“ I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d . . .” ~ Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
Of all the horses I have spent time with while volunteering at Glen Ellen Vocational Academy (GEVA), an Equine Retirement Foundation and Sanctuary for Retirement and Rehabilitation in Glen Ellen, CA, perhaps none is more “ placid and self-contain’d” than Chillao. Seldom perturbed by the goings on of those around her, be they human or equine, she is very much her own person.
Like most of the horses at GEVA, Chillie is an Off-The-Track Thoroughbred— although she never actually raced due to her knees failing under the strain of training. So after a surgeon shored up her knees with some pins, she came to GEVA, a beautiful dappled grey 3-year-old. Now 21, she is almost snow white, and those knees of hers are gnarly with arthritis—not that she lets that get in her way. Whether the ground is hard or soft, dry or muddy, even or uneven, flat or hilly, Chillao doesn’t hesitate to traverse it. It may look as if she’s hesitating when she stands at the edge of less-than-perfect ground, but what she’s really doing is calculating—calculating the best path, given the condition of the ground and the condition of her knees. And once she’s figured it out, she proceeds with complete confidence, surefooted as a mule. I suppose at some time, in some place, she must have stumbled or slipped or taken a wrong step, but I have yet to see it.
Chillie also never hesitates to strongly express her opinion when she feels the occasion warrants it. Like at dinner time. She and the five geldings with whom she shares a paddock all have designated places where their dinner buckets are hung, and they all know perfectly well who eats where. But that doesn’t keep Chillie from going a bit early into the shed where she eats so she can kick the walls—just in case anyone has forgotten that it is her shed (even though Murphy eats in there, too), and that no one comes in there until her bucket has been hung! BAM!
Aside from the meals they provide, humans don’t seem to hold much interest for Chillie; she seldom, if ever, goes out of her way to come over and say hello the way many horses do, including the ones she lives with. But she is not at all an unfriendly or hostile creature—maybe she just finds us boring. That said, there is one thing Chillao loves that only a human can do for her—she loves having her mane and tail detangled. The hair that makes up Chillie’s mane and tail is thin and fine, which makes it easily tangled and knotted by the wind, so detangling needs to be done fairly often. While I work on her mane, Chillao stands quietly of her own volition, unhaltered, because she’s not fond of being haltered, and because I know once I’ve started working, she won’t go anywhere. And she doesn’t. As I work on her mane, her head gets lower and lower. By the time I’ve finished her tail, she is almost asleep. And then, when I tell her I’m done and give her a pat good-bye, this aloof, self-contain’d mare, who finds humans of so little interest, and whose knees ache, turns and walks with me all the way across the paddock to the gate.