And I am sure I have already been bleating about my problems with feeding the horses by myself, as poor Jimmy caught that awful ‘flu and has been laid up for about four weeks now. Not that the feeding per se is so difficult – with most of the corrals and pastures you just wheel up to the fence and throw the hay over it into the feeders, a snip.
But fighting the army of ravenous wolves masquerading as horses in what used to be called the Vacation Pasture Pen – now the Pasture Pen, as the horses in it are, more or less, on permanent vacation – is a different story. Here you have to drive in, and distribute the hay into four feeders placed strategically down the middle of a long lane leading to the big pasture beyond. But, even with 100 acres of grass out there, their stomachs are not on vacation when the feeding wagon rolls around! They stand there arraigned up against the gate like the Five Ugly Sisters, so, if you are by yourself, the trick is to open the gate, vault back into the Polaris and run it through the gate before some of them can escape into the wilds of the barnyard and have to be chased back in. Driving the Polaris through the gate is a trick, too, because the gate, having been swung to open as wide as it can go, now returns swiftly by itself so that, if you’re not careful, it gets hung up on the Polaris as you’re halfway through it, and you have to extricate yourself, all the while fighting off the hungry hordes who attack the hay pile on the Polaris bed. And, as some of that hay is alfalfa, intended for Peanut (who refuses to eat anything else, and, as he is retired in a pen by himself, gets a special diet) the fight is on to see who can snatch that alfalfa flake off the Polaris first and worry it onto the ground, there to be pawed around and demolished before you can get to it.
The alfalfa flake being rescued and delivered to its rightful owner, the trick then is for the horsy bandits to see how many bales of grass hay they can pull off the bed, onto the ground, where it will sit, being gnawed on until re-loaded. Anyone else – or even a younger me – would just pick it up and load it up into the Polaris again. Alas, though – for me, those days are gone. The thing I have to do is to snag the darn 130 lb. bale with more baling twine and drag it out through the gate – and here consider the effect of friction exerted on the bale by the ground beneath…
But bright times have come. Our friend Chris has arrived from Canada to stay for a few weeks, and is now helping me feed – or, more correctly put, he feeds and I drive the Polaris, as I do when Danny is here. So all this whining was just over a few weekends – but in my defense I have to say that they happened to be the weekends when the temperatures were below 20 and on some of them it was actually sleeting – cold, wet ice water, right down my collar.And I don‘t think I told you about horse Joey, who had to have cancer surgery on an unmentionable part of his horsy anatomy – the cancer was a melanoma, which often occurs in Appaloosa horses. The surgery was dramatic enough by itself, as Joey suffered a hemorrhage which the surgeon had trouble stopping. He stayed in the horse hospital for four days and, on returning home, part of the treatment was – and still is – to hose the affected area with cold water for 12-15 minutes twice a day. Sounds easy? Not so….*
The first day I did it, which was on a Saturday morning, following Joey’s return home on Friday evening, the temperature was that legendary below 20 something and it was raining, a cold nasty drizzle. I sat there with my hands freezing on the cold hose (poor horse, too, wouldn’t you say – but he didn’t seem to mind) and after about one hundred years, I thought that the time had to be up and looked at my watch. TWO MINUTES had gone by! Two minutes! Eventually the site of the hosing-down was moved to a more friendly location with a better hose, a seat was installed nearby so one could sit instead of leaning forward in a back breaking crouch – and now we are almost at the end of the procedure, with the wound having totally healed into nice, healthy pink tissue. And glory be!! Now, when Danny is off, Chris is doing the hosing down – I just sit there and call out the time…
Those of you who have been to my house may remember my living room, which is a dull and grubby sort of off white, beloved of people painting houses in the 70’s – called Navajo White – which has been depressing me and wearing on my spirits for some time. So I decided to have it painted! The painters are coming tomorrow morning and consider it a small job – they will, at the same time, paint the small bathroom off the front room, the so called guest bathroom, which, as it is situated underneath the upstairs guest bedroom and its bathroom, suffered a calamity about two years ago when, during some cold weather, the upstairs water heater froze, and burst. Of course, nobody knew anything about it until spring came and the ice melted – and arrived in the downstairs bathroom in force, messing up the ceiling and the walls big time. I lived with it for a couple of years, but enough is enough, and tomorrow it, too, will disappear under a coat of new paint.
The new baby calves are arriving in force – but we had a sad thing happen to the first time heifers, pastured in the adjoining South Cochise Pasture. One of them was due and then overdue – and then had the calf, which unfortunately probably fell out of her as she perhaps stood up during the birth – as he broke his neck. So sad – a beautiful little bull calf. But even sadder was the reaction of the only other baby in the pasture, born about two weeks ago. Apparently this little heifer had been looking forward to having a friend, because she lay snuggled up to the dead body until Danny came to bury it, even ignoring the bawling of her own mother, who was nearby, frantically looking for her. Animals are so wonderful to observe, so interesting. And so sad at times – you can’t comfort them, lacking their language.
And so, here it is, Monday morning and the painters have arrived. All my pictures are off the walls, all the knick-knacks off the mantelpiece and now the Navajo White is revealed in all its grubby hideousness – I can’t wait to see the new living room.
Kate and I had planned to saddle up this morning and move the cows out of the Lake Pasture into the Noonan, where they should have been all the time – but someone left the Rock Gate into the Lake open, and, of course, here they came, crowding the fences of the headquarters, probably thinking that some of that free hay might be a good idea. Naturally, in the middle of the night a cold spell arrived, complete with a little ice storm, and both of us renigged on the cowboying and put it off till this afternoon. After all, if you don’t have to, why would you want to be out there slogging it out in this cold! I am planning to take Waylon, who is a good little cow-horse, and who has a pleasant lope. Yesterday we rode and checked the cattle in the Noonan – they aren’t all in the Lake, just the lazy ones – and I took Scotty, but today, knowing that some running may be in order, comfort dictates to leave him at home. If you want to really punish your body, you take Scotty for a loping ride – then you find out what rough is, and how disjointed all your body parts can become in a short little time. Ah, for the days of Comanche and Tequila, now both retired – both of those guys had all three gaits to die for and their lopes and gallops were like floating. I had not realized, in those days, how comparatively rare is a horse with all three smooth gaits. Or perhaps Scotty has discovered that that is the way to a comfortable life – he certainly is smart enough for that. I can just hear him advising colts – “give ‘em a rough ride, and you never have to work for the rest of your life!” He and Waylon both get a feedbag with oats twice a day, since they had both lost a bit of weight over the winter. Waylon eats his just outside the pasture gate, but Scotty purposefully strides across the yard over to the feed room, and plants his nose bag on one of the metal saddle racks, so he can eat in comfort, off a table, so to speak. He is, after all, a civilized horse!
I think there is nothing like living in close proximity to animals and observing their daily life, their reasoning, their way of dealing with situations and their relationships to their human partners. Dog Tuffy, for instance, is a fearing-nobody- tear-into-everything kind of dog, sometimes too much so …. but she is afraid, or at least very conscious, of wind. At night, when she sleeps in my bedroom, sometimes on her pillow, sometimes on the floor, and sometimes on my bed, whenever a big wind comes up, she hustles over to me on the bed and sits on my head. You can imagine that this comes as quite a surprise if you are sound asleep! I can never figure out if she does it because she feels the need to be protected, or if this is her way of protecting me – but it does come as quite a shock.
And I have just returned from gathering cows with Kate – we spent a busy couple of hours gathering them up and pushing them through the gate to the Lane, and then to the East Noonan Pasture. Always a worry though, this time of year – all day today we heard a cow bawling, as if she were looking for her calf. When I gathered up a whole bunch of cows and calves on the north side of the corrals, I hoped her baby was among them, and, indeed, she stopped bawling, so that I couldn’t even identify which one she was, and we thought we had it made. But no sooner had I unsaddled, here the bawling came again, and we still don’t know why. Kate, on her way back to Grapevine, rode back through the Lake, but by then the cow, which had been cruising around the fence, suddenly decided she was going to join the rest of the herd anyway, and took off after them – and we are still no wiser as to whether her calf is with the herd, or abandoned in the Lake Pasture. And then, halfway to Grapevine, Kate found another newborn baby belonging to one of the Cochise Pasture heifers – but, like so many heifers, this mother didn’t want much to do with her new arrival. Kate sat there for a while watching, and finally the heifer meandered up to the baby and let it drink. Really – cows! You need to have your head read to mess with them at all! But – is there really a better way to live?
But at least that first baby heifer, who was so anxious for a little friend, has one now!