Rana's Eyes

Columnist Suzi Drnec reflects on the wisdom and strength she's noticed in her horse's eyes.
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Columnist Suzi Drnec reflects on the wisdom and strength she's noticed in her horse's eyes.

My Rana turned thirty today, and like the song says, "the old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be." She's arthritic in her knees and hips, and Cushing's Syndrome (a pituitary imbalance) has her "haired up" like a Tibetan yak. Her teeth are only so-so-- dictating a diet of soft senior horse feed. Her once beautiful plume of a tail looks more like Eeyore's these days. But her eyes...Rana's eyes haven't changed.

A horse's eyes are so deep and detailed. I've always loved looking into them when the sun is just right to illuminate the vast craggy canyons and plateaus, the inky depths and the deep sorrel columns tinged with gold that make up the eye's internal structure. Rana's eyes remind me of looking at the Grand Canyon on a summer evening, with rich earthy colors, the feeling of great residual warmth, and the sensation that I'm looking into one of life's greatest and most beautiful mysteries. Like the Grand Canyon, Rana's eyes are deep, shadowed, and make me feel small.

I've been gazing into Rana's eyes for almost three decades now, since I first saw her at an auction when I was twelve years old, and she a frightened yearling. Accidentally-on-purpose I talked my Mother into raising her hand for a tentative bid, and the gray range-bred filly was ours. But owning Rana has always been relative: my name may be listed on her papers, but she's the kind of girl that's owned by no one but herself. Somewhat aloof, very opinionated, and often unreasonable, Rana has always reminded me of Greta Garbo stating "I vant to be alone."

Not that she was a bad horse by any means-- Rana has enjoyed careers as varied as neighborhood transport, mentor to baby horses, teacher of children and irritating dogs, show horse with national awards to her credit, and most recently, lawn ornament. It's just that, no matter what the little mare was doing, I always had the feeling she was only tolerating the human attempts to control her, to mold her into a docile and tamed thing. Even at a show, when she was performing over intricate trail obstacles that demanded complete obedience, I'd sometimes catch a look in her eyes that said "I'm only doing this because I feel like it today." There has always been a hint of the wild, the feral, the untamed lurking in Rana's eyes.

Every so often, in the last 29 years together, Rana has decided to honor me with some affection unrelated to food. She likes the occasional wither scratch, and now that her haircoat is confused, she enjoys the shedding blade scraping off billows and drifts of white hair that all the neighborhood birds use to line their nests. And she's easy to clip, except for the ears. The inviolable rule is, she must be twitched, as tight as the twitch will go, to clip her ears. Trying to jolly her out of this ritual since Nixon was in the White House has yielded not one iota of compromise on her part: just get the twitch, string it up to full crunch, and get on with the hair styling.

Rana's moods are flexible depending on the audience. With me, there's a generation and a half of history between us for me to honor, but with strangers, she is often charming. When small children ride her at our annual barbecue, she acts as she appears: a little white pony, fourteen hands on tip-toe, with shuffling steps and a gentle demeanor. But just in case I think she's caved in, she'll still gnash her teeth briefly when a new tot climbs on to remind me she's only allowing pony rides by her gracious nature, not to humor me.

It's bittersweet, now, watching Rana. She can barely toddle around her yard with her front legs bowed like Charlie Chaplin's. Her fur clumps into mats that require scissors or clippers to remove, and her legs are easily stained by urine in the small universe of her sheltered senior apartment. But she still shows flashes of her former temper when her roommate comes too close to her chow. She hikes up a back leg and fires like a mule, occasionally connecting with Dusty's befuddled facial expression. She's older, but not any mellower.

I was hoping Rana would live long enough to meet my baby son, born this month, and she has. Somehow, it was important that this constant, this pole-star of a horse who has been with me from Junior High to having a baby at forty, be a part of little Joe's life too. She won't be here when he's ready to ride, but at least their lives overlapped. When she came up to see the bundle in my arms, I cried tears of sadness and remembrance. I saw my life reflected in Rana's eyes.

? 2002 Suzanne Drnec

Writing or riding, Suzanne Drnec enjoys horses and their people. Drnec is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company, www.hobbyhorseinc.com, a show apparel manufacturer, and also the caretaker of an assortment of lawn ornaments including a Paint, a Quarter horse, and an antique Arabian. Comments? E-mail them to suzi@hobbyhorseinc.com.