Exploring winter fields in the Year of the Horse


On Friday, the Year of the Horse will begin. Chinese New Year comes this week, and this year in the Chinese calendar is equestrian.

Horses in Chinese myth seem to have many roles. In "Journey to the West," a classic epic, a dragon takes the form of a white horse and becomes a main character. The horse-head lady is a protector of sericulture, of silk worms. And I have read that the White Horse Temple is thought to be the oldest Buddhist temple in China.

Horses, mythologcally, seem to invoke mindful will, will-power.

Makes sense to me.

Riding in winter, I'd walk out to open the paddock gate with the halter over my shoulder. The horse and I would walk together through the snow to the barn aisle, this one-ton creature calmly picking a way up the icy path, and me sliding in my smooth-soled riding boots.

In the saddle, we would warm up and unstiffen together. The horse moves steadily, and I move with him. We talk by moving. Maybe people playing with a dog, calling and throwing a tennis ball, know how I feel when a horse is skimming around a corner, and I am leaning, shifting weight, nudging with a calf to signal -- turn here, relax, curve with the fence, let your head drop.

Riding in the ring is a quiet discipline. On a good day I end up blown and sore and elated. My feet are cold and my blood is up.

But the best always comes outdoors.

I remember a winter afternoon, riding in a field at Bonnie Lea. The sun was sinking, and the sky was deep blue touched with sunset. You know how it always feels lighter outside. When we trotted, the horse had to lift each foot high out of the snow.

Maybe people on snowshoes or cross-country skis feel this way. When you walk across a meadow in snow that would have you floundering thigh-deep -- in showshoes you slide into the top like walking on sand. It feels like seeing something from a new angle, like walking down the middle of the stream.

I have walked through the meadows of Springside Park on snowshoes after a deep snowfall. I was sweating over a half-mile trek, dripping with flung ice particles, and high with it. Walking along the edge of a meadow a snow-ball's throw from my house was suddenly a superhuman feat. In the new snow I slid and floundered under the bare apple trees, knowing I had two feet of powder under my feet, and I felt as though I was walking on water.

I got to the sidewalk and knocked snow off the teeth of the snowshoes and sat on the wooden guard rail, laughing.

Snowshoes make walking its own rhythm, its own motion, like riding a horse. Maybe that's a good place to start.

This year in the Chinese calendar is also the year of wood -- the wood horse. Between them, they seem to be a time of growing, springtime, wind, strength and flexibility, warmth, generosity, cooperation and idealism, sensuality and fertility.

That's a lot for one year to carry. It seems like a good time to open the Berkshire Carousel.


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