Every year, there were always a few of my 300 business majors who were lost. They were in a major because their dad put them there, but they weren’t happy. To help them out, I would send them to take the Strong Interest Inventory at career services. Some of them didn’t want to go, so every year or so I’d take a bunch of online aptitude assessments to find one or two for my students. Most of the time, the tests verified my students were in the right major just going through the “sophomore slump.” Sometimes they were truly lost. One student ended up switching to pottery making and now teaches at a university in Arizona; pretty far from business.
The first time I took the Strong Interest Inventory I was 18. The test said I should be a newswoman, attorney, English teacher, writer or forest ranger. In 1970, women were not working in the variety of jobs they are now, so the choices have expanded over time. My results changed only in that I was offered more options. Some of the “new” ones that appeared consistently (newswoman fell by the way as did attorney) were animal trainer, farmer, rancher.
Where these results come from is kind of mysterious. Basically the test taker is given a group of four choices and picks the most and least desirable then goes on to the next four. I love the outdoors, love animals, approach things physically not intellectually, and am fine with solitude. Well that says “farmer.”
Last year a horse made friends with me. Though it probably sounds silly to some people, that horse and I loved each other. He lived in the corner of my neighbor’s yard and shared a fence with me. I woke up one morning in January, went out my front door to check on the day, and there he was, a small brown and white pinto. It was like a thrilling and wonderful dream to wake up and find a horse essentially in my yard. The kids next door named him Brownie.
I was never a horse crazy girl; I didn’t actually like them much back in the day. My best friend in high school had one, Irish, and Irish had a colt, Warlock. I was around them a lot but mostly felt a combination of fear and annoyance. They seemed big, semi-hostile and were a lot of work. Freedom was taking off across the hills on foot — MY feet — not dragging a big old temperamental equine alien around, too. Over the years I got more comfortable and Irish — who was jealous of me until her colt was born and she found she needed a friend — became kind of fun to ride. My horse life more or less ended there with a blip of action in the 80s when a student and I took lessons at a stable in San Diego. I learned a lot during that winter, how to ride English, how to saddle and unsaddle a horse (which I’ve forgotten). Still, I wouldn’t have imagined loving a horse, ever.
About two weeks after Brownie arrived, I dreamed he came into my house through the front door, walked down the hallway and into my room. In my dream he was watching over me while I slept, and then I felt that Brownie had literally walked into my heart.
When I walked down the street, Brownie followed as far as he could along the fence. When I got up in the morning — even before I went outside — Brownie knew and nickered “Good morning!” and when I came home from school at night Brownie was waiting. He nickered passionately and pawed the ground. Even before I fed the dogs, Brownie got a carrot. I hung out beside the fence a lot just being near Brownie. My dog Dusty loved him and I often came home from school to find Dusty lying beside the fence and Brownie standing next to him. Brownie seemed to like Lily best, probably her calm wildness and slow movements made him comfortable. Brownie made himself a little herd of Dusty, Lily and me. I fed him carrots and apples and kept his water barrel filled. I took care of him when his people were gone. One afternoon I was talking to him and he put his nose against my chest. I gently scratched his nose and I felt him relax completely. He gave a big sigh and closed his eyes, just like a cat.
I could go on with trivial horse stories. Suffice it to say, I liked him very, very much — I loved him — and every day I hung out with him I learned something new about him, maybe about horses. I truly wanted to spend all my time with Brownie. I wanted to take him hiking in the nearby mountains. I didn’t think I could get on him (I now know I could have) and I didn’t really care.
His owner, Andy, is a real cowboy, a fact I knew, but didn’t completely understand until Andy led Brownie out of his pen the first time to let the kids ride him. Andy knew how to talk to him. It was one of the most astonishing five minutes in my recent memory. Brownie followed Andy over to the shed where Andy kept his saddle. He put his head down to take the halter then calmly waited while Andy saddled him (no need to “catch” Brownie). Then he followed Andy to an open spot of yard. Andy began “talking” to Brownie, talking about turning and watching and kindness. In that short, short time Andy understood that Brownie would be responsive to him and gentle under the kids.
I wanted so badly to be able to do that, to know that. I told Andy later how amazing that had been to me and he just said, “I’ve been around horses all my life, Martha. There’s nothing special about it.” Well, yeah, there is. Not only was there something very special about it, but I recognized it. I could do it, too, but not with horses. I could do that with post-adolescents — and most kids, cats and dogs. I got “their number” with the same intuitive familiarity Andy exhibited with Brownie. It came from a lifetime of practice, sure, but there is something more to it. There is something innate.
If I could learn a trade it would be that. I’d have the chance to start all over and grow up with animals. I’ve thought about it a lot. My family, on my mom’s side, until my generation, has been farmers. My mom and one of her sisters went to college and became teachers. None of my aunts and uncles farmed. I imagine it was growing up in the 30s and pressure from their parents to “do better than we did” that led them in different directions. But I wonder how much farming is in a person’s genes. I would have been OK with the vicissitudes of nature, of the struggle to earn a living — I struggled anyway. I love the outdoors and hard work. That would be the “trade” I’d learn if I had the chance.