This is Sanchez.
Sanchez is one of the seven horses I was overseeing at the show this weekend, as groom and stablehand and walker. We call him the Goldfish because he’s the exact colour of a new penny in the sun, and has an attention span of about five seconds. Regardless, he’s a good old pro at show jumping.
A big old pro. He’s eighteen and a half hands — I could hide behind him and the top of my head would be hidden. We joke that he gums people to death, because he has this weird oral fixation. If something is in front of his face, he’ll grab it with his lips and play with it. Blankets, buckets, shoes, his own tail, lead ropes, hoses. This includes people.
So today, he bit me.
Now, you probably think I’m talking about a big angry chomp, the way you’d normally imagine horses biting — an aggressive thing. But it wasn’t at all.
He has, for some reason, become really attached to me — uncommonly so, since I’m not his rider and don’t see him very often — and his favorite thing to do when I’m within reach is to put his head down, open his lips, and rest his teeth on my shoulder. He’s done this so many times now that it doesn’t make me nervous, even though he is a Very Large Mammal. I’m perfectly well aware that if he wanted to, he could take a chunk out of my neck and rip out my carotid artery, and that I would bleed out before the paramedics even knew I existed. I’ve worked with horses long enough to know the danger from the inside.
So when A was putting the mud studs into Sanchez’s shoes at oh-god-o-clock this morning, he stopped comfort-gumming my shoulder and actually bit down. Wrapped his teeth around my bony little shoulder and just…held it. And I let him. Stood there while A screwed the horse equivalent of cleats into his feet, and let him hold my entire shoulder in a mouth the size of a toaster.
I, in other words, let a 1500-pound mammal use me as a pacifer.
That…requires an extraordinary amount of trust. It was a humbling moment. I had a sudden sense of inner quiet, like I had been granted a glimpse of clarity in the midst of chaos and dust and two hundred screaming horses. A moment of stunning safety, despite the fact that he could have shaken me like a ragdoll and snapped my neck at any time. Like he was saying, “It’s okay, little monkey. It’s okay, little breakable thing. Be still. Breathe. The storm is in your head. Don’t you see how smooth this machine is running? Don’t you see the beautiful morning? I’ll just hold on until you do.”
When we were packing up, A said to me, “I always feel bad about how much work you do for no money.” I said, “Don’t! I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it.”
I thought, but didn’t say, no, you’ve got it backwards. What price could I possibly pay her for the privilege of being allowed to work at the shows? What dollar value can you attach to such a thing? To be able to share a patio chair with famous coaches. To be trusted with the intimate care of animals worth more than all the money I’ve made in my whole life.
To let a thing ten times my weight press its teeth into my shoulder, and remind me to be humble.