Tag Archives: horses

I am loving you

Nothing is more important than loving. Nothing.

Yesterday, Shadow greeted me at the fence of his corral when I pulled up the car. I’d been out marketing. Instead of unloading the car immediately, I walked over to say hi. It’s so nice when someone is happy to see you!

We hung out for a while, and I reached up to scratch around his ears and forehead, removed the sleepers from his eyes, smoothed the fur under his chin. He put his long soft nose very gently next to my cheek and breathed me in. It’s been a long time since I allowed anyone that close to me. It felt like peace. It felt like love.

Last night, after unpacking and bathing and cooking and eating and cleaning and meditating, I started crying. I don’t want to love because I don’t want to lose. I shouldn’t love Shadow because he isn’t “mine.” I’m bound to lose him.

But when I turned that sentence around, I started laughing: Shadow shouldn’t love me because I’m not “his.” Ridiculous! We love who we love, whether they are “ours” or not, whether they live for three years, six years, or 90. Whether we have one day or one minute together.

I remember sitting next to Emmett under the pine tree in our front yard in Olympia one balmy evening. My neighbor was visiting and I was petting Emmett’s thick Malamute fur, scratching behind his floppy ears, massaging his ruff. I started crying. I thought my heart would burst, unable to contain the pure quantity of love I felt. “I love him so much,” I told her, and she nodded.

Sometimes it seems as though I’ve lost everyone I’ve ever loved. I don’t want to subject myself to that pain again.

Ha! Good luck with that, my darling! We are all terminal, every single one of us. So why not love along the way? Why turn away from the soft nose against the cheek? The kind word? The gentle rain of love falling on you right this minute?

Besides, I don’t really have a choice. I love who I love when I love. The so-called rational mind has nothing to do with it. It’s all heart.

“Cowboy Heart” by Elizabeth Shé
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dots ‘n’ lines

I hiked a new route today. Decided to find the mythical Horse Camp at Montaña de Oro. Yellow poppies are beginning to bloom here, early signs of spring, or maybe just rain-appreciative plants. Also saw small pink morning glory-type flowers, low in the sand, like a succulent.

Map in my pocket, I follow Cisko’s horse tracks south through the chaparral. The air was ocean clean and fresh. Occasionally coyote tracks ran parallel to my path, then ran off into the brush. Mourning doves coo’d and a neighbor dog barked to note my passage.

Being on foot and coming from the dunes, I did not recognize the road to Horse Camp, so ended up hiking along the paved road for too long. Sunday morning surfers, mountain bikers, and hikers zipped by in their colorful, fast SUVs. No one else was walking.

Down through lines of equidistant eucalyptus trees, the forest of a get-rich-quick-schemer that didn’t profit him financially, but is now a haven for birds and squirrels and other wildlife. My nose is happy with the scent.

Up ahead I see a truck, and could it be? A horse trailer. Seven horses of various shades of brown and grey greet me. I hear a raucous laugh from behind them. There’s a tent with several humans sitting around a picnic table, breakfasting. I stop at a kiosk to read about ticks and lyme disease, then continue along the narrow path that skirts their camp.

“Good morning,” I whisper to the horses as I pass.

None of the other camp sites have campers, but a large covey of quail run through one of the corrals. Curious, I poke around. Wheelbarrows, muck rakes, pens fenced with metal pipe, water troughs. I’m smiling.

Yesterday, on the way back from my morning ocean ramble, Susan and Cisko were waiting for me at a fork in the trail near the ranch. When I stepped off the path to let them by, Susan said, “No, I was waiting to talk to you.” Cisko looked at me, then continued grazing, his mouth foaming green around his bit.

A few weeks ago, I’d emailed the folks at Return to Freedom, a wild horse sanctuary in SLO County. I’d asked Susan if she’d like to go with me sometime to check it out, and she wondered whether I’d heard from them.

“Nope,” I said.
“That’s weird,” she said.
“Maybe they don’t need volunteers in winter,” I hazarded.
“Maybe.”

We talked about Red Wings, another horse sanctuary up the highway 80 miles or so.

“Some of them are up for adoption,” I said.
“Are they ridable?” asked Susan.
“I don’t know; supposed to be. I have to check it out.”

Susan knows I want a horse. And once again, she offered to go with me to check out likely candidates.

“Thanks!” I said.

We made our goodbyes, then she and Cisko wheeled around to take the southern route, the one I chose this morning. I’d been walking in his big hoofprints.

I’m smiling because my horse dreams aren’t dead. I don’t know why the mind thinks up all kinds of reasons why I shouldn’t have what I want, but I am tired of listening to it. For 20 years I lived inland, despite my ocean longings. It took the threat of death for me to listen to my heart, my body.

Now I want the ocean, AND a horse, AND land, AND a home of my own. I am tempted to scale back my desires — are they unreasonable? Is happiness unreasonable?

Sure feels good, though, happiness.
Please god, may my next fifty years be happier than the last. And may yours be, too.

“dots ‘n’ lines” by Elizabeth Shé

a mighty fine day

A good day is one with an ocean in it.
A mighty good day is one with an ocean and a horse in it.
A mighty fine day is one with an ocean, a horse, and a whale in it.

Today was a mighty fine day.

Living on a horse ranch on the edge of the continent produces some mighty fine days. Today I greeted the sunrise and got a front row seat to the Dawn Chorus. Hummingbirds, jays, thrashers, quail, crows, and who knows who else sang the sun up. Hallelujah.

On my way out to hike down to the ocean, I stop to talk to Susan, who’s washing her horse Cisko. Shadow looks at me from his box stall.

“Time for brushing,” says Susan.

Shadow agrees, so I put my towel down and change into my stable boots (they’re rubber, so muck washes off easily).

Why is it so satisfying to brush a dirty horse? Well, Shadow in particular blisses out to the extent that his eyes close, and his head hangs low. Occasionally he smacks his lips.

Today I decided to see if he’d let me pick up his hooves and clean them. He did. Why did this make me happy? Schadenfreude, probably. His “owner” doesn’t do it, afraid he’ll be kicked. One point for me, or four, if you count all the hooves.

Found a tick in Shadow’s fur, drowned it. Found another one later on my Levi’s, flicked it off. Still a mighty fine day. Especially for the tick that lived.

Down on the dunes, I see spouts on the other side of the breakers. And then — breach, baby! A blue whale, I think. Many spouts are farther out, just these two close to shore.

After weeks of storms and rain, it’s delicious to lie in the warm sand. It’s mid-winter, but the temperature (for a few hours) feels like summer. A couple of boys play football, a family tosses a frisbee around, there’s a fisherman or two. A few brave souls venture into the water, only to come straight out again.

I hike to one of my swim spots and change into my bathing suit. After diving under a wave, I jog out again. The tide is receding. Yesterday I caught a sweet wave that carried me to shore.

Back at the ranch, I cook pasta with spinach and pulled chicken. I sit by the western window and watch the sun set as I eat.

My neighbor is downstairs. I overhear her talking about gigs. Eventually I hear music — a violin, guitar, voices. She’s rehearsing. I have not been invited. A few months ago, she started a band. “You’re part of it,” she said. Evidently not.

Exclusion sure feels shitty. This mighty fine day just took a nosedive. How do I deal with this? In the past — and rejection is a theme in the life of a writer-performer — I ignored it. Never let on that anyone had hurt my feelings.

“I didn’t even think of you,” this neighbor said a while back. Hmmm. Do I really need friends who don’t remember I exist?

No.

Probably it’s best if I’m not in this particular band. I suppose if I want I can start one myself. I’ve written enough songs for my own 30 minute gig. But is this really where I want to put my energy? Hmmm, let’s think about it.

It’s the exclusion that smarts. But what is actually best for me? As far as I know, this is only the second rehearsal in three months. When I was in Mozart’s Children we rehearsed weekly, at the very least. For dance performances, I rehearse daily. So, we’ve definitely got different work ethics, my neighbor and I. It’s not enough to say you’re in a band, you have to actually set aside the time and show up.

Besides, our musical tastes differ too. I’m tired of cynical sad songs. I don’t want to add to the collective misery of the planet, especially with Voldemort in the White House. Now is the time for rousing, radical renditions of We Shall Overcome, and as many love songs as possible. Joy, baby, righteous joy. That’s what I’m after.

So, I accept her exclusion. It still stings, but maybe I’ve been spared a bunch of nonsense and wasted time. And just like that, with the slivered moon setting after the sun into the Big Blue, my mighty fine day is back.

Hallelujah.

Montaña de Oro sunset
Montaña de Oro sunset

Shoulda Done It Differently Blues

I began writing this song while walking the dunes in Montaña de Oro. When I catch me shoulding on myself, singing the chorus breaks up the critical racket in my head, and helps me stop. Note: work in progress!

Shoulda Done It Differently Blues

(Chorus)
I shoulda done it differently
coulda done it better
I got the shoulda-done-it-differently blues

(repeat)

Red-faced dad
shakes his head
“What were you thinkin’, girl?

Grandma says,
“Leave her alone
it’s a coulda-done-it-differently world!

(Chorus)
(repeat)

The boss is late.
So what’s new?
What were you thinkin’, girl?

Don’t you know?
It’s your attitude
in a coulda-done-it-differently world!

(Chorus)
(repeat)

Landlord calls,
“Your rent is late.
What were you thinkin’, girl?”

But he’s wrong
Shoulda checked his mate
in this coulda-done-it-differently world

The horse is strong
patient, and kind
What are you thinkin’, girl?

That we belong,
and soon he’ll be mine
in this coulda-done-it-differently world

(Chorus)
I shoulda done it differently
coulda done it better
I got the shoulda-done-it-differently blues

(repeat)

©Elizabeth Shé 2017

turning toward love

I turned away from love three times, four, five. Five hundred.

Each time I aborted a baby, I turned away from love.
Each time I was deeply attracted to someone, but did nothing, I turned away from love.
Each time I ignored that quiet inner voice, I turned away from love.

These are my regrets. That I was not brave enough or knowing enough to defy my thinking.

I recently watched Eddie the Eagle, a film about the British ski jumper whose lifelong dream was to participate in the Olympic Games. His father told him he wasn’t an athlete. Coaches laughed at him and dismissed him. He failed over and over and over again. But he persevered. He kept listening to that quiet inner voice despite the terrific cacophony of naysayers.

That’s the challenge.

I stopped feeding Sunny the Palomino every morning. The male human of the property drove me away with rudeness and ugly notes. The rodeo cowboy who ‘owns’ Sunny doesn’t seem to care much what happens to him. “He’s a charmer,” said my landlady about the cowboy, and she’s right. Perhaps Sunny will be fine, now that I’ve fed him for three solid weeks, and now that the neighbors know that I care and am watching.

So how else do I turn toward love?
By honoring that irrational passion for home and family.

When I terminated those pregnancies years ago I thought I was doing the right thing — for them, for the babies. I was afraid that if I went through with it I would hurt them, either accidentally or on purpose. But by trying not to harm a potential child, I harmed myself.

So I am building a tiny house on wheels. That way I can have a home of my own while I look for rural seaside acreage. On which I will build a home for a family.

There’s plenty of coastline on this planet. And plenty of unloved children. I just have to find my place, and find my tribe. And keep turning toward love.

card by Greenbrier International
card by Greenbrier International

runaway horse, two

“Sunny!” I yell as he runs through the wind-opened gate into the wide open space beneath the trees.

My mind immediately throws up horrific images of him smashed by a camper van on the busy road a few hundred yards away, or running wild through the state park never to be seen again, attacked by bobcats or pumas. While I run for the halter, Allie runs through the gate, too.

“Allie!”

These are not my horses. And they are not obeying vocal commands. I quickly realize that there’s no way I can catch a horse that doesn’t want to be caught, let alone two. I am not a rodeo cowgirl with roping skills. I am a writer.

Food. I drop the halters and drag their big green food bin out of the corral, wrest open the container with the senior feed pellets and scoop it into the bin. The noise gets their attention. I scoop another quart of food into the bin and they both trot toward me and begin eating. Another scoop in, then I drag the bin back into the corral, horses following, noses down in the bin, both chewing and walking. I haul it in far enough so that everyone clears the gate, which they are no longer interested in. Drop the bin. Walk calmly out of the corral and secure the gate with the rusty chain.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! I am trembling from adrenaline. And no longer interested in separating them as I usually do, so they can each eat to their heart’s content. I lean against the shed and breathe. Look at the blue sky, the pine trees whipping around in the wind. The ocean’s about a mile away. The sun broke the eastern horizon about 30 minutes ago. The air is fresh and moist from the rain the night before. Buzzards cruise high in the sky, looking for breakfast. Not here, not today.

The flagstone path down to the spigot is uneven, sometimes the circular steps tilt one way or the other. Carefully, I make my way down, turn on the water, round the corner, and grab a few flakes of alfalfa from the trailer.

I set up two feed stations for Sunny and Allie in the corral, and check the water tub. Secure the gate with both chains –yes!– then place the halters on their hooks and close up the shed. Step down the tilty path to turn off the water. Then walk through the manure field to get to the sandy path that takes me to the ocean.

Once I am clear of the ranch property, I exhale, loud and long. Holy Macaroni! Milagro! This was a mild lesson in horse care. A mild lesson! No one was hurt, not one single body. Disaster averted! Always check the gates!

(This is the second time Sunny’s run away from me. The first time was back in August, and I wrote about that too: https://prime53.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/runaway/)

I thank God all the way down the dune to the ocean, then sing to and praise the ocean, stretching up high to release my fear-contracted muscles. Thank you, God! I hear you!

The chill wind sneaks under my fleece and into my Levi’s. One more round of hallelujahs, then I slowly make my way up the dune back to my apartment. It’s 9 o’clock in the morning. I am worn out.

Horsepainter Elizabeth Shé feeds her canvas, Magic. Photo by James Dickens 2016
Horsepainter Elizabeth Shé feeds her canvas, Magic. Photo by James Dickens 2016

 

 

solutions

A few days ago, I visited my friend Sunny the Palomino. I hadn’t been down the dune for a few weeks, and I was shocked at how skinny he was.

He’s a big horse. I’m 5’7″ and his withers are about five feet high. When he walked away I saw streaks of dried diarrhea down his hind legs. And the big strong muscles that had carried me around the arena all those months ago had atrophied.

After feeding him several chopped carrots, I high-tailed it back up the dune to the ranch where I live, mowing down scrub chaparral as I went. I was furious and scared.

There’s a board listing phone numbers of the humans responsible for each horse. I don’t see Jamie’s name on it. I knock on the ranch owner’s door, but no answer.

Judy is down below, getting Jetson ready to ride. She asks how I am.

“Well,” I said, “not good. Sunny looks to be in bad shape. He’s even skinnier than the last time I saw him, and that was too skinny.”

I’d been telling P, the ranch owner, about Sunny for months. “There’s nothing Jamie can do about it,” she’d say, which usually pissed me off, but also shut me up. Sunny’s not my horse, he “belongs” to Jamie. And Sunny’s new digs belong to L, who has a lonely pony. Sunny’s there for company, and for L to ride. Her place is immaculate, which initially reassured me, knowing Sunny lived in a cleaner space.

“I’m frustrated,” I tell Judy, “I don’t know what to do.”

Next thing I know, Judy and I are bushwhacking down the dune back to Sunny’s. She’s been around horses longer than I have. Maybe I’m overreacting.

Nope.

“Wow,” she says, “you can see his tail bone. And look at those hollows.” She points to his hindquarters.

“He used to look like Jetson,” I say.

“Jetson’s muscular.”

“Yep.”

“I don’t like that red eye either,” she says.

“That’s new,” I say.

We bushwhack back to the ranch.

P is there now, and chastises Judy for leaving Jetson with his saddle on.

I interrupt. “We’ve just been down to see Sunny. He’s even skinnier than before. I want to call Jamie. What’s his number?”

She shifts her weight, looks away, says, “There’s nothing Jamie can do about it.”

“You don’t know that,” I say as calmly as I can. “You’re not Jamie. You can’t speak for him. What if Magic were sick?” Magic’s “her” horse. “Wouldn’t you want to know?”

After half an hour of listening to how “delicate the situation is” (she brokered Sunny’s housing deal), P finally agrees to give me Jamie’s number. She invites me inside the ranch house, and we call him. No answer. P leaves a message.

I look out the picture window at the Pacific ocean. The sea is rough and choppy, but the sky is clear. “I am afraid that one day I will go down there,” I say, “and Sunny will be dead. If you saw him you would cry.”

“I don’t want to see him,” says P, on the verge of tears.

What kept me sitting there listening to P hem and haw instead of screaming and yelling is that the stakes are so high. If I continue to do nothing, if I continue to politely go away when P says there’s nothing anyone can do, then I become a contributing factor to Sunny’s death.

I am listening for a solution. Because there must be one. And I am not going anywhere until I hear it.

After listening a little longer I say, “How about if I talk to L? Without you?” L is one of P’s best friends. Her husband is P’s doctor. “I’m a stranger, we’ve no history, I have nothing to lose.”

P agrees, so I hike back down the dune.

Sunny, as usual, is happy to see me. I am an asshole for not insisting sooner, for listening to all the excuses, for making several of my own: not my horse, not my house, not my business. Total bullshit. He is a friend of mine, therefore his health is my business.

I ring the doorbell on the immaculate, beautiful house. The dog is barking, but we’ve met before, his name is Emmett (same as my best friend), so I’m not worried.

“Who is it!”

“Elizabeth, Sunny’s friend,” I say through the crack in the door.

L opens the door wider, bent over to hold Emmett’s collar. Both are scowling.

I drop my gaze. This ain’t the time to be confrontational. Over Emmett’s barking, I say, “I’m worried about Sunny.” I explain about his weight loss in such a short period of time.

“We feed him,” she says. “He was skinny when he got here.” Of course she’s defensive. I remember when someone called animal control on my Emmett instead of talking to me to find out that we’d been to six vets and couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him.

I crouch down so this other Emmett can smell my hand and remember that he knows me. He immediately stops barking and wags his tail enthusiastically. Lick lick lick.

“I want to help,” I say to L from dog level. “Please let me help.”

Eventually L admits that she’s worried too; she’s been thinking about calling the vet. As Emmett runs rings around us, she takes me to where the food is kept. It’s quality oat/alfalfa cubes and senior horse pellets. (Sunny’s probably 25 or so, no one knows for sure.) So the food supply is good and plentiful. One worry down.

P’s theory, that I’ve been hearing every time I tell her that Sunny is skinny and won’t she please go look at him, is that Sunny needs to be fed separately. That since he’s a slow eater with bad teeth, he doesn’t get enough calories.

I venture this theory to L. “Maybe we could separate them for meals?” She nods, points out the halters hanging on the side of the shed. I grab one to bring Sunny down to the corral. He helpfully puts his nose in the halter, just like old times. L fills a wheelbarrow full of cubes, adds water, and wheels it in. Sunny immediately scarfs down. When he lifts his head occasionally to look at us, his lips drip green goo.

While we walk and work, I listen. Mornings are hard for L and her husband because they both work.

Aha. “I’m up at sunrise every day,” I say. “I could come down here after I feed Cisko.”

“Really?”

“Sure,” I say, “I’m up anyway. Let’s try it for a week, see if it helps.”

So we work out a deal: I’ll feed Sunny and her pony Allie in the mornings. If they are together, I’ll separate them (there’s an arena and a corral). L and her husband will feed at night. “You just got yourself a free stable hand,” I say.

She laughs and shakes my hand.”God bless you.”

Because I was able to remember the stakes — Sunny’s health — I did not stomp in like a righteous sumbitch casting aspersions and making demands. But as I told Judy later, “The sun was not going to set without a solution. There must be a change today.”

I was done with excuses, mine and theirs. Done with humans. But fortunately I am human, so I can communicate with them. Because Sunny can’t. And he’s my friend.

Emmett Ocean Shé, almost a year old in 2002
Emmett Ocean Shé, almost a year old in 2002, RIP

release

“The release is the reward,” said Horse Teacher Number Two.

Jake and I were on a lunge line, he circling at a walk then a trot, first in one direction, then the other; me standing in the middle of his circles driving him with my hands and voice.

Number Two is a proponent of the Parelli brand of natural horsemanship, and she was teaching me games to ease communication between equine and human. Circling is one of the games. She’d already taught me Friendly, Yo-yo, Porcupine, Driving, and Squeeze. I’d inadvertently done Sideways one day: Jake stepped sideways when I reached over and touched his hindquarters.  (I found out that these games also work on humans. I used Driving at the DMV, even without a car.)

In How to Speak ‘Horse’, Andrea and Markus Eschbach write that “the best way to tell your horse, Good Job! and Yes! is as follows: at exactly the same moment your horse has followed your command correctly, direct all your energy and attention away from him…this is called the release because you are ‘turning off’ the pressure of your body language and focus. For your horse, this means he has the time and space to take a deep breath.”

I was having a hard time remembering to release.
This is also true of my non-equine life.

“Break these chains around my heart,” sings Deborah Allen. “Cut me loose, and set me free.”

Before toxic mold forced me to evacuate my home and release 99% of my possessions, I kept almost everything “just in case.” Art supplies I hadn’t used in years; my mother’s wedding dress even though my parents divorced when I was six; pretty, cracked ceramic pieces for a mosaic I never made; fabric; sewing notions and recipes that belonged to my grandmother. I’d been hauling this stuff around for decades, and adding to it from free boxes and curbside finds.

I will never forget the feeling I had driving toward the ocean after the evacuation, only the clothes on my back and my computer in the trunk. My lungs were so damaged that I could barely breathe, and my heart was rat-a-tat-tatting with adrenaline. But I felt a peace that I had not felt in a very long time. I was — finally — doing what I wanted to do: going to the sea.

I did not want to die in Olympia. It was not my home. I’d washed up there because of college and had stayed, out of inertia. I didn’t choose it, it just happened to me.

Like carrying around all those heirlooms over the years, appointing myself the family historian. But guess what? Nobody cared about that stuff, nobody needed it. Nobody in the biological family reacted to the fact that I was dying.

Except me. Finally, I chose me. Finally, I released everything tangible that was weighing me down.

And — quelle surprise! — I didn’t need any of it. And I am still alive more than three years later.

The release was the reward.
Let it all go.
Possessions are easy to come by, I’ve found out.
Now my task is to keep only what brings me joy. Every. Single. Day.

So I toss the empty stationery box P gave me today, even though it has a horse on it. It’s shabby, though the gesture was not. I can keep the gesture — she appreciates me feeding the horses when she was ill — but I don’t need the box.

This concept is hard-won. Because I am a sentimental person, highly romantic. I’m a keeper. But right after I put the box in the recycle bin, I took a deep breath of relief. Release. I don’t need another thing to weigh me down.

The release is the reward.

writer Elizabeth Shé rehearses for Global Water Dances 2015
writer Elizabeth Shé rehearses for Global Water Dances 2015

equality

I live on a small ranch with a number of other boarders, both human and equine. I recently got permission to walk Shadow, because his human is ill and hasn’t been out for weeks. So for the past few days, my morning routine is this:

  • rise before the sun (don’t want to miss the colors!)
  • dress warmly and eat
  • put on my knit hat, rubber stable boots, yellow windbreaker, and walk down to the corrals
  • remove Kady’s hay bin insert so P doesn’t have to struggle with it later
  • mix up Cisko’s pellets and vitamins with veggie oil and pour it into his bin
  • close Magic’s gate so he’s penned in
  • open the arena gate
  • halter Shadow and open his gate
  • walk him down to the arena and around

It’s wonderful! He’s a love, it’s quiet at sunrise, and usually I have the place to myself. Shadow sniffs around, and visits with the horses in the adjoining corrals. After he’s caught up on the ranch gossip, we walk around the arena, then I ask him to walk in circles around me, which is called lunging or longeing (pronounced lunge-ing).

But today, after several minutes of circles, I get frustrated. What I really want to do is ride. What Shadow really wants to do is graze, run around,and amble out into the state park that abuts the ranch. But he doesn’t “belong” to me. And he needs exercise, so we continue: circle circle circle — stop — change direction — circle circle circle.

When I hear humans moving around the ranch, we walk back up to Shadow’s paddock. I’m irritated, but don’t know why yet.

Back in my warm studio I realize that I don’t agree with how a lot of humans treat horses. It’s disrespectful. Whips and bits and ropes and scare tactics. Show ’em who’s boss! Make ’em do what you want ’em to do! Even some of the so-called “natural horsemanship” folks have domination on the brain.

How fun is that? Forcing another creature to do what you want, regardless of his/her desires or needs? Isn’t that Fascism?


The U.S. presidential election was a bitter disappointment, to put it mildly. I want a woman president! As a kid, I campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment, which has never passed. We need ovaries in the Oval Office!

But evidently any dick will do. God forfend a better qualified, more intelligent, highly experienced and skilled woman take the job! Misogyny in action.

Rebecca Traister, author of All the Single Ladies: unmarried women and the rise of an independent nation has this to say about institutionalized inequality:

“Men, and especially married wealthy white men, have long relied on government assistance. It’s the government that has historically supported white men’s home and business ownership through grants, loans, incentives, and tax breaks. It has allowed them to accrue wealth and offered them shortcuts and bonuses for passing it down to their children. Government established white men’s right to vote and thus exert control over the government at the nation’s founding and has protected their enfranchisement since. It has also bolstered the economic and professional prospects of men by depressing the economic prospects of women: by failing to offer women equivalent economic and civic protections, thus helping to create conditions whereby women were forced to be dependent on those men, creating a gendered class of laborers who took low paying or unpaid jobs doing the domestic and childcare work that further enabled men to dominate public spheres.”

These wealthy white men who constantly decry the “welfare state” have been the major beneficiaries of the good ol’ boy network (aka government assistance) for centuries!

One of my human neighbors just knocked on the door. “A and L are coming over Sunday evening, we’re gonna work on some songs,” she said, guitar slung on her back. She has an amazing voice, low and gorgeous. A and L are also talented musicians. We all sang together at the Halloween party.

“I used to be in a band,” I say, “in Seattle.” Mozart’s Children, we called ourselves, which strikes me now as highly pretentious. But we gigged. And I loved it. We did a cover of the Stones’ “Far Away Eyes,” with me singing lead. A highlight of my life.

“Great,” says my neighbor, “you’re in the band. Women only. Girl power. The Central Coast Women’s Rock Band.”

I nod in the affirmative. Action, baby. I’m ready for it.

writer Elizabeth Shé
writer Elizabeth Shé

horse painter

“We should have a party,” I said to two of my neighbors a couple of weeks before Halloween. “We’ll dress up a la Dia de los Muertos, have live music, a fire. I’ll paint the horses.”

They laughed. But come October 30, my vision came to fruition. Despite the rain earlier in the day, 50+ humans showed up, most in costume. Another neighbor invited her face-painting friend, so when I looked across the fire on the patio that evening, I saw singing calaveras and flowers, and even a pirate crab.

I started painting the horses in the morning. First I brushed Magic, which he’s used to. Then I let him smell the little tub of white paint. Neither of us liked it much, but we tolerated it in the name of Art.

Once he was decorated on both sides, I took a break. These canvases could bite or kick you! Plus, they move. I needed to keep it simple.

Next was Jetson. I didn’t even have to halter him. He seemed to enjoy being a muse.

Jetson's Heart by Elizabeth Shé, photo by James Dickens
Jetson’s Heart by Elizabeth Shé, photo by James Dickens

Kady was okay, too, despite the fact that she charged me in the pasture the week before. Both she and Cisko got handprints.

Cisko's Rump by Elizabeth Shé, photo by James Dickens
Cisko’s Rump by Elizabeth Shé, photo by James Dickens

I ended up painting four horses: all had spots on one side so they were a cohesive herd; then a heart for Jetson, hands on Kady and Cisko, and Magic’s stars. I painted a heart on my chest so I was part of the tribe. My porch pumpkin sported spots.

Magic Spots by Elizabeth Shé, photo by James Dickens
Magic Spots by Elizabeth Shé, photo by James Dickens

I used non-toxic washable tempera paint, as recommended by another horse painter (!). “I buy the big container at Michael’s and cut it with shampoo so it’s easier to hose off,” wrote Melanie, who runs an equestrian therapy program in Atascadero. Evidently the kids like to paint their ponies.

The Polka Dot Herd were a big hit at the party, even after dark. People went down to the corrals with flashlights to see them.

Maybe next year I’ll use glow-in-the-dark paint.

Halloween 2016 horse painter y Magic, photo by James Dickens
Halloween 2016: horse painter Elizabeth Shé y Magic, photo by James Dickens