception of a black and white tuxedo named Mittens). Yet he was so kind to me that he allowed me to put my pet mice on his back with nary a twitched whisker.

I didn’t just love him. I was in awe of him. He was my soul mate. He was a teacher—an educator of the ways of animals, of the workings of nature. He was voiceless yet he had so much to say. From him, I learned kindness and patience towards animals. I learned that a quiet movement spoke volumes to an attuned observer. When Tiger died a few days before his 17th birthday, a part of me died with him.

I still think about him. I still cry for him. He was such a large, special part of my juvenile life and frankly, I don’t know what I would have done without him.

It’s important to realize that just because animals do not speak the language of humans (nor should they have to), that they do not have anything to say. Take time to listen. Observe. Be empathetic.