Fall is in the air. Someone has a hickory fire warming the morning and I savor the whiff I get. The early morning temperature is cool on my face as I go out the back door, pull on my barnyard boots, and head out to feed the horses. The sky is overcast but there is no wind. Except for the rumblings from the thunderhead on the northern horizon, all is peaceful. Lillian and Maggie romp around me as we go through the gate. Thaddeus, the fat dachshund, chose to stay in the house and sleep a little longer.
Whinnies greet us as Torr, the yearling stallion in the west pen, and the fillies Tujaa and Tether in the south lot see us. The refrain is picked up by the three mares and Nabby the gelding in the east lot. A welcome of this magnitude promises well for the day, my step quickens, and I find myself feeling extraordinarily happy.
A quick pat on Tujaa's rump and I squeeze by the fillies to get to the feed room. I hear a scrambling in the feed sack and catch a glimpse of my little mouse as he climbs out of his breakfast and, tumbling down the outside of the sack, scurries under a loose board. The mares and Nabby get their feed first and are already lined up around the bunk. Heather, the oldest and the matriarch, doesn't hesitate to claim her spot, the nearest to the feed room. She turns her head to look at the others, laying her ears back so they know who is boss.
I measure out the fillies' feed in one bucket, Torr's in another, and make the rounds. All are feeling the briskness of the morning and are eager for their breakfasts. As I climb through the fence boards into Torr's pen, he brazenly sticks his head into his bucket. Hard to imagine that just a few months ago he ran to the far corner of the pen when anyone came near. I make a mental note to be on my guard in case he becomes too cocky. Should he feel like nipping at the hand that feeds him, he will need a sharp reprimand.
Back to the feed room for Leonardo's breakfast. Circumstances have made this little colt special, and he rates a pasture all to himself. As I duck under the boards into his pasture, I note that the pigs are out again. The dogs see them at about the same time and with a paroxysm of barking race toward the far end of the pasture. But Leonardo had a head start. With ears forward and neck arched, he trots over to the pigs and bullies them back through the fence. I thrill to see him and know what an accomplishment this is. Vividly I recall the night when - Leonardo only one month old - his mother accidently stepped on his hind leg, breaking the bones. Thinking back over the year of recovery makes me appreciate the little rascal's basic wholeness now. He trots over to me as though proving his soundness and his happiness at being able to run and frolic in the dew-drenched grass, to toss his mane, and to chase pigs. My happiness increases.
On the walk over to the stable Lillian and Maggie flush a rabbit and the chase is on. Hearing the yelps, Thaddeus in the house sets up a campaign to get out and join the chase. I veer off course to release him from the suddenly unwanted comfort, and he brings up the rear in the hunt. I chuckle as I note how fast those four crooked little legs maneuver over the rough ground, balancing the blimp they're attached to. A miracle in itself.
Hearing the entourage, the weanlings come running out of the stable into the paddock, adding their whinnies to the noise of the hunt. One might think that they're cheering either the rabbit or the dogs, but I'm quite certain that they're really cheering the thought of breakfast.
As I open the door to the stable feed room I again hear the hurried rustle of a mouse in the feed bag. I open the top of the bag and the mouse, tiny, round, and gray, scrambles to the top edge of the sack and cockily greets me with a cheep before nose-diving down the outside of the bag and home to the nest. I contemplate the mouse situation, idly wondering how much horse feed it takes to feed a family of mice.
I open the door to the weanlings' stall, carrying their bucket of feed. Maenard has his morning head rub before yielding the way to the bunk. Nora, shy and retiring, stands back until I have dumped the feed into the bunk and retreated, back out.
One more mouth to feed before heading back to the house, Beaver's. Beaver is the stable cat and lives in the feed room with the mice in an apparent amicable atmosphere. Knowing the schedule, he hasn't yet aroused himself for his morning stretch. Seeing me back from the weanlings it is time. I fill his water bowl and his cat food pan, giving him a rub. He responds by wrapping himself around my leg in a cat greeting. Then I am abandoned for the food pan. I close the feed room door and round up my three choremates. The rabbit is safe. Knowing all mouths are busy on the equine front, I can now begin on the human breakfasts. The day has begun.