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We burn our bridges as we go, as if nothing we used to get here will ever be used again. So we shatter the scythes and feed horses to the dogs, knowing for a certainty that life will never call for them again. Christ, there’s something to fear in that.

My next step is a horse, and I can’t take it. Thinking hard on reconnection, I reach for the heft and stench of Clydesdales, but they’re beyond me.

This is the road I’ve worked along for a decade or more. I find so much to love in the land and the birds upon it, but greater is the swell of belonging in a place; the standing squarely. I slow down for every aspect of this work and bide my time in the steady growth of cattle. I drive machinery that is forty years old and plan my labour as if nothing will ever change. My friends say that I’ve gone back in time, forgetting that there is a gear beneath this one; a world of muscle and training; heavy horses in deep breasted leather. It beckons deeply.

Yes, that would be a fine way to spend a life, and I’m under no illusions of romance or whimsy. Horses were lost because tractors were cheaper or faster, and faster is cheaper since time became money. I face the dream knowing that it would hurt, hurting already from the sacrifices I’ve made to move as slowly as I do. Think of it; dark, muscular shapes in the dawn and dusk to work and from it; praying and labouring with likeminded souls. I could make a quiet kind of peace with that.

I heard over the gate from a neighbour that Clydesdale horses used to be bred here. One was sold to great acclaim at the Highland Show in the days when this was real work. There are still horseshoes in the midden and racks for saddles and tack where the swallows nest. They say that the last horse in this place was sold to the knackers in 1963 or thereabouts. She was an old-timer called Bett. They kept her for as long as they could, then seemed to remember that a horse makes for a costly pet.

There’s no reason for me to reach for horses. I would love to hear my ground being ploughed; the huff and drift of wagons filled with summer hay, but those aren’t my memories. I’ve borrowed them from my grandfather’s generation, and I begin to wonder if horses drove beside us for so long that there’s some genetic imprint in all of us. In modernity, I’m convinced that we are reaching out towards some point of dissatisfaction. Part of it is horselessness.

So I’m ready for the cost and the labour – who knows what I’d give up to make it work. But I would never be wholly satisfied with a horse of my own. Because I know about diesel engines; I’ve seen the best of hydraulics and PTO shafts. I’m haunted by the fear that I’d work my horse well and lean heavily upon it – and one day I’d be tempted to cut a corner; I’d see the horse waiting for work and sigh, knowing that I could do my chores faster with a tractor.

And then the whole project would fall away as counterfeit – the ancient bond of co-dependence exposed as an eccentric hobby.


4 thoughts on “Horses

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