This will be a short post because I can’t think of a way to explain the irrational love that I (and many other women) have for horses. I liken it to the way that a man will throw money at something like a boat that is seldom used, for I seldom have time or opportunity to be with my horse.
I have been scared near to death on a horse,
injured on a horse,
frustrated nearly to the end of patience by a horse,
money poor because of a horse,
and yet I love horses.
And though, unlike boats, they can get sick and die, also unlike boats they are living and can love you back. They are a bit like people – some handsome, some not so much, some with great personalities, some a little cranky – all kinds of apt comparisons. If you’re at the right end, they smell really nice, like fresh hay and they have wonderfully soft noses. That’s some of it, but like I said, it doesn’t really explain it all.
I have posted this sequence before but it was fun (funny) and I love to relive it.
Love, whether or animals or people, involves risk. Let me amend that, love involves the certainty of pain and eventual loss, always. Because we know that, every moment that we spend with each other or with a “quasi-human” pet should be filled with awareness and appreciation of life. Over a lifespan, the love we enjoy far outweighs the pain of separation. It leaves us enriched, more experienced, and better able to process what we know will come.
For some reason many of us as children were fascinated by the idea of sitting on a horse. Our mothers set us up on the horse of our choice on the carousel. Maybe we got to ride a real pony around in a circle at the fair. We read Black Beauty, and watched My Friend Flicka. I did all these things. So did my children.
For many of us the fascination wears off. We discover that real horses are bigger than we thought, and stronger than we knew, and less inclined to be caught and gently led, let alone ridden. But for some, like my daughter Julia, the dream goes on, and if horse ownership is denied for lack of money, time or any other practical reason, the dream builds pressure until it explodes. And so, a horse entered the life of our family and had effects that are still in operation today.
Julia, her sister Esther, and I had ridden and worked at a small stable in northern Wisconsin for several summers when the owner brought in a new string of horses she had bought in Minnesota. They had to be ridden a lot and carefully gauged for their trustworthiness before any of the “dudes” were put on them. The owner, Miss Lolly, had one that was her favorite – a nearly white quarter horse mare she called Ghost. She rode her most of the time but occasionally one of her better outriders were asked if they wanted to try her. That was the summer Julia fell in love with Ghost. The next year she bought her, one payment at a time, with her own money.
Logistically, it was crazy. We had moved to Florida and had no place for a horse. So Ghost lived in Wisconsin on Lolly’s farm and she and Julia continued to work together in the summer. But the time came when school and work made the summer trips up north shorter and Julia missed her horse. It was time for Ghost to come to Florida.
We knew little to nothing about trailering a horse over that distance. Our borrowed one-horse trailer was hitched behind a mini-van, of all things, and I have pictures of our travel arrangement that make me wonder how we ever made it. The roughly 30 hour trip had one overnight, as I recall, and lots of stops where we would check on Ghost’s water and hay. Only once did we actually take her out of the trailer briefly and let her walk around at a country exit off the interstate. I think we were worried we wouldn’t be able to get her back in.
She made it to Florida and to Springrock Farm where she spent a number of years with J.C. Barnhill watching over her. Julie’s regular trips to care for Ghost benefited the horse but also furthered Julie’s interest as she learned how to trim hooves, care for horse teeth, and feed and exercise horses. One of the biggest surprises was when it was discovered that Ghost had come to Florida in foal. Rocker, a pretty paint colt was added to the family. Several years later Ghost was bred to Barnhill’s thoroughbred stallion, Officer, and had a filly. Julie named her Fea, and although she came out brown, she soon was the spitting image of her mom. The family was a herd of three.
The family spent time at several other properties as the years unfolded, always necessitating Julie to travel daily to watch over, feed and ride. They were her charges, her dependents. Her knowledge and interest in veterinary care of large animals increased and ultimately led her to enter the DVM program at UF, Gainesville. Ghost and the family moved to a small farm there for four years. The next move was to Jacksonville, FL where Dr. Julia began her job with Jacksonville Equine. At the small boarding pasture where her herd now lived, Dr. J. had to deal with Ghost’s problems of advancing age, especially weight loss and inability to compete with other horses for feed. The last few months were a triumph for Ghost and Dr. J. as Ghost was healthy, energetic and looking well nourished. Only a few weeks ago Dr. J. and some friends took her on a trail ride with Rocker and Fea and all did well.
We’ve all heard of the benefits of having pets. There Is even more to a long term, committed relationship to the care and welfare of an animal. It is much like parenting, in that patience is learned, along with so many other skills. Love is practiced through good times and bad. Faithfulness has its demands for both owner and animal. Those demands, decisions and courses of action can be stressful and sudden.
A week ago Ghost had a medical emergency, colic, another name for equine bowel obstruction. It could not be resolved with initial treatment and Dr. J. took her quickly to the UF vet hospital for diagnosis and ultimately, surgery. Given every chance, Ghost was still unable to survive. She has been laid to rest in a quiet corner of her pasture and will not be forgotten.
What is it with girls and horses? There is an affinity there that becomes so obvious from a veterinarian’s perspective, especially when the veterinarian is also a female. I’ve been riding around in the vetmobile for a few days and it always gives me some unique character studies to write about, some experiences with blood and manure, and a lot of hours sitting in the truck. But, girls and horses first…
Today we made a call for some routine immunizations and dental work. There were three horses, two women and a toddler. It was the mom and her baby girl that were most interesting to watch. If there was such a thing as a stereotype horsegirl, this gal would win the title for sure. Cute little thing (the mom), slender, tight jeans with bling on the pockets, western boots, big smile and horse, horse, horse in her talk. Both ladies took in horses as rescue projects, whether they could afford it or not.
Mom was evidently teaching her little girl to be at ease around big animals and at the same time trying not to let her walk under the horses or get near their feet. She was more than busy running after the child and keeping her away from the dental tools, the antiseptic bucket, the vet truck and the yard gate while still keeping her fairly happy. Was she frazzled, upset with the child or feeling sorry for herself? No. She was relaxed, calm and equally loving her mother role and her horse girl role.
All these horse girls talk about rain rot, cleaning sheaths, varying consistencies of manure, multiple kinds of horse feed, supplements and medicines like it was second nature and the most interesting stuff in the world. They love to watch Dr. Julia work and to ask her questions. And more than once this week I’ve heard something like “this old horse has been with me for __ number of years so I’m going to take good care of him now”. And they say it when they’re looking at a pretty hefty bill for meds and services.
Dr. Julia and an associate vet performed surgery in the field one day. There were two procedures needing to be done and only a short window of time in which to do them before the anesthetic wore off. One doc took the castration and the other, the hernia repair. It’s interesting how you get a horse to lie down on the ground with his feet in the air.
The two vets both went to the next client as well. This horse had an interesting procedure done. It was blind from glaucoma in one eye. In cases like this, pressure continues to increase in the eye and it can become painful, and even rupture. It is better to remove the eye, and that’s what they did. Not fun to watch, lots of blood, no pictures. You’re welcome.
Two days worth of clients. All the horses were owned and attended to by women. That is not to say that men aren’t involved, but they seem more content to provide the finances, build the barns and fences and then let the women actually touch the horses. So what is it with women and horses? Didn’t it used to be the cowboy that was in love with his horse?
As usual, visiting Dr. Julia gives me time with Tess the dog and her sidekick cat-with-no-name. Every morning when I let Tess out, she sits for a moment on the top step and surveys her yard. The cat comes and joins her. I didn’t catch it in the photo but I often see them both staring out with their backs turned toward the door, like two old friends on the porch. It’s beautiful.