Get out the big box of Kleenex.
This story comes from Courtney
This story comes from Courtney
The worst part about mucking stalls is that you have a lot of time to think. A lot of time to wonder,
“What if Richard hadn’t been up in that hayloft? What if the paramedics got there faster? Why
didn’t he use his arms to break the fall? When is he gonna come home again? Will he ever be
able to ride his horses again?”
Plenty of time to think, but the answers never come to me.
Richard is the husband of my trainer, Marj. She and my mom are the same age and are good
friends. Marj and Richard have both been horse people for decades. I have only just begun. I
have taken many lessons here with Marj and I still have a lot to learn.
I am mucking stalls today because Richard can’t. Almost two weeks ago he was working in the
barn with his son, and he suddenly fell from the hayloft. He’s been in a coma ever since. He goes
up into that hayloft every day, and has been for twenty years. What happened? With a barn full of
horses, I have plenty of stalls to muck and plenty of time to torture myself with questions and
Richard is one of those quiet guys. A man of few words but much wisdom. When he speaks,
you better listen because it’s gonna be important. But he is almost always smiling so you know
he isn’t the grumpy or unfriendly. He just doesn’t waste words.
This is even more true when he works with horses. I have never heard him say a single word to a horse. No “Hey's," no “No's," no “Giddyup's," nothing. And yet every horse knows exactly what is expected, and every horse listens to Richard. And respects him.
The barn is silent. But this isn’t the usual, comfortable silence of a barn full of content horses.
This is the silence of everyone holding their breath. The silence of all the horses knowing
something’s wrong. The sound of me flinging manure into the wheelbarrow is like thunder. But
it’s not loud enough to cover up the storm inside my head.
As I push the wheelbarrow to the next stall, it makes its trademark squeaking noise as we roll
down the aisle. I remember hearing this squeaking noise every evening last winter, when I was
here hand-walking my injured horse. It was under 20 degrees many nights, and this barn isn’t
heated. Richard was always there, bundled up in Carhartt, taking care of the horses without
complaint. He even hand-walked Zorro for me when the snow was so bad that I couldn’t make
the drive out to the barn. Marj was the one who told me about it, because Richard prefers to do
his good deeds quietly.
And I don’t even want to think about how many hours Richard spent helping me train Zorro to
load in a trailer. Zorro is a hot, stubborn horse, and it often took hours to get him in the trailer.
Richard never ran out of patience or smiles, in spite of the frustration. He never told me I had no
business owning a 3-year-old, even though I probably didn’t. He just quietly helped me every time
Richard is kind and respectful to everyone. From obnoxious children running loose in the barn, to
timid middle-aged re-riders, to silly girls like me who bought a horse with her first paycheck. He
is always helpful and never makes you feel bad about yourself, even as you are realizing how
little you know about horses. He’ll answer your dumb questions, help you with that tricky saddle
buckle (again), and then head out on the trail with you as if you are an equal partner. Am I ever
going to trail ride with Richard again?
This time, I do get an answer. My mom enters the barn, tears in her eyes. “He’s gone.”