by Laura Crum
I was recently faced with yet another horsey drama. I don’t know about you guys, but I HATE horsey dramas. This is one more reason why I am drawn to gardening and my pond…etc, these days, where the dramas tend to be a little more benign. But last week, I got a phone call from my friend/boarder/horse partner Wally, that pretty much made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
“I got a call from T today, “ he said.
“Uh oh,” I said.
“Uh oh is right. The horses got out on the road last night.”
“Oh no,” I said, and a nightmare immediately flashed through my mind.
“The horses are OK,” Wally reassured me, “and the neighbor put them back in the field, but we’ve got a problem.”
So now I have to backtrack and explain what horses these are. It’s kind of a long, complicated story, so you can either bear with me, or just skip the rest of this post.
Over the last twenty years I’ve taken care of a motley collection of horses. My older retired horses, Wally’s older, retired horses, and some horses that belonged to friends and uhmm, acquaintances, that I took on because they were sweet old geldings that needed a break. Some of the time I kept these horses at a pasture that I own in the Sierra foothills (three hours from here). But that pasture is not a good place for horses in the summer and fall, when the grass dries up and the heat is severe. Horses that live there year round must be fed and fly-sprayed every day in the dry season. And I had no way to do this. My friend who caretakes the property doesn’t mind keeping any eye on the horses during grass season, but he doesn’t want the job of daily feeding and care that the dry season demands. So we brought the horses home every June and kept them in my corrals for the summer and fall, bringing them back to the pasture in December, when (usually) the green grass comes back.
But I kept acquiring horses, and I didn’t have enough room at home for all of them. Wally had a friend named T who had been in the horse business all his life. Fifteen or so years ago, he was down to one old mare, whose companion, a pony, had just died. T approached Wally about finding a companion for the mare. And Wally and I decided this was the answer to our problem.
Because T had twenty acres of pasture that grew good feed year round, due to a hillside that was irrigated by a spring. And T’s place was twenty minutes from us. So we put the three older retired geldings that we had no room for at home out at T’s place for the summer. And they did so well that we left them there year round.
At first it seemed ideal. T was happy and we were happy. But, as is usual in life, there was a downside. The main downside was the fences. The fences were, in places, really crappy. Like several strands of sagging barbed wire. We picked them up and patched them up as best we could, but truly making the place a well-fenced pasture would have taken thousands of dollars. Both Wally and I preferred not to spend our money on T’s place. And T was not interested in spending money on the fences. So we limped along for many years, patching the fences as needed. Our horses did not get out. We had a couple of minor cuts, but nothing serious.
We acquired a few more horses that needed homes. We retired a couple more horses. At one point we had seven horses at T’s place. And the field carried them pretty well. We fed them during the dry season, whenever it was needed. Overall the horses thrived and were happy. However…
The median age of our little group of retirees got older and older. Half of them needed senior feed to thrive. T was not interested in feeding, or really, in anything but looking at the horses. Wally and I drove out there at all hours of the day and night to feed and blanket/unblanket our increasingly geriatric herd. We began to wonder if we were doing the right thing keeping this whole program going, as some of the horses were too thin, even with heaps of senior feed and free choice pasture. Three years ago we made a hard choice, and put two of the old guys down. I brought Gunner (then 31) home to give him the absolute best care I could.
Both Wally and I were maxed out on the idea of putting our energy and resources and time into caring for horses at T’s place. T’s old mare was dead now. But three horses remained in the pasture. A bay gelding that belonged to me, a sorrel mare that belonged to Wally, and a gray gelding that belonged to neither of us, but that we were effectively responsible for. And we had no idea what to do with these horses.
None of them were horses that either of us had spent much time riding. The bay gelding, Danny, I bought as a three year old. I rode him for six months and then I got pregnant. I gave Danny to a friend, and he did pretty well, but developed a bucking habit. Still, the friend was getting him through it, when Danny was severely injured in a freak accident (got hit by a truck). The friend would have put him down, but I took Danny back and rehabbed him. He never got completely sound, but he was sound enough to be a pasture pet. And a pasture pet is what he is today, at 18 years of age. Not sound, very sweet. Easy to handle on the ground.
Wally’s mare is one that he raised himself, out of his old mare, Tiz, and by a good stallion that belonged to a friend of mine. Wally put the filly in training for the Snaffle Bit Futurity as a 3 year old, but she flunked out. He tried to use her as a heel horse, but she flunked out there, too. (I should add that she was willing and athletic but a little too inclined to prop when stopped hard—that was the only reason she “flunked” out.) He gave her to friends to use as a broodmare and she produced somewhere in the neighborhood of seven nice babies, all of whom sold for a good price. But then the bottom fell out of the horse biz and the friends gave her back. Wally found her a home with some other friends who wanted to raise colts, but they got a divorce and gave her back. So now the little sorrel mare is 19 and out in the pasture at T’s. Friendly, not quite sound, and a happy pasture pet.
The gray gelding belonged to friends who didn’t want him any more. He’s in his mid-20’s, not quite sound, a very sweet horse and a happy pasture pet.
Wally and I don’t know what in the world we could do with these three horses if we can’t keep them at T’s. Neither of us can afford to board them or “retire” them at a retirement farm. And I’m gonna be frank here. The five horses I care for at home (two of them retired, the others in their 20’s or late teens)-- all of these horses have carried me, or my son, or Wally, for hundreds of miles. All without one wreck, or even a bad moment. They have taken care of us and now it’s my turn to take care of them. They have EARNED their retirement.
The horses at T’s place are not in this category. Perhaps through no fault of their own, but for a fact, they have not been the horses who carried us safely through so many hours in the saddle. I don’t owe them the way I owe the five horses here. And this is very clear in my mind.
Also, I have five corrals, and there are five horses here. My small horse property is “legal” for five horses—no more. I absolutely cannot take another horse out here.
So Wally and I both feel that keeping the horses at T’s, crappy fences and all, is the only option for Danny, Little Witch and Gray Dog. But it’s completely unacceptable to have horses out on the road. Wally went out that morning to find out what had happened.
Well, it turned out to be the kind of stupid drama that is all too common in the horse biz. Unbeknown to us, T and the neighbor had gotten into a pissing contest. First the neighbor had felled a tree on top of the pathetic fence and flattened it. The neighbor rebuilt the fence, but put it on T’s side of the property line. T insisted the fence be moved. Surveyors and lawyers were brought in. And apparently, sometime in the last week, the pissed off neighbor just took the fence down. This little drama had been going on for awhile (no one told us). And eventually the horses walked through the now non-existent fence, across the neighbor’s property, and got out on the busy road—at night. Thank God no one was hurt.
Wally locked the horses up in the one corral on the property, and fed them, and we pondered what to do. We really didn’t have any options for these horses, as I have explained. We were both sick of the situation, but the horses were having a good life. We didn’t want to put the horses down, and T was still happy to have them in the pasture. Wally decided that as he is the easy-going one between the two of us (and this is very true), he would try to negotiate between T and the neighbor.
So this goes on for three days. First Wally talks to the neighbor, then he talks to T. Meanwhile the horses are living in a corral and must be fed AM and PM. We are all frustrated. Eventually (after much talking) Wally is able to meet with both the neighbor and T and get them to agree on where the fence goes. And several days after that the neighbor finally gets the fence back up. We are all heartily sick of the whole situation, but…the three horses are now turned back out in the pasture and are happy. We are hoping they can lead a pleasant life for just awhile longer.
So yeah, I have no more patience for this sort of drama…but I AM glad that our three useless but sweet horses are still having a good life. Is there anybody else out there who is sick of all the drama that seems to go with horses? At least at my own place I can get it down to the inevitable tragedies that go with loving living creatures, but whenever other people are involved it seems to result in this kind of unnecessary grief. Any thoughts?