Way back in the early days, in 2010….

This was one of many incidents between myself and Molly, a black percheron mare that I connected with at auction and bought back off the slaughter truck and brought home. That was November of 2009. Molly was quiet and seemed docile, until you asked her to do anything! Then she informed you that she was in charge, in various ways. It took awhile for me to become her leader, with the sage advice of two people especially, Faye Benedict and  Daniel McCarthy. What began as an emotional save, one of the earliest, has become a significant lifetime relationship. So it was June, about 8 months from saving her, and I go down to the fields and see her on the far side, standing. I call her, a greeting, and she nickers back, ‘COME’. When you can speak with your horse this is as clear as any language, and I ran; over the fence down the path, across the field, to where she was, in the far corner, in a scrubby area, just standing, looking calm. I will add that she had a two week old colt at her side, who later got sick and died, but at the time of this telling, looked as calm as his momma, standing there. What was wrong? I slowed as I approached her, greeting her and scanning for the issue. She gestured with a small flick of her head to her rear foot, and I see some old barbed wire, tangled and coming out of the dirt, and wrapped around her leg. That nasty stuff is everywhere on old farms, to our dismay, and can kill a horse. Molly stood there, waiting for me and for help. She was not cut at all. I had nothing on me, not a rope, certainly not a knife. I paused, not wanting to leave, so instead I went to her head, petted her, and put my hand on the bridge of her nose, applied soft pressure, and asked for a ‘back’. She took a half step back, and I turned her head towards me, and to the barbed wire, asking for a counter bend, to provide some laxity and a second of time, and reached for the barbed wire. It was too far away, she was too big. So I let go calmly of her nose, picked up the rear hoof, loosened the barbed, and slipped it off her leg. No damage done. As soon as she was free she trotted a bit, letting out some of the energy she had been holding in. Free and happy. And unharmed. Because of trust.


Molly and Finn, and the changing of the guard

There is change happening in our herd.
Change is the normal evolution of life, everything changes. It’s our human nature to label it ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but those are subjective terms, attempting to stop the flow of life. Here today, the change I am thinking about is with Molly.
Stepping in as herd leader in 2010, Molly is our force-of-nature percheron mare saved from slaughter. She is a great teacher because she is not easy, with a checkered past. Finn was just a youngster when he arrived but as he grew, the pair meshed and have been a dynamic force leading the band, as RF grew from a young private sanctuary to a growing non-profit. Molly has welcomed, disciplined, guided, and shaped our herd. But things are changing, as I mentioned. Molly is starting to show her age.
She was likely mid to late teens when she was saved, which puts her in her early 20’s now. She still looks magnificent but there is a new breathing issue, we believe it’s in her airway, called ‘roaring’, which is a problem with oxygen airflow. This is slowing her down, and River, waiting on the sidelines, can see it too. River is one of our mustangs, a wilder one, gorgeous and a good leader, but not too close emotionally to humans. River has been increasing his challenge to Molly, and Finn is increasingly running interference. Lately, Finn has been spending more time with River, Sawyer, and their band of pony mares, while Molly has been with some of her older friends, Clover, Whisper, Gracie….Since Molly is still powerful, and is aging with the herd, she will likely not be kicked out, she has the respect of an elder. It’s hard watching this change though. And yes, I am interfering sometimes. River knows that I will defend Molly and run him off. I know that I am not there all the time to do this, and he knows it too, so it’s a gesture of loyalty to her, but not going to change the flow of things in the end. Since Molly’s band is growing in size and we are preparing our new field, we may divide the band, and give Molly some protection that way. Actually it’s been dividing naturally, since general herd size is under 10 horses and there are over 2o in that band.
I am unsure what will happen to the alliance of Finn and Molly. He is much younger then her, strong and wise, and we are lucky to have him here. As a leader, he cannot be bested and as a connection to humans, his trust is strong. It’s not entirely up to me, which is good. They will have a say as time continues to pass, as horses die and others arrive, and the life of the band, which is the protection of the HORSE, continues to ebb and flow.

Blanketing as training


There are lots of discussions about whether to blanket,and I am thrilled that people are really thinking about this issue because there is a lot of unnecessary blanketing going on! Horses are very hardy, and prefer cooler temps. Our position has been stated and re-stated, that if a horse is comfortable without, then great! Factors include age, health, herd relationship, available access to shelter, water and food, and of course, the weather. Here in the mountains, when it’s below 10 degrees, about half of our herd is in blankets and half are fine without. Many are fine without; BUT, if you need to blanket your horse, have you TRAINED your horse to accept a blanket?
For us, training when they are young to wear a blanket is a huge process, and an important one. Wearing a blanket means having an object in both eyes, having a ‘girth’, leg straps, and having people handle your whole body. When this training is done in steps, and is rewarded and is pleasant, the horse thinks nothing of it. I was reminded about this process when I recently was working with our newer youngsters, Puck and Riley. These two still require haltering first, and preferably a second person at the head, so the blanketer can work safely and the youngster is kept calm. It’s a process that requires time and patience. Puck still likes to nip and Riley can get spooked.

On that day, after blanketing those two, I went into the other field to blanket our ‘older’ young boys, Comet, Blitzen, Sawyer, and Hamlet. I took the coats and slung them over the fence. The boys crowded around jovially, checking out the blankets and me, socializing. I grabbed one blanket and tossed it over the nearest back, at liberty, while another colt nibbled my ear and a third played with the straps on the blanket going onto their friend. There was ZERO fear, complete relaxation and trust. No problem whatsoever. Even when they were being rowdy, trying to tempt me into play or goofing off, they felt safe and I felt safe, even though I was in a field, with no halters, in between four young geldings (who I think of as babies still, but are between 13-15 hh). We all trust each other. Now, when these boys are old enough to start under saddle (at 4yo at least here), there is just no issue with the equipment. The saddle just becomes another thing that our horses do with their humans. It’s fun, it’s painless and it’s not scary. This is called training by professionals, but here we consider it raising our family.

Please consider this element in your blanket discussion. It is AWFUL to have a sick horse and not be able to provide basic care because the horse is untrained. So many arrive here afraid, unable to be handled or cared for…we try and sometimes we get hurt, sometimes we cannot offer as much as we would like for the horse because of training limitations. I know that some keep their horses and feel they won’t ever need a blanket, but stuff happens!
You think it can’t happen to you?
I would have thought that too, but there have been days when the training in place has saved a life. The most dramatic incident happened years ago. We had a horse fall through the earth here on our farm, into a ‘swamp’ below, where there used to be a manure pit. We didn’t even know it was there, it looked like ‘ground’ when we walked over it, but when the weight of a pregnant percheron mare walked over it, the ground collapsed, revealing that it was a thin crust over a dangerous old swampy area, like a bog. Once fallen in, she could not escape, and it was night, and we didn’t even know she was in trouble. During night check she was missing, and it was my stubborn husband looking at 10pm for the mare that saved her life. The local fire department arrived and spent two hours helping to pull the mare out. She was shaking, her core temps were so low, we had to warm her up and fast. That night, she was under three blankets, and it saved her life. We were able to help her because we could blanket and handle her. That mare NEVER wears blankets when turned out now, even when it’s -25. Molly, our lead mare. Saved because she would wear a blanket.

Something to think about.

“Molly is WHERE?!”

These posts should really be called, ‘How I goofed again’.
We had visitors today to look at the horses, possibly adopt one. A storm was casting intermittent rain upon us as we stood near the pole barn, and the herd was wandering down off the hill. But something was amiss; Finn was casting about, calling, and the herd was restless; Molly was not among them. I scanned the hills and fields but saw no sign of her deep black coat. Finn kept glancing up the path, towards the main gate that leads to the road. ‘Oh no’, I thought, ‘she didn’t get OUT, did she?’. I followed Finn has he headed up the path, but halfway, he turned right, up the ramp, into the old barn. The old, falling down barn that is used for hay storage only. The hay storage that was largely depleted, but where we had recently stashed over 100 bales of choice second cut. To save for a rainy day.
Yes, Molly had decided that today was that rainy day.
Inside, the big open space had been transformed to a loft party of sorts, with hay strewn everywhere, and horses having a ball.There was Rita, and Jack, and Kee and in the back, our little donkey Basil, who has inserted himself into the senior band by virtue of tenacity. And in the middle was Molly, planted in front of the formerly neat pile of rich pickings. I had to laugh. But Finn’s face was the best; stood beside me, astonished that the ‘Equus Baccanalius’ had partied without him.
Of course, I had to get them out. I circled around, and they knew what was coming; I swear I heard someone mumble ‘buzz kill’ as I herded them out of the party room. All the horses wandered without issue, too full to care, and down the hill to join the rest of the gang. I locked the door up well, because this would not have happened had I not left it OPEN…and then walked down to find my smiling guests. “Are you ok?” I ask, “I just had to get the horses out of the hay loft”…”We know” they laughed back, “As soon as you headed up the path, Molly stuck her head out of the window above us and looked down (Molly was one story above them) She was still chewing! We wondered if she was supposed to be in there”…
Thus Molly’s reputation for impishness, and mine for forgetfulness, grows.

“What I love”

I love that Oberon now has enough strength, and trust, to wag his head proudly at me, impatient for grain, knowing that he will not be hit and knowing that grain will come. I love when he struts like a proud stallion, flashing a shadow of the gaits he once possessed before he was broken.
I love that Razzle is walking better each day, and that she runs out to greet Oberon each morning as he roars and squeals and welcomes her back for another day alive.
I love that Molly knows when I call her name, whether she is to run to me with the herd, or whether (being out of bounds somewhere) she is supposed to take off and slip quickly back in the way she came, unseen by the rest of the band. I love that we lead that band together. I love that then I can approach her, this huge proud black mare, and pet her gently, and she turns and mouths my fingers. I love that she is so gentle and so fierce.
I love watching Finn and Rhett playing at sunrise, circling and rearing and gently nipping, showing big trots and high tails like flags. I love watching the mares watching the boys show off.
I love watching Aggie Jo grow up, becoming strong of limb and mind, a confident little leader. I love that she enjoys watching chunks of ice float downstream, and I love that I have taken the time to learn that about her.
I love that nearly any horse here can be lead gently with just a loose lead about their neck, or just by verbal commands. I love that they trust that we will lead them somewhere safe.
I love that Apollo is calm and happy and that he jumped! That he is thriving despite abuse and illness. And I love how beautiful his sister Sparrow has grown, without a trace of darkness in her soul.
I love that the christmas colts have learned to drink from the stream, and canter around the herd, and come when called. I love that the already trust enough to have their hooves trimmed and coats brushed out at liberty. I love that they are growing.
I love that Clover nickers at me now, a low three beat call, as I approach. I love that her son is learning early that there are humans that are trustworthy. I love that they are still together, peaceful in a field.
I love that I had the chance to know Jed, and that because of that love, I miss him every day. I don’t regret a moment of that. I love that others beyond our little farm got a sense of his magnificent soul, and could see the value in a broken down amish horse.
And I love that others out there may read these words, and knowing the love of a horse, share my happiness.