Sometimes God gives us a “little” present. Well, actually, I believe He gives us gifts all the time; it’s just that we seldom recognize them. Furthermore, it is astonishing how the smallest thing can stir the heart and quell the stress and the grievances of our daily lives. Like many of you, I too have had a challenging year: the truck transmission giving up the ghost, breathtaking vet bills, broken water pipes, exploding septic tanks and putting down a cherished horse of 29 years, Moose.
Moose was a true backyard horse with the humble heritage of Percheron and Thoroughbred. Barely 19 with lofty ambitions, I found him in a dark and filthy stall and bound for the slaughterhouse in north Georgia. I had no money, he had no hope, and for around $900, I brought home this emaciated and badly beaten 2-year-old—with an enormous hip, heart and soft eye. I nursed his summer sores and turned him out in a field with five other horses to be left alone for months so that perhaps his memories of abuse at the hands of humans would fade.
When the time came, I began driving Moose in long lines and longed him carefully, unable to use a whip because of his frantic and fearful reaction. He was easy to back, obedient as the day is long and, with my limited background of lower-level eventing and Moose’s correct, if limited, gaits, we won every Training and First Level test we entered with kind and encouraging remarks by the judges. That is where his career would peak. He stayed with me from our beginnings in Georgia to my move to California, and then back for 10 years of retirement at my farm in South Carolina.
It was on this farm that I now began to sigh about the year’s calamities. Each demanded a hefty payment and, naturally, finances were tighter than normal. It was with rather a bleak heart that I contemplated Christmas as I walked through the front field to bring the horses in for the evening. It will be a pared-down holiday this year. Our annual tradition of gathering in a particularly lovely inn has been vetoed, and it was agreed by all to share in only the most modest of gift giving. Worst of all, donations to favorite charities will have to be smaller.
I’ve never been an extravagant gift buyer for Christmas, as it is my personal battle against commercialism. It’s tremendously important to me, particularly as I grow older, to focus on the season of advent with careful introspection. However, to be honest, there is a dollop of paganism within me because I never feel I’m truly living unless smack-dab in the middle of nature, so I find great comfort in bringing armfuls of holly, pine and cedar into the house to decorate. It was with these thoughts of finding a few more berries and pine cones to arrange along the mantle that made me sweep my eyes along the grass as I approached my horses, comfortably grazing, manes and tails filigreed in the late afternoon light.
It would have been so easy to miss, this tiny gift. But there, coiled tightly beside a tuft of dormant Bermuda, was the dearest little bird’s nest, woven carefully with twigs and dried grass. And threaded within it was the unmistakable, coarse, white tail hair of my old horse, Moose.
Placing it in the palm of my hand I was mesmerized by both its simplicity and its beauty—such a little thing, fragile and charming, yet powerfully illustrating the circle of life.
May you, too, have a merry, little, Christmas.
Pam Stone was a television actor and stand-up comedian before committing to dressage full time and earning her USDF bronze and silver medals. She teaches and trains from her Stone’s Throw Farm near Landrum, South Carolina (stonesthrowfarmdressage.com).