• Annmarie Throckmorton, M.A.

Percheron Mare Brushed For The First Time

This is a sad story that time does not sweeten.

The small festival of participating Amish farms open to the public was advertised something like: "See Amish working farms in the scenic Spoon River Valley of Illinois." I spent most of the day driving around western Illinois looking for something festive, and asking if anyone had seen anything going on. No one seemed to even know where the festival was. Some thought that maybe it had been cancelled due to low turnout in the on-again-off-again rain showers that day. I finally happened upon a farm that had a shabby "festival" sign out front so I turned in to see what was to be seen. This Amish farm family offered a free tour of their living room, which was cluttered and muddy, and a $20.00 ride in their Amish buggy. I and another "tourist" who arrived about the same time I did, bought the half-hour horse and buggy ride and were soon jolting along behind the swinging hind end of a massive draft horse over Illinois' ill-kept road. The road had a lot of potholes, the buggy had no shock absorbers, and the driver seemed impervious to the bumps and jolts of the road, but I commented to the other tourist that the experience was fun because it was the first time I had ridden in a horse-drawn buggy. He sourly commented that the Percheron mare who pulled us was ill-kept, pointing out for example that its hooves had not been trimmed in a very long time. He said that the horse's curved, splintered hooves probably hurt it with every step. I realized that only the natural vitality of the animal had overcome its neglect to make my experience pleasurable. After the buggy ride was over I asked if I could "tour" the barn, and was abruptly told no, then, "Okay, we don't care."

The mare who had pulled the buggy had been put away hot and unwatered. She was tied head into an open-ended stall by a short lead off her halter and she could not swing around to face me. She shifted uneasily when I came in. I did not see a curry comb, but there was a like-new boar bristle curry brush hanging off of a nail. Since no one came into the barn to hold me back, I brushed that 17-hand, 2000+ pound gray mare until my arms ached. I ran my hand, then the curry brush over what I could reach of her broad back, and down her sides. Her hide twitched and rippled as I touched her. I kept my hand on her as I worked so that she knew where I was, and she made no move other than to breath deeply from her belly, lower her head, and relax her neck out as the tension left her massive body. She whickered her pleasure. I heard a shrill, piercing whinny from up on the ridge behind the barn and I looked out to see a Percheron stallion, clearly not gelded and very much dominating his pasture, standing in a horse power display with his lambent eyes fixed down onto the barn where I was grooming his mare. He seemed to know that she was being groomed, and he shared her pleasure and happiness. I was sorry that I could not groom him too, but I would not have dared to work with such a spirited animal, even if cross-tied for me. After I groomed as much of the mare as seemed safe with an unfamiliar horse (skipping most of her sensitive underbelly, legs, tail, and face), I left the barn to go home. A skinny teenager who had been silently watching me from around the corner of the barn softly called out to me in a sad and sympathetic way, "They don't brush them here, she's never been brushed before." He knew that the horse needed and wanted to be groomed, but his elders did not think it was necessary. There was nothing I could say to that, I had to leave that sadness right there. It has been there in my mind ever since.

Caption: Percheron Mare Brushed For The First Time

by Annmarie Throckmorton 2019

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