Thursday, March 18, 2010

Looking Beneath the Layers

Over the years, I've noticed that in the spring, people tend to compliment me on losing weight or at least ask whether I've lost weight. I always thank them and shrug, and say "perhaps", even though I know I haven't lost any weight at all. I just look thinner because I'm no longer wearing six layers of clothing in an often-unsuccessful attempt to keep warm.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010
The sun shines so bright and the weather is so warm that by noon, I take Murray's blanket off. I figure he might like the chance to roll "naked" in the dirt, or at least just soak up some rays (and possibly acclimitize himself to the sun so that his back doesn't blister this year--but that's another story). I catch him in the pasture, unlatch the straps, lift the hair-lined, mud-caked blanket off his back, and start to walk away. As I get to the fence-line, I turn back to take a look at my long-time friend. As I do, I feel a sudden pang of saddness and guilt.

Most days, I forget that Murray is soon-to-be 22 years old. His coat is glossy and his eyes are bright. When Maggie leaves the pasture, he trots or canters back and forth in the field, floating across the ground as if on springs. When she returns, he paws the ground impatiently, neck arched and tail held high. During those times, he looks like a mischieveous three year old. He appears strong and healthy. But the truth is, that for most of the winter his thick blanket masks his ageing form.

Of course I see him without his blanket several times a week. I take it off to groom him and ride. But at those times, I see him up-close, concentrating on completing my tasks. I rarely bother to stand back and take-in the whole picture. And today, the picture is not a pretty one.

Stripped down, with his blanket hanging on the fence to air-out, Murray looks not like a "noble-steed", but more like a skeletal alien from a science fiction movie. I force myself to really look at him. I note the xylophone-like quality of his ribs. I see his angular hip and shoulder bones jutting out at each side. His hindquarters look shrunken. His neck is thin and sunken. White hairs spread down his face and across his bony cheeks. There are even a few white flecks on his chest. Murray looks old, and thin, and un-muscled, and despite the copious amount of grain and hay that he eats, and all the attention I give him, he is all of those things.

I haven't ridden Murray as much as I would have liked over the past six months, and I know that's a big part of the reason he looks so bad. He's lost much of the muscle we'd worked so hard to develop over the years. I have several excuses for neglecting my duty as a rider: these days, his trembling knees buckle and stumble regularily, and I admit, I sometimes worry that he'll fall to the ground while I'm on his back. Also, he has heaves, and difficult workouts leave him coughing and gasping for breath. But despite these issues, I know Murray still can be ridden, and still enjoys it. The truth of it is, I often convince myself that I'm too busy, or too tired, or too this, or too that. Mostly I've been lazy.

Now that Murray lives in my backyard, it should be easy to get out and ride him everyday; but looking at him now, I realize what a long road we have ahead of ourselves if I'm going to bring him back to form. I will have to force myself to take it slow, Murray doesn't have the muscle to support his delicate tendons and ageing joints-- I was reminded of that when he pulled his check ligament last week . Because of that, it will still be a week or two, or three before I can ride again. But when I do, I'll have to walk a very fine line between working him hard enough to get fit, and protecting him from injury.

Beneath his blanket, Murray won't ever look like a "youngster" again. But I'm not going to simply let him waste-away. He may have retired from competition and jumping, but full retirement just isn't something that would ever suit him. Like a pensioned-old man who's worked hard all his life, then finds himself at age 65 with nothing to occupy his time or thoughts, Murray would languish away in boredom.

Murray stands under the bright sun in the middle of the field, far from the shade of the run-in shed. He lazily rests a hind-leg, his eyes half-closed. I'm tempted to throw the blanket back over his narrow frame. But while covering him up might make him look rounder and fatter, eventually the layers will have to come off, and I'll know that unlike me, he really has lost weight.


  1. HAve just read this blog Melissa. Enjoyed it...a sad reflection on aging in a way.But so glad that you have resolved to keep exercising him as much as possible, and will not just let him "languish' in his old age years.
    I have similar concerns for Peter, who is retiring in June at age 60. What will he do every day, when he's so used to being active? I do believe that staying active physically and mentally are key to staying well into our "golden years"...
    This is really good writing!! I especially like the opening and closing thoughts about weight loss. Interesting narrative, cousin!Thanks for letting us read your intelligent reflection....Judy

  2. Thank you Judy for the kind words. They're much appreciated.
    I can't believe Peter is 60. He has always been such a very active guy, at least always in my memories of him. I do hope he'll find something he's passionate about to keep him busy...without the stress of his job.

  3. Beautiful, as always. What a nice post. Sad,but happy -- in that life sort-of-way.

  4. So lovely Melissa. Murray is lucky to have you. As I face my looming "50th", I'm not ready to be put out to pasture either!