When I landed in Gardnerville, Nevada early last spring it felt important to find something to do while I looked for a job or the next place on the map. The first volunteer opportunity that popped up was with Kids & Horses, a non-profit therapeutic riding center in neighboring Minden. Soon I was volunteering twice a week. Nearly a year later, I work there as a ranch hand four days a week, arriving before dawn in the morning to feed a dozen horses breakfast, clean their pens, turn them out for a change of scenery, look after their well-being, assist the equine manager, and feed them lunch before driving home exhausted but grinning.

The 22-minute drive to the ranch is rural start to finish, a high desert valley with trees blooming, snowy mountains on three sides, raptors soaring.  On the commute, coyotes and a band of wild mustangs. At the ranch, a dozen busy cottontails, hares, a pair of great horned owls, a pair of enormous ravens. The view to the west is the backside of Heavenly. At least once a week the air fills with the smell of burnt coffee grounds, on the breeze from the Starbucks factory a couple of miles away.

Working with the equine manager has been one of my favorite things about this odd job. A lifelong horsewoman, she is amazing with the animals. Watching her work with them and talk about what she’s observing and doing is a learning experience but there’s magic there, too. Looking for a soft eye or raised head, instructing horse handlers to “give them some grace”, putting up a quiet hand to shift a horse’s balance at the mounting block.

I made a painting inspired by her and sent her a picture. Talking about it later, she told me it was the kind of thing she’d want her daughter to have when she’s gone, so that her daughter would understand the spirit and energy of her work, and the time that she’s spent doing it for a lifetime. Needless to say I was thrilled.