Old Friends

A brown horse with black features standing next to an open barn door

Horse people can be fussy about hay. Very. They may be no less fussy about hay than someone else is about dog food, or cat food, or even fish food, but there’s more involved with hay. Where it’s stored. Put dry hay in a cool moist barn and the moisture leads to mold and mold’s bad for the horse. Put moist hay in a dry hot barn and that dang old nuisance called spontaneous combustion’l burn the barn down and that’s not good for the farm. How it’s stacked. Stack hay wrong and a bale seven, eight bales high might fall, hard and that’s gonna hurt the man or woman it falls on, seriously. There’s a lot involved with hay. But this is not about hay, or horses, or even horse people.

The farm has three friends, Hank, Mike and George, all farmers, been at it all their lives. Their last names are Kenney, Johnson and Iselin, but since we’ve not asked them for permission to use their names we’ll leave those out. They all work hay.

One Summer Hank’s equipment broke down. Hank is old school, “if you can’t fix it you probably shouldn’t own it”. He could fix it, but not in one day, not this equipment, not what broke on it. Now some jobs can go undone for a day, maybe two, without much lost. Farming’s not one of them. At least not all farming. Weeding, a day or two might not matter much. Picking. Unless a hard freeze is forecast, those apples will be fine for a few more days. Some jobs on a farm can slide just a bit. Haying’s not one of them. The window is small, framed by the weather. Wet fields can’t be cut. Dry bales can’t get wet. Small window, big job, Hank’s equipment broke down at the wrong time. George had the same equipment to do the same job, hay, and that’s what he was doing when Hank called. George pulled up, in the middle of his field, and set off for Hank’s. They got the whole thing done, cut, bailed, stacked on trailers. Just before the rain started. Whether it was forecast to rain neither one remembers, but it did, rain, and George didn’t, get back to finish haying his field. That, Hank has never forgotten.

A few years later a raging bull broke loose from a neighbor’s and crashed through Hank’s fencing, fencing holding six cows, a few pregnant. Terrified cows fled the same way the enraged bull got in, through the destroyed fence. They fled deep into woods and overgrown fields. The next couple of days Hank and his crew spent looking, tracking, trying to bait, the six cows out of hiding. No luck. They brought in a drone. No luck. Tired, hope waning, Hank called Mike. Johnson, if you remember, but we’re not using last names. Already an icon, Mike’s renown around these parts grew when, through sheer yankee ingenuity, he successfully corralled a herd of feral cows that had been on the loose for years. Just loose, wild, causing mischief, everywhere. Maurice Sendak kind of stuff. Within an hour of the call, Mike was at Hank’s place. Within a few days after that, so were Hank’s cows.

Mike’s good at finding lost animals, getting them into a trailer, and bringing them home. Or to wherever or whoever will take them. He was once called to rescue an abandoned horse, emaciated and mired in a swamp. He did, rescue her, and he brought her here, to Nye Hill. We didn’t have horses then, but we had stalls. Mike was bringing a pair of sheep here from a woman who had to move to Florida to care for her elderly mother. We couldn’t tell her we couldn’t help, but at the time we had no way to get the sheep here. The woman said that wasn’t a problem, she knew a guy. And did she ever. It wasn’t the rugged way he alighted from the truck. It wasn’t his locks of hair. It wasn’t his Hollywood smile. It was that he was the only guy over sixty-five we’d ever seen that could rock a white tank-top. After he’d gotten the two sheep into the barn he looked around and asked where the horses were. When we said we didn’t have any, that we’d built the stalls for a future use, he asked straight up would we take a horse he’d just found. We couldn’t say we couldn’t. He said he’d bring her over the next day, but that night he called. “You know, horses are social animals, like to be together, would you take two?”

Aoife and Eibhleann today personify the Gaelic names we gave them, grace and beauty, but that day, seven years ago, they did not. They needed a lot of things, one being a farrier. Mike suggested his friend George. Iselin. Slight in build, soft-spoken, gentle. George not so much got out of his truck as he simply appeared beside it, just there. He would later confide he did not think either horse was going to make it, but that day he smiled and went to work, with a very quiet confidence. Still does, smile, still has it, that quiet confidence, still works with the horses who, along with a few others that arrived since, are well. Most of the time.

It started out of the blue. Eibhleann had been here a few years, seemed in good health, until one morning. When we went down to feed her and bring her out, her nose was bloodied. So were the walls of her stall, she’d been banging into them all night. She stood quivering, weak, fear struck. She’d had a seizure. More would follow, progressively worse. She lost sight in one eye. The vet was, as country vets are, stoic. “Prepare yourselves to make a hard decision.”

Hank is a healer. No other word for it. He thinks it may be in his bloodline, he remembers talk of healing in stories of his ancestors. We called him. From a distance, we watched his slow walk toward the horse. He stopped, leaned against the run-in, both hands in his pockets, thumbs over his belt, may as well have been waiting on a friend. The horse took notice, very cautiously stepped to him, close now, her head a foot above his. Never looking up, Hank gently raised one hand, shoulder high. She leaned in and down, and put her blind eye to his hand. Put her blind eye to his hand. We saw it. They stayed there like that, connected, man and horse, for ten silent minutes. She slowly lifted her head, and even more slowly walked away. The seizures lessened, then stopped. She regained sight. Believe whatever you will. Hank Kenney’s a healer.

We’ve had other occasions to call. An ox slipped on ice, fell to the ground, couldn’t get up. Not a commercial. It was in the deep freeze of a very cold Winter, the ox had spent the night on its back, on the ground. That’s how we found him. We called Mike. Mike called George. Mike and George got the ox up, using a chain around its neck, “the strongest part of an animal’s body”. This past Summer we called Mike again, to help us lead two oxen back to the farm. They’d wandered off and were blocking the road. And we’ve called Hank again, this time quite recent. We own a diesel fuel tank, the nozzle broke, we didn’t know how to fix it. We called Hank, he can fix pretty much anything. And he’s old school, in every way (well, except for the drone thing). A farmer was asking for help, he came right over. They do, farmers, they come right over. To right an upended ox, to lead a pair of them back to the farm, to deliver hay for our horses. Good hay, we’re horse people. But this isn’t about hay, or horses or horse people. This is about three friends, three good farmers. Hank, Mike and George. We’re not using their last names, we didn’t get permission.