~ Riceland Meadows ~

Hello and Goodbye
by Ralph Rice

The sun shines brightly and, on such a beautiful day, my steps should be lively as I make my way to the barn, but instead I trudge slowly. The barn door slides, awkward and heavy. Heavy, too, is my heart and solemn my mood. I have sold my team. Today I must deliver them to their new owner. I know they will have a good home where their care will be excellent, but saying goodbye is hard.

Ten years we have worked together. They are as much a part of this farm as I am. They helped me revive a land of goldenrod and brush, returning it to productive farmland. My horses helped me plow and plant, mow and fertilize, gather and harvest. They worked willingly and steadily, often with just the gentle guidance of my voice.

Dick and Dan are my friends. They come when called, move when asked, and stand when told. They taught me as much as I taught them. They are patient and forgiving, allowing me to make an occasional mistake. They try whatever I ask of them, at times reaching deep inside themselves, just because I ask. Our mutual respect is reinforced and permanent.

With a rope in each hand, I lead them to the trailer. One, then the other, steps in and they wait for the ride to begin. I stroke their noses and pat their necks. I quietly thank each horse for his help and understanding. I close the trailer door and a chapter in my life.

Driving down the road I remember them as clumsy colts and our first attempts with a walking plow. I recall the gallons of sap, board feet of lumber, and endless supply of manure they pulled. I think of them pulling little boys on sleds behind a load of wood, laughter echoing around the farm. I think of how they instilled confidence in my teenage son as he grew to become a teamster, and how they inspired me as a writer, always impressing me with their awesome power. These two gentle giants are a credit to their breed. I am and will always be proud of them. My eyes run over as memories rush in and my love for them pours out.

Dick and Dan and I arrive at their new home. A crowd has gathered to see them. As I back them out of the trailer, the crowd greets the boys and a little girl asks for a ride. Her daddy launches her up on Dan's wide back. From her lofty perch she welcomes the horses. I pat them both one last time and head for home.

Fifty miles away, another man talks to a young dapple-gray team. He shares his feelings, too, as he prepares to say goodbye to a pair of youngsters he bred and broke, full brother and sister just beginning their working career. He remembers his little girl winning ribbons and sharing smiles while showing the colts. Friends? Yes. Family? Perhaps. Forgotten? Never.
I'll make the 50-mile trip in a day or two. I contemplate bringing the new horses home and am stirred with excitement. Soon I will form a new partnership with Jake and Jill. I look forward to our training sessions and the work to follow. They already have a great foundation. But first the team and I must bond and become friends. I expect them to work promptly and willingly, try when asked, and pull out of respect for me, not out of fear. My family will welcome them, visitors to our farm will admire them, and I will love them.

Love is a strong word, but so is goodbye. And so is hello.

Ralph Rice's column "Reflections" appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This column appeared in the Summer 2004 issue.

22 January 2005