Thursday, May 6, 2010

Horses, Real and Imagined

ANNA'S RETURN, the third book in the Pleasant Valley series, will be out in less than a month. I just love the cover--I think it's the best yet. The figure in the background is Samuel, Anna's hero. In addition to working in the machine shop owned by Anna's brother, Samuel is known far and wide for his talent with horses. Like the character in THE HORSE WHISPERER, Samuel even seems to know what the creatures are thinking.

We had horses for a number of years while our kids were growing up, and while I learned to love them, I can't say I always understood them. How is it that a creature the size of a horse can become suddenly terrified of a piece of blowing paper? And stubborn! My son had a small dun pony, Ginger, who was the stubbornest animal ever born, I think. Fortunately my son was equally stubborn!

Some might say that the horse is the quintessential symbol of what it means to be Amish in twenty-first century America. By choosing to travel by horse and buggy, to work their fields with horse-drawn equipment, the Amish are making a sacrifice and a decision which impacts their lives every day. A sacrifice, because it takes time and trouble and effort to travel by horse and buggy, which makes each trip a matter for consideration. Is it really necessary? Sometimes I think our lives, and our planet, would be better off if all of us asked ourselves that question.

By choosing to use the horse instead of the car, the Amish are automatically putting restrictions on themselves--restrictions as to how far they will travel, how fast they will go, how quickly the work will be done. Horses symbolize the slower pace of Amish life. In fact, they contribute to that. If you can't jump into the car and drive off to the mall to shop or see a movie, you're more likely to be doing things at home or in the community.

My car may need nothing more than fuel and regular maintenance, but a horse requires much, much more. It must be taken care of every single day: fed, watered, turned in and turned out, its stall cleaned. One can't just park it and walk away, and that constant care for another living creature is a responsibility that must be taken seriously.

I saw a young Amish man one day training a young horse to the buggy, a task that takes endless patience. He had been driving it along the narrow country road, and when it balked at traffic he drew off into a graveled lot and started all over again--working with the animal, getting it used to traffic, patiently repeating the lesson he'd been teaching it.

That endless patience can be one of the gifts of Amish life. It's one I've tried to highlight in ANNA'S RETURN. Writing about it has already been a gift for me, bringing back memory after memory of the 'horse years.' They weren't necessarily all happy memories, but with every incident, there was something of value to be learned, and I wouldn't trade that for anything.

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