This is my neighbor and friend. When I first met him, I called him “Fella.”
Early in the morning or for a post-dinner stroll, I would saunter down to his corral, ripping up the lighter, fresher grass on the outside of the fence for him, relishing in his nibbling lips and velvet nose in my palm.
As nights continued, I started to pet his shoulder and admire his trembling muscles, noting their strength, stunned by his grandeur, inching closer and closer to him, pressing carefully around the barbed wire fence. One day he rested his head, just for a moment on top of mine. The sheer magnificence of an animal’s allowance spiraled down my spine. After the grandness of his gesture, I excitedly turned towards him, and he sheepishly or stoically turned away.
As days progressed, I would recount my events or my quandaries to him. When my sister was in labor, it was to Fella I ran to seek solace and ask for peace. Sometimes he would turn his head, so I could reach his ears. Sometimes he would just stare into my eyes, silencing my doubts. I fed him carrots, or kale - even fennel for his breath – but mostly carrots. He was so pleased with his carrots, and I with him that one meeting I kissed the white paint-stroke between his eyes. We were both a little shocked, but neither receded.
I have ridden horses, maybe a dozen times in my life. I have no training in being with them, what to do what not to do. Once when Fella’s lips moved a little too forcefully, I quickly pulled my hands away. He brought his nose even closer, right to my hand, mimicking the same movement, but with the lightness of a feather. I was humbled and touched and learning.
The more enamored I became, the less I feared his strength. On a particularly sunny afternoon I strolled with carrots in hand to an empty corral. My eyes searched the horizon and I noticed a horse, tethered in a tall grassy field across the street. I walked cautiously and called, “Hey handsome,” and he turned. It was Fella.
Picking up my pace, I made my way over; he too turned and began strutting towards me. We were a few feet apart in a field; me free, he with yards and yards of thin rope, ending upon a metal stake. Fear snapped and flooded my system. He, all muscles and hooves, was free: the rope a facade of safety. My heart pounded. If I turned, he had enough room to catch me; if I made an insulting move, he had room to strike me. The illusion of equality that the protection of the corral had afforded me was gone – and I was scared. And ashamed.
Fella, sensing, stopped and lowered his head to the ground.
I could hear my breath and feel his soft exhale. Me, the free, intelligent one, standing still. He tethered, willing to relinquish what little freedom he had, head bowed.
“I’m so sorry,” slipped out. My not as steady hand, held out a carrot, as he slowly lifted his head, meeting my eyes, nibbling.
“I think, I think,” I offered, my breathing ever so slowly returning to normal. My focus – a heart exhale. “I think I should call you Prince.”
Prince shifted his weight, accepting a second carrot. I could still feel my heart pound, but I intended a request to him to accept my fear, to know that I respected him, to show me how.
How often do we endeavor into our own adventures, so proud of our accomplishments that we do not realize the humble hands that lift us? The arms of mothers, the shoulders of fathers, the hands of teachers, the silence of beloveds, the bones of animals, allowing us to stand strong while they bow.
I moved closer to Prince when he finished his carrots, stroking his long, long neck, massaging around his scapula, scratching his ear, and patting his cheek. He wrapped his neck around my midriff, ear pressing into the small of my back, and I was full - stunned to be loved so regally.
"We come nearest to great when when we are great in humility."