BY ELIZABETH JANOSKI
A Grand Offer
Two things have preoccupied me most of my life: writing and animals, particularly dogs and horses. Finding myself advancing in years with a doting husband, loving son, three border collies, eleven sheep, and two barn cats but no horses called to mind that adage, “You ain’t gettin’ any younger.” So off I went. First for lessons, as I had forgotten everything I had learned previously, and later a casual search for my own horse.
I set a few parameters that I thought would be hard to match. The horse had to be from a rescue organization that would take her back if I found myself out of my depth and be found within a three-hour driving distance. I wasn’t particularly picky about the breed or color, but I did want a mare.
Owning a thoroughbred never crossed my mind but suddenly there was a Grand Offer, barn name “Peach.” After a career at Charles Town (WV), through the efforts of Aftercare Charles Town, Peach was placed with Thoroughbred Retirement, Rehabilitation and Careers in West Chester, PA. We careened down the turnpike just to look but one is never “just looking” when toting a horse trailer. My husband and I are now spending many wonderful hours grooming, bathing, riding, and spoiling Peach’s good manners with too many carrots. She is quiet, gentle, and kind, and very patient with her inept rider.
This spring I began working with artist Chris Lathrop on a book called Emergence: Wayfinding Through Art and Prose. As we chose paintings from her body of work, the theme of finding one’s way through the chaos by connecting with nature, animals, and others fell into place. I began to work on my part which was a short meditative essay to accompany each painting. I had previously written about Peach, but there was no painting to accompany it. I was delighted and grateful when Chris agreed to do a painting of Peach and I sitting together after a ride so that the following essay could be included in the book.
“A New Normal”
When young Thoroughbreds are retired sound of body from the track, the lucky ones find new jobs in different fields. However, they need retraining because all they know to do is to plunge from a starting gate and run as fast as they can. Peach has been learning basic skills that make her a safe horse for an amateurish rider and she accepts the nonsensical slow circles that are asked of her because she loves any kind of work.
Early in the morning, her legs flash in the sun as we connect through the lunge line. She shakes her head as she canters, her muscle memory recalling early morning gallops with a rider hunched over her, urging her faster and faster until her legs become a blur. Peach has in her pedigree a French champion named Sea Bird who won both the English Derby and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, but she is now a graceful bird in a comfortable cage.
Here, in her new life, Peach will walk, trot, and canter, but never again stretch out her elegant neck and push her body forward, churn her legs deeply into the sandy track as she digs down into her soul for that last ounce of power to use in her flight toward the finish line.
Peach slows to a stop at my behest. She slowly walks to me, helpfully pushing her sensitive nose through the tangled line. I feel her breath on my wrists, and I catch the essence of her soul in my hands. As we start again, the metal gate behind us clatters in the wind, and sweet and gentle Peach springs forward from her haunches to plunge into a determined quickstep then swiftly canters. Our shadows blend on the ground as she whirls around me, catching me up on her wild run to catch the fading moon. Then, at my behest, the swift and wild bird blood within her cools and she folds her wings and alights on the ground, slowing into a swinging trot, a walk, then she once again alights, waiting patiently while I unclip the lunge line and fiddle with reins and stirrups so that I may climb awkwardly into the saddle and we begin to peacefully walk together in the sun, melding together in a comfortable partnership that is only rarely interspersed by the powerful sound of her swiftly beating wings.
“Peach and Liz”
8” x 10”
Excerpted from the book Emergence: Wayfinding through Art and Prose by Chris Lathrop and Elizabeth Janoski available at Slanted Art Gallery via the Gallery’s website https://slantedartcooperative.square.site/.
Chris Lathrop’s works depict the rural countryside of Northeast PA and other areas of the US, Australia, and Canada. Her work is available at Slanted Art and through fineartamerica.com. Follow her work on Facebook @Chrislathropart. Elizabeth Janoski is also the author of two children’s books and is a freelance writer as well as an adjunct professor of English at Southern New Hampshire University. News about her writings and fiber art is available on Facebook @Elizabeth’sShipmeadow.