A brisk cold wind is gusting across the Flats today, swirling the clouds over the mountains and shaking the autumn-coloured leaves loose from their branches. Even though the sun is shining, it feels cold and chilly – winter is definitely approaching. I need to clear my head after working on the computer for a few hours, so I walk down to the Oude Molen Eco-village.
Right next to the Millstone Farm Stall are a couple of paddocks with horses. There is one large paddock, where they spend most of their time, and one smaller, circular paddock, which is sometimes used for horse riding lessons. Inbetween the two paddocks is another small enclosure. I’m guessing it is occasionally used to keep a particular horse separate from the herd for whatever reason.
The horses, I have since learnt, belong to a young man by the name of Kendré Allies. See here for the website of the African Horse Company, whose original base is here at Oude Molen, although their main home is now in the Overberg. They run various horse trails from there, which sounds just wonderful.
Kendré has a fascinating history (see here for the details of a movie made about him and his horses). He is one of those remarkable individuals who has been touched and healed by horses…
The more time I spend here, looking at the horses, touching them, observing them, talking with them, the more I too can sense the gentle but profound healing effect they can have. If you let them, of course. I wish I knew all their names, but I don’t yet. But I’m planning to, even if it takes a while.
So, I lean against the fence of the circular paddock, watching the horses tugging straw out of the nets dangling from the fence posts and calmly chewing each mouthful. Most of the straw already lies scattered on the ground, because horses are rather messy eaters. But nothing goes to waste: with heads bent low, their muzzles nudge and snuffle against the small heaps of straw, as they carefully separate the edible bits from the soil. I find myself marvelling at how they do that – their noses and muzzles must be so sensitive.
Watching horses eat is so soothing… it always brings me right into the moment. And after a while, I can feel my brain waves too slowing down and the chatter of thoughts settling. It’s like watching the choppy surface of a lake, churned up by the wind, gradually becoming smooth and gentle.
I love watching the interactions between the horses. There is so much body language going on all the time. It’s quite fascinating. They all have different personalities, and their own ways of dealing with challenges to their authority from another horse. Some give way meekly, while others protest and put up a fight. Some move out of the way immediately, others stand their ground defiantly, before yielding to the stronger.
When I arrive, the horses are clustered around piles of straw, in groups of three or four. The stable workers must have been hard at work, distributing bales of hay and straw around the large paddock. Old bathtubs and large tractor tyres are recycled for use as feeding troughs, and to keep the straw from flying all over the place.
The horses snuffle contentedly, chewing one placid mouthful at a time, and looking relaxed. A tail flicks to chase off an annoying fly. A twitch ripples along the back, signalling an itch. A head is raised to nibble at a more persistent itch. One horse rubs himself against a cable anchored in the ground. Back to the food, snuffle, munch, chew, swallow, snufffle…
Suddenly, the idyllic peace is interrupted.
One horse decides that his pile of food is no longer as tasty as that pile over there. With neck outstretched and ears folded back tight, nose wrinkled and tail flicking, he moves towards the group.
They fold back their ears in annoyance, but reluctantly move out of the way. One of them doesn’t, and gets a slight nip on the haunches from the interloper as punishment for his defiance.
He squeals, more out of irritation than pain, and trots off to a nearby pile of straw, his folded back ears and flaring nostrils signalling, “Get away, get away, that’s my food now.”
For the next few minutes, the chain reaction ripples around the paddock, with horses moving or being moved from one group to another.
I notice one horse who has made the circuit of the entire paddock, without being allowed into any grouping. He looks dejected, his large ears flopping outwards, and hangs his head. (I later learn his name: Blitz, because of the blaze down the front of his face.) He sees me standing at the side of the paddock, and comes over to say hello. He asks politely whether I perhaps have a carrot for him. Sadly, I don’t, so he wanders off in search of an abandoned pile of straw.
A flock of pigeons, which has been hopping and pecking about in the straw, suddenly takes off with a flurry of wings, scattering fragments of hay, earth and feathers. All the pigeons in the entire paddock are airborne within a split second. How do they time that so perfectly?
They fly above us in a large circle, before spiralling down again and alighting on the telephone or electrical wires that run between the trees across the paddocks.
They wait, the wire under them swaying gently in the breeze. A minute later, in perfect unison, all of them are airborne once more, before gliding effortlessly down onto the ground. Hopping and pecking in the straw, they almost get under the large hooves of the horses. Neither the horses nor the birds are fazed by this.
Today, I made friends with a very dark, almost black horse. He was standing at the edge of the circular paddock, nibbling at the straw on the ground, and occasionally giving a snort to clear his nose from the dust, I presume. I reached through the fence and started to stroke him. He raised his head and looked at me. I said a polite Hello. He blinked slowly, calmly, gazing at me for a moment, before lowering his head to the ground again. I stroked his neck and his back for a while, stretching to get there. He stopped eating for a while, closed his eyes and gave a sigh. I like to think that it was contentment. 🙂
Bye for now, horses!