Everyone has a story.
We got cows delivered to the homestead yesterday. Super exciting, but that’s another story.
Evidently, bringing new animals onto a farm is a big deal. It affects the other animals.
After securing the heifers in their fenced area, Magnus – the livestock guardian dog, disappeared for 4 hours. He was not pleased with this new addition. But that’s another story.
This story is about Horse. Yes, Horse has a name. Her owners call her Jilly-Bean, but she has been Horse to me since we arrived. She is a beautiful creature, and we have a great affection for her. We are not horse people, and she is not our horse. We are just doing our best to care for her until her owner, Jack, can bring her to their new property.
That day came sooner than planned because the cows arrived. There was a disturbance in the force.
I am clueless when it comes to horses, but even I could tell there was tension in the air.
Unloading the heifers from the trailer into their paddock, I see Horse gallop to the top of a hill that overlooks the property. She can see the new arrivals and she is not pleased. Prancing from side to side, tossing her head, and snorting loudly it becomes very clear that she is not happy.
But Horse is put out of our minds as we get distracted by every other thing that requires our attention. She has headed off to the opposite side of the property, past the furthest pond, as far away as she can get from the new animals. Later that afternoon I visit her, and we have a chat. I tell her I understand she is not happy, but the cows won’t bother her, and everything will be ok. I pet her and lean into her. She walks alongside me for a bit, and I think we can work this out.
Horse is not convinced.
That night she approached the inner pasture at our back door for her usual feed and attention, but her agitation was palpable. She can see the cows. She can smell the cows. She snorts and prances. She gallops and tosses her head about. She is so agitated that I make sure there is a fence between us. I do not want to approach that massive creature in this state. I fear her. But at the same time, I can feel that she is in distress, and I try to talk to her, give her some food, and sooth her with a carrot. She may be huge and powerful, but she needs a mama’s love too, and I have learned over the years how to give mama love. But no amount of love would settle her down.
We are not horse people, and though we have done our best, we are at a loss. We contact Jack and let him know we need him to get the horse. It has become too much for us and we now have our own livestock to care for.
The overnight rain has stopped, but with the wet weather it is a good day for Mr. J to head into town on some errands. I handle the animal chores. It is clear enough outside that I head out in short sleeves without a jacket, thinking I won’t be long and the weather is warm enough. After feeding and watering the animals, I spy Horse. She is once again in the far pasture, past the furthest pond, as far away as possible.
I go out to visit. We talk. I tell her it’s ok. She leans into me and rubs her head on my back. We walk together for a bit. Then I hear what I think is a truck and trailer coming down the drive. Jack is here to get Jilly-Bean.
I walk to the barn and find Jack. He has a bucket of feed and a long rope for a lead. The trailer door is open, and he is ready to get Jilly-Bean. We walk past the barn to the field and Jack let’s out a whistle – loud and long. He calls out, “Jilly-Bean! Here girl!”
Jack rescued Jilly-Bean years ago. She had been mistreated; her hooves were in such a bad state that she could barely stand. Jack brought Jilly and her mom to the farm and has been caring for her ever since. Jilly loves Jack. But she was not answering his call.
So, we walk out to where Jilly is in the far pasture, past the furthest pond, as far away as possible. She sees us now but stands her ground. I approach her and stop a few feet off. I say “Hi, Horse” and she approaches and brings her head close to mine. Jack asks me to get the lead on her. With one arm I reach it over her neck and with the other arm I bring it around to secure it. Now she can be led back to the trailer.
This is where Jack takes over. After all, I am not a horse person. And honestly, she scares me a bit. Jack is 75 years old, recently recovered from a heart attack and open-heart surgery. Even more recently Jack had some shoulder surgery to remove a tumor and has been nursing an injured knee. But Jack can control his horse. He knows her movements, when to push and when to let her wheel around. I walk along side, talking to Horse, encouraging her to come along, saying it will all be ok.
Fortunately, the cows are on the other side of the property, otherwise it would have been really difficult.
We make it past the pigs with some difficultly. Evidently Horse has not been thrilled with them either, but I was too ignorant to understand this. We get to the trailer. And there we stop.
Jack is working his magic, but Jilly-Bean won’t go in. He has her lead secured to the trailer and another rope behind her haunches to nudge her along. But his girl won’t budge. I am as close as I dare, and still very much afraid of her powerful hooves and massive form. But I have to push aside that fear to get this done. I pat her and coax her, while keeping an eye on a way to escape if it becomes too much.
No luck. Jilly-Bean loosens the ropes, breaks away from Jack’s hold and escapes at a gallop to the far pasture, past the furthest pond, as far away as possible.
So, Jack and I calmly begin the walk back. One thing I have learned is that animals can sense your stress. If you are calm and in control, it helps them to stay calm.
I walk ahead, talking to her, because we learned from our first try that Horse will come to me. As I walk along, pondering this life I chose, I think to myself, “At least it’s not raining.”
I get to Horse and stop a few feet ahead of her. I say “Hey, Horse” and she walks towards me. Untangling the lead still attached to her neck, I hand it over to Jack.
“This is her safe place,” Jack tells me as we stand there a moment. “She stayed here for two weeks when her mom died. Her mom is buried on the rise over there.”
There is more to Jilly-Bean’s story. I had no idea. My eyes get moist as the empathy overcomes me. I am filled with all the things this horse has gone through and what she is experiencing right now.
Horse, Jack and I walk back to the trailer, much the same as before.
The rain begins. Soft fat drops. But at least it is warm and there is no wind.
This time I can be more helpful as we approach the trailer. Jilly-Bean’s lead is secure and Jack is at her head. I get the rope behind her haunches so we can nudge her in.
“You need to git inside the house before you catch cold,” Jack declares.
Nope. I am not about to leave him to do this on his own.
Horse is getting more agitated as the minutes pass. Jack is on one side. I am on the other. We’ve got to do this. But Jilly is not lifting her front legs to step inside. And when she does, it is more in a stomp of anger. I see the bucket of feed and think maybe I can lure her in.
I step inside the trailer and show her the pail. She angrily nudges and gets a mouthful chewing grumpily. Then there are some sudden large movements and before I know it Horse is in the trailer and Jack quickly closes the door behind her.
Horse and I are in the trailer.
Horse is vibrating with emotions. Her muscles are roiling as she tries to find a way out. But here we are and all I can do is talk to her and put my hands firmly on her. Let her know I am there. Try to remain calm.
She turns herself around in the trailer, I get shoved in a corner and I think of all the things that could go wrong. Stay by her head, I think to myself, away from her hind legs. Ouch. That’s my foot and I push her off. Talk to her. Let her know you are there. Stay calm.
“Jaaack! How are we getting me outta here?” I call, pressed between Horse and the inside wall of the trailer
“There’s a door behind her. Lift the pin.”
I struggle with the pin. No luck. It doesn’t help that this way out is at her rear opposite the side I am on and my mind is whirling with stories of horses kicking.
I stop and assess. I move to her head, towards the trailer’s rear gate.
“How ‘bout we try this door?” I suggest. It is towards her head and while the concern is that she will make a break for it, I think I can manage to slide this one open. Jack grabs her lead, pulls her head away from the gate and holds her firm as I push her from my side. I slide the door open, squeeze out, and shut it behind me.
“You did good,” Jack says. “Better than most men I know.” He starts to gather the ropes and equipment that have been scattered in the ordeal.
“Well, I’ll let you go,” I say quietly as I back away so he can finish up and get out of the rain.
I turn from the trailer and head up the drive. The adrenaline stops pumping and I break down. Small, gasping sobs. I slowly walk through the rain, back to the house, and just let it out.
As I am writing this post the pigs have escaped their pen. We all put on boots and head out the door. But that’s another story