Thursday and Friday were much more like other days that I’ve enjoyed here. Busy, for sure—but that is only in part a function of taking care of two farms and much more because I’ve turned feral and am pretty much constantly on the hoof—my own or the horses’—when I’m not doling out feed or collecting eggs (two so far—so at least Sadie and I didn’t take out the one remaining layer in the flock).
I think a lot about human/animal communication when I’m out here surrounded by . . . animals . . . and while I’m sure I anthropomorphize certain behaviors and responses, I am equally sure that not all of what I observe is simply me inappropriately attributing intention to action.
On Thursday afternoon I took Snickers out for a ride. My plan was to make a relatively near-to-the-house loop, but to take a couple moments to re-forge an old path and newly forge one I discovered a couple days previously on Shadow. I took all four of my dogs, including the Aged Labradors, because we weren’t going for more than 3 miles, and it wasn’t going to be that strenuous of a pace. Snickers did not particularly understand what I was doing on the ground with her reins looped around my wrist, shaking the trees, but after pushing me in the back a couple times, she settled down to eat whatever was within reach while I cleared brush. I decided while out that I would let the horses in to the upper part of the Little Hay Field when I got back.
The horses started out this spring with a three-pasture rotation—in front of the house, behind the house, and the lower Little Hay Field—and these pastures each have at least one fence of white electrifiable tape, currently un-electrified, but the horses haven’t figured that out so they respect the boundaries. I myself respect the boundaries so much that I was quite tentative in my first touch of the tape, yanking my hand away as if shocked, even knowing I wouldn’t be. Electric fences. The memory of their evil sticks with you. To get to the upper LHF, I was told to turn back the white tape from the north side to two posts in. The grass is so lush up there, however, that the horses are only supposed to be allowed to graze there for two hours.
This is a several-acre field full of 4-foot-tall grasses.
There are three horses.
I can, at best, sprint 10mph.
So, I mused, as I rode Snickers along between sawings, I think I’ll put the horses into the lower pasture at 6pm, then open the upper pasture at 7pm, and go get them in at 9pm, when it’s getting dark and they’ll know it’s bedtime and it should be easier to convince them. “Snickers,” I said out loud, “I’m going to give you all a treat tonight, and let you into the upper pasture.”
Somewhere along our ride I took a new spur trail heading the direction I wanted to go to see where it ended up—the answer was down, but not far enough, and then it dead-ended. I turned my horse back and rode to the trail I knew would work, then realized I was missing two dogs—mine. Hoover came after some calling, but Spackle did not. I worried a bit about him; although he’s been around these here parts for nigh on 10 years, this was a new trail and he’s not out in the woods all that much these days. It was hot, though, and we had been (and were again) heading down into the Maple Creek draw, and he was familiar with that, and would, being Spackle, probably have beelined for water. I called his name at regular intervals as we descended into the valley so that he could mark our progress, stopped at the bottom to have a piddle, and just as I remounted he appeared, grinning a sloppy grin, his lower half dripping from a cooling paddle.
I enacted my plan re: grazing times/areas, and when I went to call the horses in for bed, only Snickers was up the hill on the other side of the white tape, grazing near the other two, but clearly having a much better meal than them. I can only assume she heard me and understood.
I had eaten an apple earlier that day and dropped the core—a pretty juicy, thick one—in Shadow’s grain bucket in her pen, just because I like her and she’s my girl. “Hey Shad,” I said as I approached her in the gloaming, secretly glad that two of my three horses hadn’t noticed their new, delectable freedom yet, “it’s bedtime, and I left you a little treat. Go on! Go in!” She glanced at me, and meandered a couple steps toward the pens, grazing as she went. “Go on, Sik,” I said, turning to him. “Bed time. Go on in.”
Slowly I cajoled and pushed Shadow and Sikem back toward their pens, noting that Snickers was watching us go, but still enjoying her evening meal. Not a big deal. One horse is easy to catch if two are in. Finally Shadow reached her threshold of cajoling and trotted off—doing what I wanted, but doing it on her terms.
Until she almost reached her gate, and glanced up the hill to the missing length of fence. I saw her do an equine double-take, and then she bolted for Heavenly Long-Grass Freedom. Sikem, sauntering along just behind me, threw his head up, snorted, and galloped, kicking and bucking, past me and up the hill following Shadow. Snickers peeled away from her post near the white tape and joined them, racing into the dusk over the crest of the hill and away.
Well, one thing was certain—the horses could not be left to graze all night in the long grass. Shadow in particular is fat as butter right now, and too much green grass can be hard on their digestions. Fortunately for me, K&A had, a couple years ago, purchased a really stable, really easy to drive quad, which enabled A to go collect horses when she was recovering from her knee accident.
After not more than about 5 minutes, I remembered all the details about how to start the quad and, with Sadie barking hysterically in my ear and Hoover leaping joyously about, I set my jaw and headed off up the hill.
Dogs are not supposed to chase horses. Horses will flee if they feel threatened, and all the pastures around here are securely, but cheaply, lined with barbed wire. This works because the pastures are large enough that horses are unlikely to get too close to the wire on their own; however, a wild animal, or an hysterical Sadie and a joyous Hoover, could chase a horse into a fence, particularly in the dark (this is another reason why the horses are brought in at night. Socialization is a third.).
I was on a mission though, and I didn’t chase them on the quad, I herded them. I really did—racing gleefully around in grass as high as my head, followed closely by two dogs who wanted to be chasing horses but couldn’t see where they were over the soaring fodder—I actually did a pretty good job of heading those horses off and sending them careening back down the hill and, ultimately, into their stalls. We all, I think, enjoyed the mad career. I sure did, and I have more sympathy now for Hoover, who really does respond very well to “NO”, much against his instincts.
Shadow had long since eaten her apple core when I arrived to close gates (having taken the steepest downhill at a slow roll myself), and she came over to me as I latched her in with an air of contriteness that I don’t think I was imagining. She had never before come to say goodnight, and she was clearly not trying to get out. “I told you I left a treat for you,” I said, scratching her jaw while she whuffled at me.
Okay, I need to go outside and put some horses in for naps and saw some things down.