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One recent afternoon I went to feed Miss P. and couldn’t find her. That was unusual because lately she and her girlfriend Miss Chickadee hang out close to the gate. They’ve got the feeding time firmly written in their calendars and are right there.
The image of these two old dears waiting on me adds to my guilt if ever I’m late. It’s a great motivator!
When I didn’t see them, I readied the food and then went on a walkabout.
I checked the shed.
I checked the water.
I checked the adjoining pasture where I’ve sometimes found them.
No Golden Girls.
I even ventured into the larger herd, though I knew that was folly.
These two will do anything to avoid the herd.
When I was about to give up and embrace the idea that they’d been transported onto an alien space ship, I caught sight of them.
Naturally it was at the opposite end of the pasture.
I really got my workout that day.
When I came upon them, I just stood and watched for a moment.
They had their backs to me, looking out at the Interstate. Two skinny butts, tails swishing flies away.
The girls would face forward and then every so often turn to each other as if sharing an observation. Then it was eyes back to the highway.
What were they doing?
Of course, I can’t say for sure, but looked to me like they were sharing comments about the cars passing before them. I thought they might be counting cars, or looking for red pickups with cute cowboys driving, or noting how many people were driving alone versus car pooling.
You know, important scientific observations like that.
Eventually I called to Pepper and she turned to greet me. Slowly she and Chickadee followed me to the gate and lunch.
That night when I told my husband about it, he suggested they were playing “Slug Bug.” It’s the game kids play, shouting out each time they see a Volkswagen Beetle on the road. It can become quite a competition.
“That’s it,” I declared. “Pepper and Chickadee were playing Slug Bug.”
It’s an image that makes me smile.
And I wonder who won.
Our sweet girl turns thirty-one today. In human years that makes her somewhere around eighty-seven-ish. One horse website described it as “extreme old age.”
We’re not going there! Not for any of us 🙂
And I say this: Girlfriend, you are looking darned good!
As you know it’s been a rough year for us.
Losing Bud changed all of our lives.
But like every widow I know, Pepper has bounced back. She is living her life, taking each day as it comes, which is really the only thing any of us can do.
I took this picture a few days ago. Pepper was enjoying a “toes up” in the sun. At our house, that’s what we call naps. She was deeply asleep when I finally found her. I have to say that for just a moment, I sucked in a sharp breath and thought the worst.
Then I heard the snoring – little rhythmic puffs of air. I relaxed, smiled and offered a huge “thank you.”
At first she wasn’t sure she wanted to wake up.
She stretched, and gave me this look that seemed to say, “Can’t you come back later?” Then she put her head back on the grass, thinking, though she kept one eye open, watching me.
“I have grain,” I said in my most encouraging voice.
She raised her head again. “Oh all right. I’m coming.” After another minute or so, she stretched her legs out and pulled herself up.
As you read this you may be thinking this little story is about as exciting as watching paint dry.
You could be right.
But for me, for us, it feels much more like a miracle. That she is still with us, is an amazing, wondrous event.
I’ve lived with this sweet mare for two-thirds of her life – twenty-one years.
And now as she embarks on this next year, I feel so very grateful to be sharing it with her.
Happy, happy birthday dear girl!
They weren’t at the gate with the others. Instead, they chose a spot where I’m sure they thought I couldn’t miss them.
They know me so well!
On the right is Old Joe.
He’s a grizzled old gelding, big and beat up from all his life experience. He’s actually a sweetheart, but because of his size, he gets deferential treatment from the other horses.
Joe goes where he wants.
Joe does what he wants.
End of story.
We have a soft spot for Joe, in part because his people helped me get “unstuck” when I drove into a snowdrift last winter. But mostly we like him because he is a horse of great soul. All you have to do is look into his face and you’ll experience the depth of his being.
On the left is Brio.
Now that Baby is gone, he’s the youngest horse in the herd.
And he’s fearless.
There isn’t a horse out there that he won’t approach.
Sometimes he gets told in rather strong horse language to get lost, but it never seems to deter his inquisitive spirit and boundless youthful energy.
Brio still has a lot to learn in terms of horse manners. He’s had some training and could use a tad more. Okay, maybe two tads more!
Sometimes I’ve seen Joe snap at Brio. It’s as if he’s using his best W.C. Fields imitation: “Go away kid. You bother me.” But other times, Joe seems a willing teacher.
And on this particular afternoon, when both were cold and hungry, Joe allowed Brio to stand with him.
Watching Joe and Brio made me think about friendships.
How sometimes we miss out on really great friends because we limit ourselves.
We may only choose friends of our same generation. Or those with similar interests. Or same lifestyle. Or values, or income. Or??
Years ago, my mother’s dearest friend was at least twenty years her junior. She always said knowing Pat kept her young. I think it was true. When you saw them together talking, or sharing the occasional forbidden cigarette, you never thought anything about their difference in age.
They were friends.
And just like Brio and Old Joe, had much to learn from each other.
Is your life enriched by “unlikely friendships?”
I hope so.
I’m attracted to old guys.
There I’ve said it, but it’s just between us.
The pasture has several adorable old geldings that have wormed their way into my heart.
Sure the young bucks are handsome and strong and powerful.
They are absolutely a force to reckon with.
But the old men of the pasture – oh my goodness.
They too are strong.
Look into their faces and you see life in all its many forms. These guys have been around – well-seasoned veterans of the pasture. Not much rattles them.
And I’m telling you, they have a Buddha-like presence.
Calm, powerful and centered.
Of course you know Bud – the star of my heart when it comes to sweet old guys.
And you’ve met Amigo and Red. Also sweeties.
But there are others.
Every so often, I’ll introduce you, so you can fall in love too.
I think it would make a great calendar – “Old Men of the Pasture.”
This is Joe, or “Old Joe” as his peeps often call him.
Joe is one amazing horse.
He knows we are the treat people, and now and then he wanders our way for a little snack.
He isn’t pushy. There’s no drama with Joe. He knows we’ll get to him.
He isn’t very good at playing the hay cube toss. We suspect his eyesight isn’t what is used to be.
And he has a few battle scars.
Well, maybe more than a few.
He’s a sweetheart and I’m proud to call him my friend.
Yesterday when I was out feeding, Joe stood watch. In the late afternoon sun, he looked like an ancient sentinel. A guardian of the land. He seemed to be waiting for an invitation. Such a gentleman!
I called to him and eventually he came closer.
And I made sure he got a few snacks.
Those old guys get me every time.
Load up grain and drive to the pasture.
Set feed pans on the back of the pickup and open the gate, making sure not to let the whole herd out – just our two old sweeties.
Hand out treats to the Herd of Oldsters who glue themselves to the fence line, so we can’t help but see them. I sing and talk and stroke noses (not mine.) For the record, Rick doesn’t sing to the horses, but on occasion he’s been known to talk to them.
Brush Bud and Pepper while they snarf down their medicine-laced grain.
Move to the dessert bar and dispense hay cubes and/or horse candy to our sweeties.
Lead them back through the gate.
Repeat the next day.
And the next.
Bud and Pepper have this routine down cold. They know it better than we do. Most days when we pull up, they’re standing at the gate, waiting for us. I wonder exactly what time they mosey to that part of the pasture. How long do they actually stand there waiting for us? And what do they do on those rare occasions when we don’t come out to feed? I worry about that, but they don’t hold it against us.
Forgiving animals – our horses.
Last year I set up the dessert bar because I had to move the snacks out of Miss Pepper’s line of vision. She was having trouble concentrating on her grain. All she was interested in was nosing into the bucket of snacks and stuffing her mouth with hay cubes. I assured her I could relate, but nonetheless, she had to finish her dinner before she could have dessert.
I had a lot of practice being a mother. Can you tell?
It’s a seamless transition.
Other horse owners watch us and shake their heads. I’m not sure it’s awe or embarrassment.
We do let our sweeties get away with behavior other folks would probably not tolerate. We figure they’re retired and have earned the right to be pampered.
And if others don’t agree-to each their own.
On many days Bud and Pepper put themselves back into the pasture, though they need us to help with the latch. They know the drill.
Smart animals – our horses.
They’ve trained us well!
On cue, Bud came running for his grain, so I fed him first, all the while keeping an eye out for Pepper. When I first let Bud through the gate, he hesitated for a moment and looked toward a cluster of three horses in the distance, as if waiting for Pepper. He even called for her.
I saw six cuts/bites/kicks on all sides of his body, and I wondered what in the heck had taken place. I asked him, but he wasn’t saying.
Once Bud finished eating, I went in search of Miss P.
I didn’t have to go far. She and Chickadee were sticking close to their new gelding. When I first approached, Pepper actually turned her back to me and walked away.
Now that ticked me off!
If that’s how you want to play it, fine with me, I thought. I turned and headed to the car.
And she followed me.
Along with Chickadee and Beau.
I guess there’s something to be said for years of conditioning.
When Bud, who was still by the gate, caught sight of the golden boy heading his way, he took off running. It was abundantly clear that he was afraid, and that broke my heart.
This young upstart was ruining my routine and I didn’t like it.
There was no more handing out treats to the Herd of Oldsters lined up along the fence.
There was no Herd of Oldsters. At least not as it used to be.
Instead it was the three bachelors and the ménage a trois.
Pepper was stirred up. She tried to eat her grain, but kept turning to look for Beau.
Little, shy-girl Chickadee took her place at the fence, ready for a snack or six.
And Beau stood watch over his women, like a sultan. I could almost see the turban on his head, the billowy pants, the big tent on the desert.
I didn’t like any of this and I really didn’t like this horse that had stolen the mares from the Oldsters.
How dare he?
Over the next few days I learned that I had to feed Bud and Pepper completely separately. Bud wanted to put miles between him and the interloper. Every time he ran away in fear, I got mad all over again.
Still, Bud wants no part of it. No part of him. He’s still smarting from the beating he took.
And here’s Pepper acting like a young mare all goo-goo eyed and in love. It matters little that she can barely walk on those old arthritic legs. She is responding to behavior bred into horses for thousands of years.
I know that.
Honestly, I do know that these are horses. In case you’re worried that I’ve completely lost my mind.
But I don’t have to like it.
I’ve learned things from this little drama about horses, about myself and about life. Tomorrow I’d love to share the whole shebang with you.
Bud’s Turn to Speak
I fought hard to keep our mares, but truth is, I’m just not as strong as I used to be. There was a time I would have kicked that interloper out so fast his head would have spun circles. He’d have thought twice about taking me on.
But, unfortunately that’s not the case anymore. Beau beat me up pretty bad and I have no desire to tangle with him again any time soon.
He has shown no respect for his elders. He’s young, inexperienced, and new to the pasture. Guess he thought he had to make a grand entrance.
Any fool could steal the two oldest mares in the pasture. Sorry Pepper, but that just shows how misguided he is. He ought to be making a herd with mares his own age, but they’re a bit harder to steal, because some seriously strong, kick-butt geldings defend them.
Nope, as far as I’m concerned, Beau is a coward. He picked the easiest marks.
Amigo, Red and I had a nice little herd. We protected our mares. We kept to ourselves and didn’t bother anyone. It was bad enough when Baby was taken away. We’ve become a herd of three lonely old bachelors.
I still have a hope that Pepper will come to her senses and return to us. And bring Chickadee with her.
Eventually they will have to see through all that strutting and posing from the golden boy and realize he’s just a kid.
Will he even protect them when they’re in the large herd? I doubt it. He’s not that smart.
Right now they’re running on pure hormones, like horses have been doing forever. I don’t blame Pepper, but I sure as heck miss her.
Getting old sucks!
Today rounds out the last of our spring birthday/anniversary celebrations.
Miss Pepper is having a birthday.
She is twenty-nine today. And that, my friends is quite an accomplishment for an arthritic horse that has trouble keeping weight on.
She came into this world with a big name: Luke’s King Leo. But that’s no name for a sweet girl, so her owners at the time dug back into Miss P’s genealogy and found Peppy Compadre. And from that (I’m guessing here) they named her Pepper.
Mother’s Day Baby
She was born right around Mother’s Day, and nine years later, I was able to purchase her with money I received after my Mother’s death.
Somehow in my mind, all of that gets rolled into nurturing, mother energy, which has been infinitely comforting over the years. Even though my mother was not a “horse person,” she is with me in spirit every time I’m with Pepper.
As we’ve shared our lives over the past twenty years, Pepper has helped me be a stronger, more confident woman. On so many occasions, she has pushed me far beyond the bounds of my comfort zone. I’ve learned to face fears I never thought I’d address.
With horses, you learn to “just do it.” Whatever “it” is. And when you come out on the other side of it, you realize, deep down in your soul, that you are changed for the better. It’s subtle and yet so profound.
For that Miss P, I am forever in your debt.
Yet that’s exactly what has happened. She is part of me at my very core, and that’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Happy Birthday Sweet Girl!
Slathering on sunscreen has become part of my daily routine.
Wake up. Check,
Drink coffee. Check.
Wash face. Check.
Apply sunscreen. Check.
Is Bud Getting a Sunburn?
This year as Bud has started shedding out, we’ve noticed a lot of pink skin showing through his thinning hair coat.
Are we really seeing more skin?
Or is he getting a sunburn?
We’re not sure yet.
Last fall our vet increased his Pergolide, which has made a huge improvement in Bud’s overall health and condition.
But now we’re wondering if it is causing him to shed out more than usual, leaving his light appaloosa skin exposed to the sun. He’s wondering if there is a Hair Club for Horses in his future. Just to be on the safe side, I’m keeping the credit cards and cell phone away from Bud for the time being!
Light skinned horses do get sunburned.
Some horse keepers apply sunscreen to their animals, though I’m not sure how well that works with horses that live in a pasture.
Others use a lightweight flysheet as a cover up.
This will likely be our choice if it looks as if we are going to need to protect Bud’s delicate skin.
Right now, we’re taking the wait and see approach.
First Mija and now Bud. What is it about our pink-skinned animals and us? There must be a lesson here!
How about you? Are you remembering your sunscreen every day?
Consider this a gentle nudge.
A friendly reminder.
A call to action.
There’s been some drama lately in the area where I feed my two old sweeties.
Most of the time, the Herd of Oldsters is waiting for me by the shed, while the rest of the horses are out in the pasture.
We have a routine that they know by heart.
But every so often a few of the younger horses wander into the shed area around feeding time.
That’s when the trouble starts.
The Oldsters do NOT like the young bucks.
And for good reason.
Horses get all wound-up when it comes to feed. They push and jostle each other. Sometimes they bite or kick. I know it’s hard wired into them.
Survival of the fittest and all that.
Really, I know. I watch the Discovery Channel!
But I don’t like it.
Call me Pollyana. Go ahead. I don’t mind. It fits.
So there is one horse (who shall remain nameless) that is out and out a bully. He’s big and strong and pushy. None of the horses likes him much. But my guys really don’t like him. When he walks into an area, all the horses scatter. It’s like a bad gangster movie.
The past few days he’s decided to position himself right in front of the gate. He’s not afraid of much of anything. I can swing the rope at him to get him to move, and he’ll back up a step or two. Then he comes right back. He’s definitely not afraid of me.
This makes it hard for Bud and Pepper to get out. Usually I can back him away long enough for my old sweeties to make a frantic run out of the gate.
It’s high drama.
Bud will blast through and head straight for the feed pan. Then Miss P. runs through, ears back, nostrils flaring. And all the while she’s eating, she’s tossing her head, and snorting. The bully could care less. He stands at the gate like a six-story building, not budging.
A couple of days ago he took a major chunk of flesh out of Red’s back. Red was trying to get up to the fence for his share of treats.
And the bully got all bent out of shape and bit him.
It made me really angry.
Then my little Herd of Oldsters, the senior citizens of the group, moved away from the bully. They clustered together, way down the fence line. They sent pathetic looks toward me. They wanted their treats, but were afraid.
And I’m telling you, it broke my heart.
It was yet another reminder of how the old and weak and disenfranchised get pushed out in societies – human and animal.
By the way…Red is fine. Horses are used to getting kicked and bitten. I’m not used to seeing it!