Thursday, August 25, 2011

Stream of Consciousness

Things have been quiet for a while, save for the daily minutia of horse and farm care. Phyllis the chicken is getting fairly vague - we find her at a distance from the coop now looking faintly bewildered as though she neither knows how she got there, nor how to get back. She has become so teeny - even with her feather topknot (she is a Polish Crested) she weighs about the same as a stick of butter. Fortunately the other hens don’t pick on her (is that where the expression came from? “Peck” morphed into “pick”?).

Another chicken incident took place a few weeks ago. A woman stopped by to ask about the farm, and in getting out of her car took the dog out on the leash, presumably to pee. It slipped the leash and took off after the chickens, killing one. I was out doing errands, but my housemate reported hearing hysterical screaming - from the woman, of course, and presumably from the chicken who wasn’t taking the event too well. I came home just after the melee, finding my housemate holding a black plastic bag with The Remains, talking earnestly to the woman who was still crying. I felt terrible for her - it wasn’t even her dog (she was dog-sitting) and she was beyond mortified. We carried on with the tour, talking about possibilities for horsing around, but I don’t think she will be back even though I assured her repeatedly that accidents happen and I wasn’t upset (it was an old chicken). The memories are likely too painful...

There is a happy health outcome here. My old standardbred Spirit had been doing poorly for a while - appetite off, weight loss, stiff in his movements, seemingly a bit depressed. The thought occurred to compare him with another horse here who had had many of the same symptoms for quite a long time which we never could seem to address. Then she spiked a horrific fever along with some leg swelling, and the vet recommended doxycycline, as the probabilities were that this was a tick-borne affliction. Sure enough, her fever and swellings went away, but then so did ALL her other long-term symptoms - her appetite came back, her chronic scratches went away, her coat got glossy, she was much less stiff, and she became much, much happier. Conclusion - she had had a low level infection the whole time (though her blood work came back negative, apparently as it often does.) Our wonderful vet examined Spirit and agreed to the two-week course of doxy, and sure enough, he is responding. His symptoms were much less drastic, but I was unwilling to let him get any sicker before acting on my suspicions. Compared to the valleys, Plainfield has almost no ticks and fleas but they are around enough to cause the occasional problem.

We are hunkered in against the weather for the next several days - severe thunderstorms today and of course the hurricane aftermath predicted for Sunday. There have been several heavy storms in the last week. Last Friday I was driving home from a day in RI seeing my aged father, when I hit the serious hail and flooding 20 minutes from home and of course I was frantic. It seems as though I can’t leave for more than two hours in any safety, for pete’s sakes. There was somebody here at the farm, as always, but since I wasn’t here personally to get the horses and goats in out of the weather I was a mess of worry in the car. All other cars were pulled over, but I plowed on towards home, to arrive to the glad sight of everyone tucked into their stalls and dry and safe.

The drainage swales are being deepened as we speak to keep the water away from the barns, and I will be filling all water tubs on Sunday morning against a power outage. Plenty of feed in the barrels and hay in the barn - life is good.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Horse stories - the distant past

After freshman year’s frenzy had settled down, I pursued and secured a man named David as my boyfriend. David was willing to make his new shiksa girlfriend happy, and since we were now living on an old farm outside our university town, this meant buying me a horse. It is difficult to really comprehend just how clueless I was with regard to the horse plan. Since my childhood, I had always managed to find my way to the back of a horse, but in each case the horse had been tended by someone else. I had never done any feeding, or mucking, or advance purchasing of supplies. The shortcomings of this background did not suggest themselves to me, however, and I found a horse dealer about 20 miles from the farm. We visited the dealer, and there he was. A large, black, bony, truculent, ewe-necked, and overbearing animal - instantly named Hieronymus - who was my dream come true. Age? Didn’t ask. Condition? He was walking around - good enough. Price? $125.00, cash. David meekly handed over the payment, and I made arrangements to ride Hieronymus back to the farm, since it never occurred to me that most people used a trailer to take delivery. It also did not occur to me that I hadn’t ridden much for several years, that my beater of a saddle might not fit the horse, or that perhaps he was neither in condition for that length of ride - nor safe with the bridges and road hazards between the sale barn and the farm. I confidently arrived to collect Hieronymus, David drove away, and there I was. Completely alone with a horse who - unsurprisingly - wasn’t very interested in being saddled or ridden. Within the first five minutes, his head had flown up and hit me in the face as I tried to mount. Blood, swelling, and crossed eyes, and we hadn’t even left the yard yet. Having no choice, I persevered, and many, many hours later I was three-quarters of the way back to the farm, slumped over the pommel in a haze of pain and fatigue. Finally a car drew alongside with David and friends inside, looking for me. I remember actually falling off the horse and being driven home. I did not notice how Hieronymus got back, but I found him in a straight stall the next day, when I eased painfully out of bed, barely able to walk or see.

In spite of this inauspicious beginning, our relationship prospered. The farm barn was dilapidated (and felt haunted), but I dragged old cow stanchions together to make a makeshift run-in stall, There was rudimentary fencing in the weedy pasture, and Hieronymus seemed comfortable enough, once I bought a book on what to feed him. We went riding often, and he didn’t throw me (although he did throw some friends). Our life together was good....until one classic dark and rainy night...

I had gone out to the barn after dinner to see how he was doing, but he wasn’t inside. I didn’t think much about it since I figured he was out in the pasture, but as I left the barn, I heard a uneven clopping noise and Hieronymus loomed out of the night from the wrong side of the barn. He was limping and cut and bleeding, and I could not imagine what had happened. After leading him haltingly back into the barn, I hurried into the house to call the vet and get some disinfectant. And as I was dialing, the front door swung open and there stood a state cop. Oh man, I thought - my horse is a complete mess, and now we’re getting busted...anything else? Remember that this was the 60s: there were - ahem - substances on every surface. Instead of reading out my rights, however, the cop asked how my horse was? My jaw dropped - how kind of him to inquire, I thought - and I replied that actually he wasn’t so good and I was trying to call the vet.

As I later learned, the pasture fence had sagged in the rain and Hieronymus stepped over it into the road. Meanwhile, a traveling salesman was driving slowly along and naturally failed to see the black horse in the moonless and drizzling dark, and hit him. Hieronymus reared up and came down on top of the car - still invisible except for the iridescent purple of his coronary bands (daubed with gentian violet just above the hoof line against an infection) - and these purple appendages bludgeoned in the windshield, roof, hood, and side-mirror, reducing the poor driver to incoherent terror. Hieronymus finally disengaged himself and staggered off into the night, and the salesman crept to the nearest phone and called the police. The car was totaled, and my father’s homeowner’s carrier eventually and indignantly cancelled his policy, stating as a reason their disinclination to be responsible for daughters’ horses.

Aside from being pestered by the insurance adjuster, I wasn’t too upset by all the legal aftermath, being mainly concerned with my horse. He healed up fairly well except for a wound on his heel which just wouldn’t close. After two months, I was forced to conclude that expert help was needed, and decided to take him to the world-renowned equine facility at Cornell. I had to rent a rackety single horse trailer with a clamp bumper hitch, and was able to borrow a lard-bottomed family station-wagon to pull it - unconscious of any need for tiresome calculations as to the ability of the weary engine to pull a loaded trailer. The next shipping task involved pictures I had seen of trailered horses with neat bandages around their legs. I didn’t know why this was done, but it seemed the thing to do when visiting a world-renowned horse facility...etc, etc. So I tore up an old white bed sheet and carefully wrapped each leg in strips of cotton sheeting, fastened with a large safety pin. The ensemble was completed by a frayed dingy cotton lead rope. Once all these preparations were concluded, I and my reluctant house-mate Tom slowly ground our way through the hilly Finger Lakes roads to our appointment with veterinary destiny.

We eventually pulled in to the large animal area at Cornell and parked. We looked out the window, and observed with apprehension the spectacle of sleek, shining horses with soft, clean summer blankets tippy-tapping on glistening hooves over glossy tiles. Tom and I got out slowly, lifted down the rear ramp of the trailer, and out slouched Hieronymus, bed sheets trailing in long lines behind his legs, scruffy and derelict at the end of his unraveling rope. Complete silence, except for the sound of Tom slinking away from this scene of Olympian humiliation. The only comment I can remember was from one young vet who asked if I had EVER picked out my horse’s feet. He stayed there for a month - his teeth needed floating, his gut needed worming, his feet needed trimming, plus there was that heel injury - the list was formidable. I thought that quite honestly, they should have paid ME for the otherwise-unobtainable experience they got through working on him. Cornell didn’t see it that way, however, and the bill came to $85.00 which was my complete summer’s earnings for that year.

Hieronymus lived with me for perhaps another year after that - rolling uninhibitedly in the newly planted organic vegetable garden, running through five strands of barbed wire to make friends with a passing horse and rider, and throwing off the occasional friend who had assured me that OF COURSE they could ride. David and I finally went to see Ralph the Guru - an actual guru whose advice was legendary - and asked him what to do with this horse. I adored the horse, but it was just one thing after another with him. Ralph said I should get rid of my horse - that if things were right, then they were easy. I went home after this consultation, and stayed up very late, sitting on the front porch overlooking Hieronymus’ pasture and weeping in the moonlight at the idea of giving him up. The thing about Ralph was, he never gave advice unless asked, but he was always right.

So, within the week I found a farm with horses owned by a man who really liked Hieronymus’ looks, and wanted to take him. The man arrived with a trailer, efficiently loaded my horse up and drove him away. I went to visit once: I saw Hieronymus off in the distance, contentedly herding around a group of other horses, completely indifferent to my presence. His new owner was quite happy with him, and had re-named him Lucky.