Grooming a horse is a ritual of love and devotion. We take a leisurely amount of time doing it. We brush them first with a stiff brush to get off mud; then with a softer brush to get off dirt and dust; then use a comb to get out the knots in their manes. If we see a nick in their skin, we put salve on it. We pick their hooves, then sweep up the pickings. Before we put on the tack, the horses are whistle clean, only so they can get dirty again out on the trail. Then we do the same thing after the ride – spend an inordinate amount of time making them tidy so they can roll in the mud as soon as they are out the barn door. There may be cultural differences between how Americans and Icelanders groom their horses. We overdo it, I’m sure. I’ve seen Icelanders just swipe their hand over their horse’s back to dust off the dirt, and throw on a saddle. They don’t even pick the hooves. They are, of course, no less devoted to their horses. In this picture, it is late morning and we have gotten a late start. Doesn’t matter, we take our time. We can be a loud group of women when we’re going full blast – we can scare the birds out of their nests. But in the barn, grooming the horses, we are unusually quiet, all business and thought.
After the ride, we let the horses out in the fields. A soft, steady rain has driven us back into the shelter of the doorway. Even without the horses in the barn, we keep our voices low, almost whispering to each other. There is a quiet stillness to an empty barn that is like the quiet stillness of an empty church; you just naturally lower your voice when you enter as if in a sanctuary. Rows of empty stalls are like rows of empty pews, patiently waiting for the horses, waiting for the parishioners. The barn is orderly like a church, too. Everything in its proper place: halters and bridles hung up on brackets, saddles on their wall-mounted racks, floors swept, stalls shoveled out and raked. Like boat owners, horse owners can’t be messy or there are consequences.
It is a luxury to have a kitchen in a barn. Helga’s new barn has one, though. The coffee pot is heavily used. Packages of candy, chocolate covered cookies, and kleinur (twisted donuts) are on the counter for the taking. A bottle of Danish brandy is near the sink, in case you want to spike your coffee after a long, cold day on the trail. On the walls are pictures of riders and horses, one of Helga when she is about twelve in traditional Icelandic clothing, standing proudly with her first horse. Then there is a poster of a brand new colt above the kitchen table. I once asked Christina what the words meant. She had a hard time explaining it at first. She said it was a prayer, “You know, the last line of the prayer that you say.” Then she finally came up with the English term, the Lord’s prayer.
“For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen.”