Dot Farmar and my daughter Liz take an immediate liking to each other. Liz has a knack for quieting the most savage of horses. After taking note of their good and bad habits, physical ailments and idiosyncrasies , she puts the horse in cross ties, circles them, touching them with long smooth strokes. When she gets to their head she rubs their nose and bends the horses’ heads down to her height, whispering in their ear, seemingly striking up a bargain with the animal. She now slips a bridle over his head, saddle him up and unclips the cross ties. Once she has mounted him, if he starts balking Lizzie simply leans forward, grabs a hold of the horses ear, and he settles down. It is around redeeming these horses Dot and Liz bond.
Late afternoons, when I arrive to pick Liz up, Joe, the Shepard greets me like an old friend. I have fallen for him in a big way. He knows it and makes a fool of himself, rubbing ecstatically over my legs while thrusting his head into my hands for a good ear scratch.
By late November the renovations on my barn are done and I am finally settled. Although studying for the state real estate exam I am itchy to do something physical. I ask Dot if she needs any help at the barn and am told I’m welcome to help with morning chores. I tell her I’ll be over the next morning but first I shop for a wardrobe change purchasing flannel shirts, jeans, warm socks, barn boots, and a jacket.
The next morning I drive over to Dot’s, my face scrubbed clean of make-up and comfortable in my new clothes. I pull my car in front of the shed and make my way over to the barn finding the stall Dot is working saying I am reporting for duty! Dot leans her pitchfork on the wheelbarrow and calls out to the other women to take a break and come meet a new helper.
Audrey is a tall and handsome, broad shouldered, red-haired woman who looks like you wouldn’t want to mess with her until she flashes her beautiful smile and hear t he laughter in her voice. Nora is blond, short, sturdy but feminine, with a lovely smile, an Australian accent, and a glint to mischief in her eyes. After a few moments Dot says it’s time go get back to work and hands me a pitchfork asking if I know how to use one. My answer is to begin throwing soiled hay into a wheelbarrow. Together, with the other women, working like a well-oiled machine, we lay in fresh bedding, fill water buckets from a spigot set up in an ancient bathtub in the back of the barn, fill feed buckets, and finally, throw in some flakes of hay. The stalls are now ready to welcome the horses that are grazing in the fields across the road.
Our chores now done, we gather around Dot’s kitchen table for steaming cups of Sanka, sharing our ‘kids issues’, talking about men, and what to do with them and without them. I am now one of Dot’s girls.
Audrey has two young daughters and an absent ex-husband. She was brought up in this area, married,and now divorced. She lives in an old farmhouse heated with a woodstove requiring Audrey to stoke it throughout the cold nights to keep her babes warm. Nora too, is recently divorced. Her son is at a boarding school in this area and she moved up here to be closer to him. Although she doesn’t mention her financial status, it is understood she doesn’t want for much.
As for Dot, it is apparent she has a soft spot for all of God’s creatures but,as I learn, she is much more forgiving of horses than most other creatures. She tells us she never did meet a horse she didn’t like. Known far and wide for being a tough horse trader, Dot never passes up the opportunity to rehabilitate a horse headed for the ‘killers”. She regulates the horse’s feed, doctors them when necessary, and offers them unconditional love, and sometimes she can’t help herself from keeping a horse that tugs at her heart.
The Farmer’s Stables, as Dot shares, has been in the family for two hundred years, originally breeding and butchering livestock, until the farm fell into economic difficulties. Dot, then single, moved to Connecticut to run a chicken
farm. It was there she met her husband an “Italian fella with the most gorgeous head of hair you ever did see.” By the time her daughter was born she knew she had to divorce him, as “he wasn’t ever going to amount to much.”
Within a few years Dot returned to this area to run a Standardbred horse farm. It was while she was training Standardbred horses and competing in carriage trials she met the love of her life, Ray. Even though Ray never did bother to get a divorce, he and Dot had been living together for twenty years, sharing their passion for competing in horse and antique buggies events up and down the East coast. They moved back to the Farmar family’s homestead eight years ago. Dot’s daughter Julie, now 21, is living back in Connecticut. Dot doesn’t say much about Julie except she doesn’t see her too often.