Shortly after moving to Austin, Texas, in the 80s, I rented a garden plot from Sunshine Community Gardens with my friend Kathleen. After we became a familiar sight, long-time gardeners figured we were worthy of knowing some of their secrets. The older gardeners spoke with reverence and wonder about the miracle of manure in the compost heap. Many swore by cow manure, while others glorified horse manure.
We wanted our compost to know the glory of horse manure.
Parimutuel wagering had recently won approval from the state legislature, so we didn't have to look far before locating Manor Downs, a horse race track east of Austin in the town of Manor, where we would get our racehorse reserve.
We called the track ahead of time and told them we wanted to collect horse manure for our garden, and asked if that would be okay. There was a long pause on the other end of the line until an incredulous voice, with a thick Texas accent, asked: "Y'all wanna dyu whut?!" While the gentlman may have thought us not quite right in the head, I suppose he figured we were probably harmless, and agreed to our request.
We got to the track after work one afternoon, and since I wasn't interested in getting such earthy materials on my office attire, I brought a t-shirt, sweatpants and garden clogs to change into.
A group of cowboy hat wearing gentlemen who were gathered near the front of the stables pointed us in the direction of the manure mountains around back. I drove behind the stables, parked the car, and began to change clothes. Kathleen had the foresight to change before making the trek.
I pulled a cream colored, silk blouse over my head and with arms extended high into the air—leaving little to the imagination—I caught sight of one of the men rounding the corner of the stables. He stopped in his tracks and dust swirled around his boots.
I'm certain I heard him gasp for breath, not sure what kind of ungodly act he was witnessing. A young woman disrobing in front of a huge pile of steaming horse manure was not a thing one saw every day in Manor.
I finished changing clothes in the cramped space of my Ford Escort. By the time I slipped on my clogs, the remaining cowboy hat wearing men had gathered near their pardoner. These half-dozen gents sat on the fence, sipped adult beverages, and watched the strange young women shovel manure into large black plastic leaf bags.
We made the mistake of filling the bags too full, which meant both of us had to work together to get the heavy, unruly bags of pony poop into the trunk. One of the bags caught on the trunk latch, and manure spilled from the ragged wound inside the trunk and onto our feet. The cowboy hat wearing gentlemen hooted and hollered, but none offered assistance.
We finally managed to get about a half dozen bags of horse manure squeezed into my vehicle. The back end of the car hovered dangerously close to the ground. Kathleen and I were covered head to toe with manure dust, straw splinters and flies. We were proud of our accomplishments but disgusted by our appearance and smell.
We could hardly wait to get the booty back to the garden. We divided the manure amongst our gardening friends and added a goodly portion to our compost. That fall we had an exceptional garden and abundant harvest thanks to the miracle of manure. I was reminded of that miracle for several years thereafter, as I never completely got the smell of horse manure out of my car.