Minutiae Matters

Millions of years of evolution have equipped horses with endurance, grace, a certain nobility of movement, and a brain whose surplus computing power is slightly less than that of a four function calculator. Horses are absolutely sure of two things: (1) they taste good, and (2) everything that is not another horse wants to eat them. For the horse owner, these two certainties lead to the conclusion that whatever processing power the horse brain contains, 90% is dedicated to running away from things, 9% is dedicated to eating and the various autonomic systems needed to keep a the horse alive, and (if one is feeling generous) 1% is available for optional tasks – like paying attention to said owner.

Don’t get me wrong, I care for and have great respect for my horses and I am continuously amazed by the bargain they have struck with mankind. Here’s a prey animal that is willing to allow a much smaller predator to encompass it with straps and harnesses, to climb on its back, and to carry said predator for great distances and long periods of time in return for clean hay and the daily bucket of oats.

Most of the life lessons I’ve gotten from my horses usually involve real world demonstrations of Newton’s laws of motion and/or confirmations that, in spite of fervent prayer, gravity remains a constant. However, the other day my horses gave me a lesson in law.

All summer there have been 12 round hay bales stacked against the barn and every day I lead my horses past those 12 bales as we make the trip from paddock to pasture and from pasture to paddock. So, twice a day, every day, for 3 months my horses have walked quietly past 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12 round hay bales – every day until … THE DAY OF GREAT CALMAITY (or as I like to call it Thursday).

Thursday dawned like any other day, the horses walked past 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12 round hay bales, past the empty goose pond and out to the pasture. After spending a peaceful day alternating between dozing in the sun and grazing, the horses walked past a goose pond filled with raucous geese (these geese where honking, bathing, flapping and generally causing sufficient commotion to spook a horse) without a hitch, totally oblivious. The horses walked past the barn and got to the end of the 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11 round hay bales and jumped out of their skins, a snorting, crow-hopping, 100% adrenalin-fueled flight to the end of the lead rope. THE WORLD WAS COMING TO AN END AND THEY DID NOT WANT ANY PART OF IT.

Most horse owners will agree that the learning moment does not come when there is 1000 pounds of freaked-out horse dancing at the end of a 10 foot lead rope – that is merely the horse’s way of saying “here endth the lesson”. The actual teaching moment has already occurred.

Lately I’ve found myself doing a number of title exams and contract reviews, and I’m finding that I’m taking a page from my horses’ book – trouble is more likely to lie in the minutiae rather than the flash. We can make note of the noise and confusion inherent in multi-page documents with their 16-level nested paragraphs, but the trick is to pay attention to the outlines of a survey that misses an acre thereby rendering a title unmarketable, or the last sentence of a clause that inverts the expected meaning of the clause, or that missing hay bale. Its here, in the small things, where danger lurks.