Sunday, December 05, 2010

when we are old and gray

I was thinking of a favorite poem this weekend, by William Butler Yeats, which opens:

When you are old and gray and full of sleep
 And nodding by the fire, take down this book
And slowly read...

And in my head it morphed to this:

When you are old and gray and full of sleep
And mucking out five stalls...

It reminded me of an older woman I saw once while with my daughter at a Pony Club activity. She could walk, but not easily, and two women around my age were helping her from the car to the barn. I imagined she might be one of the women's mother, come to see a horse, but after a while the women and two saddled horses came out of the barn, and with a fair amount of struggle, they helped the older woman mount. Then one of the other women mounted and the two rode off together. The older woman seemed happy, and her horse was frisky, but settled down as they rounded a curve in the path and disappeared.

Someone told me later that the older woman boarded her horse there, and although she was barely able to walk or mount, she often came out with various friends who agreed to help her and ride with her, because she was determined to keep riding as long as she could.

Sometimes, when I'm doing particularly difficult chores here on November Hill, I wonder what it might be like to manage things when I'm old and gray, and have to go more slowly, and more carefully than I do now.

I'm fortunate to have a husband who not only pitches in mightily on a daily basis, but is ten years younger than I am, and two children who I think will try to help as much as they can. But in the later years it could certainly be difficult for even an aged couple to do all the things that need doing.

I have in mind a retirement arrangement for horsewomen, where instead of struggling alone a group go in together, pooling resources so that everyone keeps their animals at "the home" and everyone pitches in to do what they can do. What can't be done could be hired out, which would be affordable if divided among the group. Wouldn't it be great for the grown children to know that aging parents have company and help and animals are safe and cared for?

Likely what set my mind on this course was the snow that fell here yesterday. We live in an area where the snow generally melts pretty quickly, but even one afternoon of trying to keep horses comfortable, especially Salina who can't go out on slippery footing but can't be stalled either due to her arthritic knees, set me thinking about my own body and abilities in the future.

While I walked around thinking about the future, the animals were all solidly in the present moment: horses and donkeys grazed their hay for half an hour as the snow fell, then made their way one by one to the barn where they went into clean, dry stalls full of hay. The Corgis ran wild, barking at the snow, Bear enjoying his very first snowfall ever. The Mystical Kit leaped into the air, capturing the snowflakes before they could hit the ground, and the other cats found baskets and boxes by the woodstove and poured themselves in like liquid fur.

I'd seen Keil Bay curl up like a kitten in the front field outside my window yesterday morning, soaking in the sun, as if he knew that later he would need that warmth. And last night, when we put blankets on, I realized that the first blanket I ever bought for Apache Moon, which was bought at the tack shop at the last minute on the day before a huge snowfall was forecast, and which was too big for him, now fits perfectly. I saved it as an extra all these years, but rarely used it because of how big it was. He's standing outside my window right this moment as I type, wearing the blanket, proving that I wasn't dreaming, or measuring wildly, when I taped him in October and discovered that he has grown an entire hand.

The snow is already gone, but we're in for a week of colder than usual temps for us. The wood stove is going strong, and I'm getting ready to take my daughter to a trail ride with her jumping classmates. While she rides out onto a 3000+ acre tract of trails, I'll sit in the truck and keep warm with a book.

The geldings just cantered past my window, reminding me that we are, for now, young and still full of beans on a cold morning.



































26 comments:

Grey Horse Matters said...

I loved this thoughtful post. How wonderful for the older woman's friends to help her with her horse and make it possible for her to still ride. Hope someone will do that for me as long as I am able. Your idea for a sort of community help-around with "home" horses is a good thought too. I guess we should all think about the future at some time and try to have a plan.

Stay warm. I remember sitting in the truck reading or doing crosswords while J. and friends went off on hunter paces or group trail rides. It was nice to be able to relax for a while with nothing to do.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Here's a Christmas wish:

May we age gracefully and fit-fully, with our dearest companions beside us... our chores always managing to get done, riding until our very last days.

Thanks for the lovely Sunday morning post Billie :)

billie said...

Arlene, I just got the first book in Rita Mae Brown's foxhunting series, so I think that will be a fitting thing to read while watching them ride off - not a hunt per se, but we're tailgating too, so it will feel a little bit like that.

billie said...

C, thank you for that wonderful wish. We shall 'make it so.' :)

Máire said...

My husband recently started to plan changes to our yard access because, as he said, we will be too old to haul feed etc any distance. I was very glad to see that he is resigned to the fact that we will have ponies at home in our old age too. Maybe we should go with that retirement idea.

Jessica Keener said...

Billie,
As always you inspire gentle wisdom. There's something so comforting about this thought and it underscores for all us this need for community in the animal kingdom (yes--humans, who keep forgetting how animal we are--).

This going it all alone business is a dead end trail.

Kate said...

As I approach 60, I think about this a lot. I have some physical limitations - very bad back that benefits from exercise and riding - and there are many jobs requiring heavy lifting that I can't do.

I, like the older lady, want to keep riding for as many years as I can, and hope I have friends like hers to help me.

ponymaid said...

Billie, amazingly, the Woman and her cronies have been speaking of just such a retirement home arrangement. I suppose I could live there - at least I would be able to explain my suffering to a greater immediate audience and they could see first hand how shabbily I am treated. It is snowing sideways here, wind howling and icy pellets embedding themselves in donkey ears. Jack is angry and upset and keeps asking how to get to "florider". This weather is fit for neither donkey nor beast.

billie said...

Maire, I think it's a great idea to begin looking for ways to make every single aspect of horse care and management easier - that will make a huge difference as the years pass!

billie said...

Jessica, I agree with the going it alone thing - I am a private person but at many different times in our lives we need shared resources and the ability to trade off various kinds of chores and care.

billie said...

Kate, I have some back issues that come and go but fortunately riding always makes it better - at this point I can do some heavy lifting but then I have to be very careful what *else* I do - that's a huge change for me, having to pick and choose rather than just "do it all."

billie said...

Oh, Sheaffer, I would love to be in the same "retirement farm" as you and The Woman and her cronies! What fun!

We had snow yesterday but it is all gone today. Obviously we did not carry through with our mission from LAST winter - to get that train organized that starts up where you are, heads down east, picks up anyone needing to escape the cold harsh winter, and ends up right here on November Hill.

I knew all those carefree summer months we should have been working instead of lollygagging around!!

kippen64 said...

Have decided that when I reach fragile old age, I will have gentle, sturdy Shetland Pony (the British type of course as I am in Australia) who I will drive in harness. When they are not in harness, they will be company for my ageing last riding horse.

Maddy said...

Yes indeed,like everything in life the old body changes. For years I held on to the firm conviction that I would advance into my elderly years with the same dexterity that I enjoyed in my youth. After all.. doesn't "mind conquer all"? Of course some horrible fatal disease could strike me down, but I did not dwell on that possibly.

Surprise! My very agile body changed and not for the better. My joints are not nearly as fluid as I would like them to be. In fact they are very stiff, they creak, and are quite painful. Ice packs, heating pads, and nonsteroidals are my new best friends. That being said, this I do know with great certainty. Billie has shared incredible wisdom with us and for this I thank her.
"When you are old and gray and full of sleep
And mucking out five stalls..." Billie
I believe beyond the shadow of a doubt, this is the key to enjoying our elderly years. There is a good possibility that over time you won't be as flexible or speedy as you once were, but I am presently fully engaged in living the reality that the one way to get the most out of life is to "keep on mucking", at whatever pace you can muster up.
The story shared was most inspirational, and I have a collection of similar stories on my desktop to remind me to "keep on mucking". Do as much as you can, as often as you can! Turn a deaf ear to anyone who tells you that you can't or should not pursue you dreams. (For me that includes the medical community. I am experiencing the sad fact that too often old people are written way too soon.)

I now thank Billie for my brand new slogan. It's short, it's sweet,and a great reminder that
“Whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually right.” Henry Ford

billie said...

Kippen, that sounds like a grand plan!

billie said...

Maddy - "keep on mucking" - wow! That is my new mantra. :)

I agree with you that the medical community often gives very conflicting information to seniors - they advocate exercise but then prescribe meds which lead to weakness in the legs, contributing to falls, which lead to knee and hip replacements, etc. etc. My dad spent the last 5 years of his life nearly incapacitated by medication to lower his cholesterol, which dropped so low (due to the meds) he actually had issues from not enough of the good kind!

He was one of the generation of people who believe doctors know best, so it was very hard to get him to consider stopping the meds. By the time he did he was in very bad shape indeed.

My mom is a good role model for me. She accepts the changes in her body and keeps doing the things she enjoys. She declined the knee replacement and has lost weight instead, which has improved the knee about 80%.

Anyway, it's wonderful to have such good company here to grow old with - here's to all of us keeping on mucking for many many many years to come!

jme said...

i love this post too and hope one day i will be like the old woman who never gives up riding... i often worry about that future, should i get there, as i don't intend to have children and neither do i intend to give up horses, so the idea of the retirement farm where aged riders band together is an appealing one to me - i'd be up for something like that!

Victoria Cummings said...

Billie - You and I are in the same boat, and I think it's good company. I remember a lady in California in her 80's with a pacemaker who rode her 23 year old horse. When the horse died, she bought another one and lots of people thought she was crazy. "I'm not done riding!" she told them. She was my role model. The way my mom has lived to be 96 is to get up early each morning and just get going without stopping until it's time for bed. I admit that i am not so driven, having discovered the benefits and the art of doing nothing for at least a few moments in my day.
It's bitter cold and windy here. No snow yet, but the girls were happy when I put the blankets on them yesterday. How weird that there was snow down South before we got any in New England!

billie said...

j, you are always welcome on my "retirement farm." :) Although I think you are way younger than I am!

jme said...

i'm there! and i may be younger in years, but some days my body feels ready to retire now ;-)

billie said...

Victoria, isn't it odd that we got snow first? I was thinking that as the flakes fell.

I think there is something to doing nothing too - and I agree that the getting up and getting moving every day is key to keeping all those "muscles" working.

Greta said...

Well, Billie, YOU are way younger than I am, but maybe we can grow older together, at least in the same county! I'm not a rider now, so I won't be riding in my oldER age, but I know I'll still love being around horses and donkeys.

billie said...

J, LOL - we "retirees" will put you right to work teaching lessons. We'll invest in a nice tall mounting block with a guard rail. :)

billie said...

Greta, as long as I live with horses and donkeys, you are welcome to come be with them. :)

national loans said...

I just read your article and I must tell you that I was impressed. I love horses and I hope someday I will own some. Happy New Year Billie.

billie said...

Thank you, national loans!