Saturday, June 19, 2010

In Which I am a Happy Horse Mama

I've always wanted a miniature donkey, so once we found some land and moved to the country, I started keeping my ears and eyes open for news of one that might be able to be purchased on the cheap. My dad kept insisting that they were selling up at the sale barn in Iowa for next to nothing. I thought that was simply wonderful, but I didn't think a donkey, even a mini, would do so well on a 4-hour car ride back to Missouri (although, come to think of it, they're not too much bigger than Lucy Lab). It was a Friday during summer school last summer, and whilst my students were playing Free Rice (they LOVE that game, and I am mollified by that fact that even though they're playing an online game, they're also donating food to the starving with every correct answer. Plus, they actually tend to learn something from playing it.), I popped open Craigslist, one of my favorite time-wasters. There were no minis for sale, but my attention landed on an ad for a Missouri Foxtrotter mare and foal for $550. Now, I know we're in the middle of a recession and that people are reducing their horse herds at alarming rates due to the cost of feeding the things, but that was still an exceptionally low price for a twofer. There were no pictures on the ad, but my attention was nabbed. My wonderful horsey neighbor, Claud, had been urging me to start my own herd ever since we moved in. He and I had even talked about what it would take to get the fence made for the pasture. We also had a "barn" of sorts, since Dad had managed to trade our camper for two carports the year before, and we were using one as an open storage shed (to be fair, when we chose to place it way down from the house, we did have in mind that it would be a good barn location one day). I knew I'd have plenty of money to pay for the horses, as well as enough to buy materials for a fence and some left over to pay for several months of upkeep. It was just a matter of saying to myself, "Yes. It's time to become a horse owner." Paul and I drove down to the Lake that next weekend to take a look at the girls, and it only took one glance for me to know that they'd be coming home to Critter Country. Mama Horse was pretty enough, albeit skinny as a rail (and was only green broke -- silly me to think it would be nothing to have her trotting all over our National Forest trails in a matter of weeks). But, it was the baby who sealed the deal for me.

Now, my dad (from whom I've always tended to take my horse cues) is a color man when
it comes to horses. He likes a lot of chrome -- stockings and blazes -- the flashier the better. He has always, always (since he was a little boy) yearned for a "John Wayne" horse -- a sorrel with four white socks and a blaze. And here, standing in front of me, was a pretty little sorrel with a white main and tail, a huge white blaze, and the promise of four high white stockings. Some part of me knew I had to buy this horse for my daddy, even knowing that he would probably never ride her.

Paul and I took a look at the horses, and we went in the pen and played a little with Mama Horse. Paul said to me (knowing full well the answer already), "You want them, don't you?"

I was raised better. I knew that you were supposed to buy a horse based on what you were looking for, in this case, one I could ride all over. If I were going to buy two horses so that my not-such-a-confident-rider of a husband could ride along with me, I should probably turn around, walk away, and look for a pair of geldings. But, oh, that baby horse. The owners hadn't done a thing with her -- never laid a hand on her, in fact. She hadn't been imnprinted (a training technique used by most horse people -- when the baby is a few hours old, humans rub them all over with a bunch of potentially scary items they will come into contact with as adult horses -- clippers, brushes, blankets, ropes, spray bottles, etc), which many horse people will say leads to untold difficulties training a horse when it's older. The owners also didn't have the mare's registration papers in hand -- they were with the woman from whom they'd bought her, who had promised to send them along, yada, yada, yada. But I just sensed something about that little girl horse -- I had mental visions of my daddy's face when I showed him his dream horse, and I couldn't walk away from that opportunity.

So, three weeks later (after a fence was hastily constructed and I went on an internet crash course in horse ownership, considering it had been 20 years since I'd been responsible for one. Even then, Dad took care of things like feeding and vet bills -- I just showed up and rode when I wanted to.), my horses arrived. I bought a halter for my little baby horse, and the previous owner was brave enough to put it on her while she was containe in the trailer. Mama Horse came off the trailer glad to be free again, and started munching on the lawn. Baby came off rearing and whinnying. Neighbor Claud had hold of her lead rope, and she was NOT happy to be held (a fact which, he thinks, led to the fact that she doesn't particularly care for him to this day). We took them down to their new corral, and let them settle in.

Since I was home from school for the summer, I started working on taming my wild baby. I took a lawn chair and a book down to the corral and just sat down. It took about two days, but finally Little Miss Curiosity decided to nose the strange human to see what she would do. By the time a week had passed, we were practicing being led (not very successfully, but we were practicing.). I decided to name her "Ginger," since she was an ornery little girl.

Flash forward to today -- almost a year later. I've had quite a few people tell me I should just sell the baby and buy a horse I don't need to wait three years to ride. Babies are a pain, why feed a horse you can't ride, blah, blah blah. But, Miss Ginger and I are a team. When I go outside, she comes to the fence to wait for me. She doesn't necessarily follow me around like a dog, but if she's in the pasture and I go out to see her, she comes running up to me. Her pretty flaxen mane and tail have turned black, which is genetically impossible for a sorrel horse. Since Mama Horse is technically black (she's a lovely sort of Hershey's chocolate drenched in sunshine) and Daddy was a dark palomino, Ninny had a 50/50 chance of being black or palomino -- those two colors don't mix, and one dominates the other. However, Daddy was a Peruvian Paso, those lovely Spanish horses who throw their feet to the sides when they walk and always look as if they are in a parade. According to the vet, Peruvian genetics are odd when it comes to color, and he believes that she'll either be a one-of-a-kind sorrel with black and white striped mane and tail, or she'll change color entirely at some point. It doesn't matter to me -- she's going to keep those pretty white legs and big white blaze.

Anyway, today was spa day for the horses. This morning, I went out and gave Angel a bath. Their new pasture is full of poison ivy, and I live in fear of getting it from them. Horses don't usually get poison ivy, but the oil can stay on their coats and transfer to their human caretakers -- not my idea of a good time, and not really very nice to the farrier who was coming out to do their hooves. Paul came out and helped me with Ginger, since she had never had a bath before. She is always really spooky about new things, and I knew this bath would be a two-person operation. Paul tried holding her while I used the hose to wet her down, but she looked like a guest star on "Dancing with the Equines." So, Paul looped her lead rope around the utility pole and let her pull for a bit. Once she figured out she couldn't pull away, she settled down and let me give her a full bath. She even went as far as to drink out of the hose when I held it up to her nose -- she thought that was kind of a fun game.

After lunch, I mixed up a batch of homemade fly spray using Avon's Skin-So-Soft, vinegar, and dish soap. Ninny has never let me spray her, either -- but today was definitely a day of firsts. Once she figured out that the spray wouldn't hurt her, she stood still and let me cover her. I'm not sure if the fly spray will work (I'm not sure any fly spray works out here), but if it can give her some relief, I'll be happy. I even painted her little white nose with sunscreen, since it tends to burn on hot, sunny days. Around 2:00, the farrier came out to do the horse's hooves. This farrier has been out once before, but it was while Paul and I were in DC for Braden's baptism, so the house/horse sitter handled them then. She said that the baby was really well-behaved last time, so she didn't expect any problems this time. Ha! We were putting front shoes on Angel and were halfway through when a huge thunderstorm blew up out of nowhere. We went under the garage, but since it is open to the west, we the wind was blowing fiercely and Angel was not having any of this strange pounding on her feet in concert with lightning and thunder. So, we went down the barn, which is enclosed on three sides and protected from the western storms. Ninny, of course, went with us. After Mama Angel was finished, the farrier decided to go ahead and try to trim Ninny's hooves, since she was pretty calm in the storm and curious about the whole operation.

Even though the rain was sheeting and blowing horizontally in front of the shed, and even though lightning and thunder were cracking overhead, my little baby horse stood like a statue while she had her feet trimmed. The farrier remarked, "Man, this little horse is good. She's a keeper." When we were all finished, the farrier came up and kissed her on the nose, then said to me very seriously, "I have never seen a young horse behave this well with all this going on. It just doesn't happen. If this were my horse, I would never, ever sell her." I couldn't agree more.


  1. I loved reading this! Just wish you had some photos of your baby...she sounds gorgeous. (Google alerts caught my books listed on the site and since I was just tooling around, I came to see what was up, and stayed.) We haven't had horses for years, but I miss everything about them. Your post sure brought back the memories.

  2. Kate, thanks so much! Pictures are now posted -- curse satellite internet for being so slow! I had to wait until I could take my laptop to a wireless hangout to include photos. Hope you come back again -- I'm anxiously awaiting the next Chanku novel!