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When I first bought my farm, my vet told me that I would find myself spending more time caring for my horses than riding them. Although I have not found this to be entirely true, the routine chores required for horse care do take up much of my time and occupy my thoughts. Still, it’s a choice; being in the barn or outside working brings peace, quiet, good health, and the assurance that the horses have the things they need to live well. 

One chore I've been thinking about a lot is scrubbing buckets, a job that changes with the seasons, much like trail riding, but the urgency of the routine remains a constant for both and a way of life with horses. 

July peeks around the corner and already, we have melted on some steamy summer days. Just before turnout yesterday evening, I scrubbed the big bucket in the pasture to expel the grime that had built up in only a few days' time as well as insects, grass clippings, and other natural debris that seem to resist the force of the bristles of the brush. Summer scrubbing requires elbow grease! After a final rinse, I left the hose running in the bucket and went to the barn to fetch my eager horses. After having turned out the first one, I turned off the hose as the bucket was nearly full. On my way back to the barn, I spied my intelligent paint who went straight to the bucket to slake his thirst with the satisfying taste of fresh, cool water. I had to stop to smile as I continued my chores, gleaming with a sense of both admiration and satisfaction. While different in some ways, I thought about times when we have stopped for a drink in a stream or river on our trail rides. Drinking water, a necessity for life as important as breathing, reminds us of the elemental joys that connect us to the natural world. 

On those blistering days of summer, I often dream about my favorite riding season: fall. As the forest turns every shade of yellow, orange, and red, the air chills to a long-awaited crispness yearned for in the summer months. Harriers glide in the skies above as we bid adieu to hummingbirds and butterflies bound for points south. Surrounded by the magnificence of autumn’s bounties, my horse and I pick up the pace on our rides through the meadows as we enjoy the clean, light fall atmosphere. 

The water buckets are less challenging to clean as nothing seems to be able to grow along the insides in fall. A few leaves, like boats, float on the surface, but are easily whisked away just as the wind strips them off the trees. Crystalline water maintains its coolness despite a warm day as the nights’ darkness prevails over temperature and so much more. 

When snow comes, I am reminded of what nature writer extraordinaire, John McPhee, called “the control of nature.” Despite human attempts to take over, nature always wins, as it should. Buckets fill with snow or worse yet, they freeze. I can crack the ice fairly easily if the temperatures hover around freezing, but when they plunge into the mid-teens or single digits, I cannot crack it. This requires daily filling and emptying of new buckets. While I have some heated ones, others located far from a power source stay cold like the weather. While this is the hardest time of year to deal with buckets, in those chilling early mornings around 5 am, I am always rewarded by the sight of the moonset, a daily reassurance of beauty and time, even if the clouds shroud the sky making the glowing orb invisible to me. Often, I hear the screech owl calling eerily, but I never see him or her. Knowing about where the bird is from his or her voice must suffice. As I crack away, my wrist and hand joints and bones aching, I try to remember the importance of this routine and the privilege of being out in the world just before daybreak. I look forward to my rides in the snow, grateful to my steed for the extra work of traveling through the snow. 

By March, having lived for many years in northern New England, I am ready for spring, an end to cracking ice and the thrill of new growth and birth filled with hope and faith in the possibilities of life to come. Everything changes on our trail rides. The ground cover returns, buds appear, and the smell of things changes completely. The buckets are easily cleaned and cooled once again. 

In summer, next spring seems far away, but holds its promises. I will still be scrubbing buckets, reveling the natural world around me, and my horse and I will always be off on another adventure. 

Katharine MacCornack
Published on 2020-06-29