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A Horse Lover's Dream
Driving up to Rolling Hills Ranch in my mom’s champagne colored jeep we pull onto a street with horse crossing signs, something one does not see everyday in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. Aside form that, we know we have arrived when the smell of fresh cut hay wafts through the rolled down windows. The sight of horses grazing in the perfect green fields make us smile, the ranch has been occupied with them for over forty years.(http://www.rolling-hills-ranch.com) I have been coming here since the age of 8 when I would rent out one of the barn’s hack horses for an hour. Four years later for Christmas I received what is on the top of every little girls wish list, a pony. Well, not exactly a pony, but a horse named Flea. Flea is a Quarter horse/ Welsh mix and gets his name from the small brown flecks that interrupt his otherwise white coat of hair. In the horse world these flecks are known as “flea bites“. Since then, my mom also purchased a horse named Bowie, after her favorite singer. Bowie is a very sturdy, compact horse, the type you may see pulling a wagon threw Amish Country.
We pull into the gravel parking lot and slow to a stop. We remove our shoes and quickly pull on our riding boots. After crossing a road and walking up a small hill the top barn is directly in front of us. I rush into the barn and am greeted by harmonious whinnies. I flick on the lights and greet each horse by name until I get to my own. By this time he is about breaking down the door. Flea is a bit of a brat and very impatient. I open the door and give him a pat on the nose and then when my back is turned he makes an escape. Flea is the Houdini of horses. It is not very hard to catch up with him because he only gets as far as the next bag of food or bale of hay. I catch him and he gives me a guilty look but, it is too hard to be angry at him.
After returning flea to his stall I go to the tack room. The tack room is a small white brick building which houses all of the saddles, bridles, and any other riding equipment one could imagine. The space is overwhelmed with bins and buckets and step stools. I go to my bin and grab my caddy filled with Flea’s brushes and a few treats to spoil him with. I head back up to the barn and bring Flea out and tie him to one of the iron rods on his stall. He immediately begins to lip my pockets knowing I would not dare bring him out of his stall if a treat was not involved. I take the treat out and lay my hand flat and let his large furry lips tickle my hand as he takes the treat.
Grooming Flea is always an interesting experience, mostly because he is white and enjoys to be dirty. He always has dirt in places that makes one question how it got there. Horses also love to roll in their own manure for whatever reason. As I brush Flea he begins to pull and knock things off his stall door. First, my sweatshirt, then the bag with my cell phone and keys in it, and any food bags full or empty. He really enjoys torturing his neighbor Doe with playful nips, Doe on the other does not enjoy it so much.
Once Flea is clean, or as clean as clean is for him, I head back to the tack room. I pull my heavy leather saddle of it’s stand and grab my matching bridle off the wall. As well as my pink saddle pad, which everyone loves to torment me about since my horse is a boy. That is when the meowing starts. At some point in time, no one is really sure when, someone abandoned a cat on the farm. At the time she was just a kitten. Since then the calico cat was named Elizabeth and many of the riders there have taken compassion for her and have started feeding her. She is very vocal about when she wants fed and whenever that is she wants her food now. I put my saddle down on the ground and grab Elizabeth’s bowl. She begins rubbing on my legs and meowing over and over. I pour her food and then head to the bathroom to get some water for her. I put her bowl down on the ground and she immediately begins to chow down.
Now that the cat is fed I pick my saddle back up and head back to the barn. Flea is still standing where I left him. I am sure he got in some kind of mischief while I was gone but sometimes it is better to just pretend he is a perfect angel. I lift my saddle pad onto fleas back and then I heft my saddle up there too. I tighten his girth and make sure to pull it as tight as I can get it. Then I try to get the shiny bit into his mouth, this is always a struggle. When the bit comes out Flea realizes he will soon have to do work. After about five minutes of a 100 pound girl fighting with a 1000 pound beast, I win. I lead him out of the barn and to a mounting block, also known as wooden steps for the vertically challenged. I climb to the top of the mounting block, place my foot in one stirrup and swiftly swing my leg over Flea’s back.
It is now time to ride. I enjoy riding off-property the most. I cue flea to move forward and we our on our way. We pass the “poop pile” which is a gigantic pile of powerful smelling manure that sometimes catches fire in the summer, it’s lovely. We ride into a small gully where many geese live. The geese are not afraid of the horses but are very noises and fill the still air with obnoxious honks. After the gully we find our way onto the dirt trail and trot up the hill, I stop Flea in the middle to let him grab a crab apple from the branches of a tree and then finish to the top. From here, we make our way into the woods. The woods are dim with shade and every couple minutes thorns pull at my jeans. I spot a few deer running ahead and soon we are in an opening. I feel Flea’s excitement underneath me and decide to let him run through the field in front of us. Without any hesitation he lunges forward and were off. There is nothing as freeing as running horseback through a field with the wind blowing back one’s hair. We come to a stop and begin to walk again. There is a road a little ways up and I decide to take it. This road leads to a small creek, which the horses love to gulp out of on a hot day. We get to the creek and Flea dives right in. After a few seconds he decides he is not that interested and begins to paw at the water soaking me. We leave the creek and head home as the sun starts to set. I decide to take the road home and listen to the clip-clop of fleas hooves. His pace picks up once he realizes where he is. From the top of the hill I can see an aerial view of the farm. Horse playfully running around in paddocks, someone riding in circles around the arena, and lots and lots tractors. I reach the farm and ride Flea up to the barn and jump of his back.
I undo his saddle and take it off to reveal his sweaty back, I then remove his bridle and slip his halter back onto his face. I lead him to the paddock and let him out for awhile to cool down. I go and buy a PowerAde from the vending machine and take up inhabitant on a picnic bench. My friend Danae comes to sit beside me looking tired and miserable, sporting her neon orange Rolling Hills staff shirt. She begins to complain about how much trouble the boys who work there give her, she is the only girl and gets bossed around quite a bit. Danae says she “hates her job but, it pays well and under the table.” She then tells me her sassy remarks back to them and we laugh and high-five.
I watch as one of the workers comes and opens the gates of the hack field, where renters get to ride on a supervised trail ride. This signals that the hack horses are going to be let out for the night. Another worker opens the door of the barn and the horses begin to flood out. It is truly magnificent to watch. Some run while others walk, many whiney to their friends to say “wait up” or “I’m coming”. They run out in groups of two, three or five. Soon enough most of the field is covered in horses, they begin to roll and play or yawn and graze. Some run relentlessly looking for their friends and when they have found them they split up in their own herds.
After telling Danae goodbye I go to the tack room and get some treats. I go to the paddock and call Flea’s name. He looks at me like “Are you talking to me?”. Usually we can compromise and he meets me halfway ready for his treat. I lead him back to his stall and close him up for the night. I pick up my saddle, bridle, and pad and take them back to the tack room. After putting everything away I make a bag of food for Flea. I measure his food and vitamins and supplements and shake them up in a zip lock bag. I walk back into the barn and all the horses call out from hearing the rustle of the food bag. I feed Flea his bag and he begins to eat, dropping more food out of his mouth lazily, than actually chewing it.
I pat Flea on the nose and go to find my mom who can be found gossiping with her friends in the pavilion. She says her goodbyes and we walk through the barn, patting our horses on the nose. We shut out the lights and make our way back down the hill to the car. We climb into the car and take off our boots. We sit there for a minute discussing our rides, how the horses behaved, and whatever wildlife we may have seen. We pull away reluctantly from the barn and my mom beeps the horn even if no one is in sight. The barn is a type of haven for us to get away from the stresses of daily life so leaving is always hard. But, we know when we come back tomorrow our horses will be there not so patiently waiting for our company.