My old horse is howling in the barn – his screams are piercing and I hate them cause I know I can’t make him feel better. I can’t go near the barn – it just makes it worse. So, in his way and in my own way, we are both howling tonight – we hate change and we have lost a friend. But it’s not the first time he and I howl together…
We have been together for a long time- almost 16 years- he’s no spring chicken and neither am I. We have survived raising seven kids, the death of his partner and of my mother. We have fought over simple things like when it is appropriate to stop and when it is not, and we have mourned together in long green fields on sunny days with our heads hanging low.
I remember that day, about six months after the other horse I bought master with died. I had never lost a horse before, and it was devastating. I mourned deeply for many weeks that melted into months. Master was always a renown challenge to ride – unpredictable and having never quite lost his wild intuitive mistrust of humans, I don’t think i ever completely have ever won his heart, but we have come to know each other deeply.
That day in the field I had this epiphany where i saw his sad body position in my own and I realized that he was mirroring me, in a very clear way. I just hadn’t been able to see it until then.
Things changed for me after that – slowly but we both got better and we moved on. Eventually we got our own farm – I wanted to be home with him and luckily i had a family who supported my crazy dreams.
We found ourselves knee deep in horses before we had even unpacked our boxes, working with a local refuge wanting to do everything we could to help. And there were so many that needed help.
And I saw terrible things. I saw horses beaten and starved, shot by drunken crazy people, broken legs, and other things that I don’t want to talk about and you don’t need to hear.
I also witnessed incredible kindness and beauty, recovery, healing and community. Doing this work changed my life.
But there was no balance, and times changed and got hard. Having a business at home was hard frankly. I am a private person and I like quiet days. So when we moved to a new farm, over time were stopped taking boarders and refuge horses. We just didn’t have the resources – physical or financial – anymore.
But i kept a few student and worked with a few people.
One family whose children would come to visit one day called me to say they had bought two horses for their kids, could they keep them at my place. I reluctantly said yes, but their other option was to keep the horses at a cow farm, and that probably wasn’t the best scenario.
I agreed to take them – but I should have maybe asked some questions. like – how old are they and where do they come from.
When I arrived with trailer in tow on my old rusty pick up truck, i arrived in a muck filled cow barn, where two horses were being harbored in a back stall, barely large enough for one horse never mind two full grown Canadians. The younger one seemed terrified and hid behind her mother.
I found out they had never been out and no one really spent much time with them. They stood in muck to their knees.
The baby, only 2 years old, was still nursing on the patient mother, whose name I would discover to be Molly.
From the get go, Molly was the most gentle and willing mare I have ever dealt with. She ambled patiently, peacefully and dare I say gratefully onto the trailer. But her baby was another issue. Already two years old, Summer had never been haltered, handled or even touched with a rope. It was hard to imagine how we were going to get them on a trailer!
But amazingly enough we created a sort of tunnel with the help of a bunch of people and some ply wood. We patiently maneuvered the frantic baby with slow motions of the plywood until she was settled in beside her mother on the trailer. I remember thinking it was an absolute miracle that it was a twenty minute load time – I had seen some habituated show horses have four hour loads.
So, Molly and Summer came home to my farm. I had horses in the field and in other paddocks. I put them in a separate paddock again using the magical ply wood and neighbors trick, and there began our journey.
The owners came only once, gave me half the board and never came back again. I met the woman about two years later in a mall or something, and told her everyone screws up, but she could at least come and see them. That was the last time we had contact.
Things like this never happen at convenient times. This was a particularly bad time. My beloved horse Otis had navicular and it was getting worse. Watching him walk in pain caused me constant states of guilt and sadness. The weather was bad, and bringing in the rest of the herd would send the mother and baby into a frantic spin. So, for the longest time, in order to get them into the barn, we had to take Molly and Summer would evasively follow behind us, one person in the rear trying to move her energy gently. There would be no actual touching of summer for about a year.
When we would approach her she would lunge with her teeth bared cross the fence, i suppose trying to protect her mother. And really, the whole thing may have gone very badly, except that Molly was the friendliest most loving horse I had ever met. She loved attention and being touched all the time. So, over time I would spend time with her just petting her while Summer would stand a safe distance away and glare at me.It took some time, but eventually by watching that her mom was OK, she became curious enough to approach and we began to have contact.
I had some very good people helping me through this. My friends daughter was the first to get a halter on her. It was an incredible achievement, and we celebrated i recall. My nephew with his calm ways helped in the round pen and with the first few blacksmithings. At the beginning we discovered that as much as Summer seemed to be uncontrollable, she was pretty happy being told what to do in a round pen – she enjoyed the interaction. This told me that she was smart and looking for new experiences. That’s a great quality in a horse.
Separating Molly and Summer came at a bad time for me – when my own mother had cancer. Emotionally I was pretty aware that I was avoiding taking a two and a half year old off its mother – but it had to be done. We must have done every possible permutation and combination of herd gathering possible. We have four paddocks and a giant field of about 15 acres of beautiful natural land. Some of the horses, like our big Belgian mac who has had bouts of cancer and has trouble keeping weight on, benefit greatly from the natural balance and richness of the food source of the field.
Other animals like the little blind pony someone else abandoned here years ago, could not be in the giant buffet of life – we would have had to roll him in. So we had to really consider all sorts of things when combining groups of horses and separating Molly and summer. Like – which one of them would jump which fence.
It finally ended up that Summer was in the field with Big Mac, Bentley the gentle thoroughbred and lily the standard bred mom of the herd. She became fat, happy and very calm. She had all the space in the world to run and play, and Lily loved having her to play with. Every day they would frolic and roll, run and jump – a miracle for Lily who came in with a broken leg.
Anyways here’s the thing, today a man drove up to my farm in a big white pick up truck. He had smiling eyes, and asked me if Summer was for sale. I said no.
We spent the next hour getting to know each other – and I agreed to let him take her – and her mom.
I have never met anyone who loves horses as much as this man does I think. He has two right now, and was raised on a draft horse farm. He’s an old school farmer with the values I have come to know as solid and sorely lacking in the world.
His horses live out their lives with him – he doesn’t buy and sell. Oh and even better – he lives up the road and wants to teach me how to buggy harness and train a horse for harness. This is very exciting for an old gal like me – new things turn me on.
Don’t you think it’s funny what a day can bring? This morning I woke up to a field full of horses, and frankly a shoulder load of responsibilities. I spent every day with Molly in some way -she was my friend,joy, my companion. This was a very hard thing for me to do. But it was the right thing. Everyone has a purpose in life, and i wasn’t going to be able to allow her to reach her potential. He will.
So it’s with no small sadness that I said goodbye to Molly and Summer today. I’m selfish enough to have reconsidered it all four times before we arrived at his beautiful farm with the rolling fields. They have a run in barn and shelter, 8 acres of lush grass and all the room in the world to play.
I was so happy for them.