The blanket has become itchy; the ground in the turn-out area muddy and deep; the donkey is cranky; life has become boring; and, the sheep are just plain stupid IMO.
And then one morning we wake up to six inches of snow. Oh, glory be! Every animal and person on the farm breathes a sigh of relief. The brown is gone, covered by a crystal white as pure as light in a short winter’s day. The mood is lifted. Even the donkey’s. Of course, the sheep are still stupid because they don’t seem to notice anything different.
Is there really anything better than a roll in the snow? No snow angels here but horse angels instead. A face full of the white stuff feels good. It’s cool to the touch. It’s in my nose. It’s on my belly. Legs in the air!
What’s that sheep looking at? Stupid sheep. They have no horse sense.
Photos: Tater and Moralecia playing in the snow. Katahdin ewe doesn’t get it
All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2012 Scottie Jones
When I was nine or ten, my parents bought me my first horse. Actually, he was a large pony from Old MacDonald’s Farm, a local petting zoo. I have no idea why the farm was selling him, except he liked to bite. He was black and white, with a thick neck and big head. I thought he was beautiful. My own pony. I had dreamed about this day for years; well, at least since I was eight.
As I remember, that first summer was a bit rough. Perky (a name that never quite fit the package) had the bad habit of bucking me off on a regular basis. We eventually reached an understanding, but I had many friends who ended up in the dirt of the arena at one time or another. It was a right of passage. No one rides the pony without hitting the dust a few times for good measure. Luckily, this was in the 1960s when no one talked about suing anybody.
Perky died when I was thirteen. My parents replaced him with another horse and I continued riding through high school. A bit like the Velveteen Rabbit, I lost interest in my college years and the ponies were sold. The stable became a shed for garden tools; the fencing of the paddock a trellis for the wild roses my mother planted to border the lawn.
There weren’t horses in my own back yard again until more than 20 years later. Up to that point we had had neither the space nor the money to host animals larger than a dog, a cat, an iguana, various domestic rodents, and a bird or two.
The ponies arrived as rescues in the night and thus began a new chapter for the horses in my life; except this time I had daughters of my own and a husband who had spent more childhood years riding a dirt bike than anything with four legs and a mane.
The idea was to teach our girls to ride, to be responsible for something larger than a dog, and to keep them distracted through their high school years when sometimes a horse can be a better friend than the two-legged kind. It didn’t work exactly like that for both kids because apparently you have to have some special crazy-about-horses girl gene to make you keep riding when your friends have other ideas to occupy the hours after school.
But all of us were touched in one way or another by the horses in our back yard. They morphed over time as some proved more reliable than others, but we settled on one of our rescues, Moralecia, a fancy little Arabian with a large attitude and a good mind, and a square-headed Appaloosa named Chaco who was athletic and gentle in an old soul kind of way.
Our horses became ‘familiars’ as the years passed and our girls grew. There is a strange, almost centaurian oneness that develops from riding a horse day after day, where communication is handled by the shift of one’s weight or the nudge of a heel. It’s non-verbal but totally understandable. Our horses in turn used their own signals, if we were smart enough to pay attention: the turn of an ear, a look in the eyes, a nuzzle, a shove.
In the end, if you want to know the truth, I think we can actually blame our move to this farm on the horses. Greg figured they needed more space than our 1-acre suburban lot and so he bought them 40! I never understood until then that for the love of horses we were to become farmers.
Old MacDonald’s Farm was a prescient look into my future. No petting zoo here and the horses don’t bite, but Perky would have loved this place. And, while it took our desert horses more than a little time to adjust to the green pastures and forests of Oregon, they’ve settled in. So, too, have we.
Photos:(top)Moralecia and Chaco when we first arrived in Oregon;(bottom)Moralecia, Chaco, and Tater about 3 years into our move
Postscript. I have been remiss at finishing any of the blogs I started since last May and have about 10 partially completed, but none ready to ‘go’. As I find time this winter, you may read stories from 6 months ago and wonder what is going on at the farm. Nothing, except it’s a farm and farming is never done.
All rights reserved. Copyright 2011 Scottie Jones
It was a fall day today of no particular note. The golden leaves of the alder trees dropped at the hint of wind, onto ground covered with brilliantly green fall grass. The sky was blue, yet clouds edged in with the afternoon, adding a hint of autumn to a weekend that boasted t-shirts.
Despite all this normality, it was not a normal day for the farm. Today was Chaco’s day to die. A pre-planned day. Not pre-ordained, but chosen from so many other days. Chosen in the middle of the night because this is not a decision made in day. A slow decision that has been a long time coming. And then it was made and here we are.
How does a horse survive when he can no longer see where he is going? How many fences will he have to run in to, with cuts on his nose and legs to prove? Will a raging creek in winter sweep him off his feet for the last time because he doesn’t trust knowing where the bridge drops off at the edge? In the end, what does our love count for if we can’t be responsible to end his life well, after so many years of cantering on the correct lead, learning to jump as a team, riding trails?
For Chaco, it was a normal day. He ate grass. He waded across the summer creek. He was surrounded by the baaing of sheep and the companionship of the other horses. Sure, we paid him extra attention in the past few days. He was brushed and fed treats. His mane and tail were combed. And he was brushed again.
But for the farm, this day had been hanging around for a week. Time to do something, anything, that would make a memory or a kindness to add to the memories and kindnesses that have followed us for the past 14 years. So, we took photos and even a last ride around the property. And then today we took some family photos with Chaco, the kind that sport all the kids, except here we had the donkey and the other horses butting into the picture too. And it was a beautiful day. And we were all very much aware of our personal sorrow for a horse we had come to love over time and who would, in a short while, be gone from our world.
They tell me it was quick and he didn’t feel a thing. The horses in the barn spooked at the shot and then went back to eating their hay. The sheep lifted their heads from the pasture. I looked out through a screen of trees where I had last seen the whiteness of Chaco’s coat as he stood in the sun. He was gone. And the tractor quickly filled the hole with dirt and the field took on the surreal look of peacefulness and quiet. But for the fragrance of fresh dirt, I could have closed my eyes and thought I imagined it all.
“…may you run joyfully with the big herd in the sky, may you clear every jump you attempt, may the fields be bountiful and filled with your favorite grass, may there always be a big mud puddle to roll in, and may there always be someone there to brush you while saying sweet nothings in your ear. I (We) will truly miss you Spuds McKenzie (Chaco).”
– Facebook post by Emery Jones 10/3/10
All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones
Tater has ramped up his trouble-making. I used to compare him to a teenager. I would like to revise this to a two-year-old. You know, the two-year-old that likes to open every kitchen cabinet he can find and pull all the pots out. How about the cabinets that have the cleaning supplies?
Today he figured out how to open a door into the barn that uses an old style latch with a weight. How did he figure this out? At first, per usual, I thought I must have left the door unlatched after feeding. The donkey is quite adept at taking advantage of this particular door. It must have been the donkey. I latched the door purposefully the next evening. And, the animals were in the barn again in the morning.
Our guests find this behavior particularly funny and endearing. Tater will usually be back in the loafing shed when we turn up for morning rounds. Moralecia will be looking for a way out and the donkey will be skittering along the wood floors of the barn attempting to push past me to the door.
I’m a little smarter with the horses these days when it comes to reducing opportunities for chaos. I only drop a bale of hay at a time, so the most the animals can redistribute is this and maybe some loose straw. The trash can is always up-ended and horse blankets, stools, and brush buckets strewn about, but the biggest clean-up is the horse poop. Gives everyone a reason to try their hand at the push broom. For now I have rigged a chain through the door so the horse can’t get in. Of course, we can’t get out either.
Tater the Terrible was not to be outdone. He took on the feed stall next, a door that had never been tested as Tater-proof, but why? It was locked with a wire twist. We were lucky at first because the grain was low in the bins. I would retwist the wire. The horse would hoist himself up a three foot step, knocking over stored jump rails and standards, and plop (and I do mean plop) himself in the middle to the grain bins. By the time I finally came up with a solution to this behavior, he had flattened several metal trash can lids and eaten every ounce of food not run off by the rats and the mice.
Because my brain is only slightly larger than his, it took me several attempts to find a hook big enough and inflexible enough that Tater finally gave up his drive to drive me nuts. It’s hard to be mad at a horse with such intent and big, brown eyes. I’m just glad neither he nor the other equines ate so much they colicked. There was that one morning when they all bee-lined for the water because they ate their fill of salt. I can’t even conceive what will be next; however, my two year old grandson might have an idea.
Photo: Tater not looking so terrible here. Bored, maybe. “Get that lady to let go of me!”
All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones