BY LISA MAE DEMASI
On Thanksgiving weekend I sat atop Shadow, one of the two lesson horses I ride, just outside the indoor, wallowing in the delight of being at the barn as I chatted with my riding teacher and a couple of other riders.
Getting married was on my mind. My fiancé and I had been engaged a year and chose January 10th as our wedding date, but remained undecided on a venue for the eight-minute-and-seven-second private ceremony.
Our Justice of the Peace had offered to officiate at her home. But I had no attachment to the location—or to the insides of a church. My attachment, naturally, was in the saddle with my horsey peeps, surrounded by nature and everything-equine. The question came out of my mouth before I even knew what I was asking.
“Linda,” I said to my riding teacher. “Could Dennis and I get married here?”
She didn’t even know we were engaged—I wore riding gloves. Her jaw gaped in surprise. The other riders smiled on.
I said, “You know, here?”
Linda recovered her good-natured demeanor in no time. But not before I asked, “With our J.P. and Shadow and Nacho as our two witnesses?”
Linda’s smile was a mile wide. “Let me check with the powers that be,” she replied.
The farm’s owners not only agreed to allow the ceremony on the property, but were thrilled at the prospect.
On a subsequent ride with my two friends, Courtney and Candace, we picked out a spot for the wedding, a grassy area beside the dressage arena before a long sweeping row of cattails that tapered well over ten feet high. It was perfect.
On our wedding day, fourteen years to the day we met, Dennis and I stood before Gayle, our J.P. with Linda and Nacho to Dennis’s side, and Shadow by my own. A video camera was propped on a table, recording.
Gayle recited from the ceremony:
“Our purpose for gathering today is to give a new official status to the life that you share. Your lives already are tied together by a deep personal commitment; your marriage is an affirmation and acknowledgement of all that you are to each other. Marriage gives structure and security to a couple’s love. Marriage is a commitment to life, the best that two persons can find and bring out in each other.”
At this juncture in the speech, Shadow and Nacho began ferociously feeding on the frozen grass. While Nacho ate off to the side, not particularly disruptive, Shadow kept turning his hindquarters to the camera. What was that thing that W.C. Fields said? Never work with animals or children on live TV?
I turned Shadow 180 degrees for the second time and announced, “This is going to be a very fluid and dynamic ceremony.”
There was laughter, a whinny from one of the horses in the paddocks. Gayle resumed her task and instructed Dennis and I to recite our vows:
“Lisa, before you, life was a chore. With you, life is a joy. I want to share in that joy with you for the rest of my life.”
“Dennis, me without you is like sky without blue. As long as there is sky, I shall be with you.”
Shadow stepped squarely on my foot. Good thing I was wearing cowboy boots, not high heels. I nudged him off my foot as he continued to power through the grass like a fairway mower.
Linda began the reading, the foreword to Dr. Allan J. Hamilton’s book Lead with Your Heart… Lessons from a Life with Horses.
Teaching without preaching, horses lead by example and employ the lessons of experience. They epitomize immersive learning at its best. And they challenge us with their formidable size and strength to bring results through collaboration rather than by force. Horses have developed their own compelling models of fairness, forgiveness, and leadership. They have acquired a group identity, a consciousness not as singular beings but as members of a family, a herd. They see themselves not as individuals in the isolated context of “me” but as relatives in a family in the broader framework of “we.” And they derive a powerful and gratifying sense of inclusion from it.
Horses share resources for the benefit of the herd. They are a wise, gentle species that eschews the notion that might defines right. While stallions with their reproductive imperative come and go, the alpha mare endures as herd leader. Because they understand what it means to be hunted, horses have the most profound appreciation for the benefits of peace. They yearn for harmony, kindness, and tranquility; they crave freedom from anxiety, abuse and predation. With their nonviolent attitude, horses are a testament that a partnership based on trust is far more productive than one that relies on dominance.
I thanked Linda for her heartfelt reading. Shadow ate the grass at my feet in such a way that his body made my own disappear; the camera only captured my head, a centaur in the midst of getting hitched. Nacho had stopped eating grass, and pawed the ground with his left foreleg. Was this his sign of consent?
Gayle moved to the ring exchange. Dennis and I didn’t want wedding bands, this wasn’t our first rodeo, and I neglected to give him my engagement ring before the ceremony. I placed Shadow’s reins between my legs, a gesture that would make any true equestrian cringe, and pulled at the glove on my left hand. Shadow, sensing the loosening of the reins, moseyed after more grass.
My glove fell to the ground. I picked it up, took off my ring and handed it to Dennis. Linda giggled. Nacho nodded his head up and down in great big gestures. Gayle maneuvered away from Shadow’s roving hindquarters.
Time skipped and stymied until I realized Dennis held the ring before my finger “Lisa, each time you put on this ring, may it remind us both of the love and joy and commitment we share.”
I regained my presence of mind, smiled to Dennis and thought, yes, this is very nice, thank you.
“It is my privilege to say, by the power vested in me by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but most especially by the power of your own love, I pronounce you husband and wife. You may seal your marriage with a kiss or a neigh!”
After Dennis and I engaged in quick smooch, Linda made the suggestion of a lifetime. “Let’s move the horses to the frozen footing of the dressage arena for picture taking!”
“Good thinking,” I said, laughing and leading Shadow a mere ten feet away to solid ground, where the horses behaved picture-perfect, calm and sweet and even, comical, and we stole away with beautiful snapshots that will forever seal my desire to get married in the presence of horses.
Lisa publishes essays on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents, a story about proving herself capable of taking care of horses on a Wyoming dude ranch, and is at work on two sequels. You can contact her at [email protected] and follow her @lisamaedemasi, LinkedIn or via her website nurtureismynature.com.