We live in a small town about 45 miles northwest of Washington, DC. We’re still considered part of what they call the Greater Washington DC Metro Area, but we’re far enough removed from a lot of the hustle and bustle that goes with living in the city or the typical suburbs.
Our town straddles the intersection of three state highways — all three of which are really just two-lane country roads maintained by the State of Maryland — and horse farms and orchards line the roads approaching town. We have an honest-to-goodness small-town locally-owned diner, one high school, and more churches per capita than any other community in the state. We’re also the only dry community in the county–alcohol sales have been prohibited since the late 1800s.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. Apart from the prohibition on alcohol–which intimidates most potential restauranteurs–there’s no book store, no movie theater, and no real walkable, shop-lined main street. But the good far outweighs the bad–and almost every day, there are little moments that make me shake my head with a smile and say, “I love this place.”
One night last week as I was preparing dinner, I kept hearing our dog Abbey barking out on the back patio. Given that Abbey isn’t much of a barker–she’s one of those rare dogs who really only barks when she’s got something serious to bark at–I leaned over the sink to look out the window so I could see what had caught her attention.
Three horses and a pony were grazing in the corner of our back yard.
There’s a horse farm that backs catty corner onto the property next door to us, with a corral lined by a split-rail wooden fence. Somehow, one of the rails had come loose, leaving a V-shaped opening at one of the corners–and four horses had made the most of it, heading for the greener pasture–our yard–on the other side.
I went outside and walked slowly down to the corner to see if perhaps I could use my latent horse whispering powers to somehow convince them to wander back through the break in the fence, back into their corral. As I approached, the largest horse — a beautiful chestnut-colored fellow with a white star in the middle of his head — looked up at me and snorted.
I backed away slowly, palms up, the way I might back away from someone who had just waved the business end of a broken bottle at me, and then stood about ten feet away, apologizing to the horse in that high-pitched baby-talk voice you use when you talk with an animal. The horse nickered slightly, then suddenly sprinted up the side yard, between our house and the house next door. The other horses followed, thundering up behind — a beautifully impressive sight — leaving deep U-shaped depressions in the rain-soaked yard.
I ran up the hill into the front yard, whistling loudly — it was still rush hour, and I was worried the horses might try to cross the two-lane highway in front of our house — only to find the herd grazing happily on the unmown grass. “Just stay out of the flowerbeds!” I yelled, shaking my fist like Mr. Magoo. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried about traffic — the sight of horses running wild had all but stopped traffic in both directions.
The horses bolted back down the side yard again, before finally settling down to graze on a long strip of grass next to our neighbor’s driveway. By then, their owner had realized what had happened and came sprinting up the hill with a bridle. He slipped it over the head of my chestnut-colored friend — clearly the ringleader of the group — and led him back through the break in the fence with the other three following.
A week later, I still have deep-rutted hoof prints in my front yard. But I’m not complaining at all. How often does one look out the window to find horses casually grazing in their back yard? I love this place.