That’s My Boy! (Sigh.)

Kainan faceI realized today that with the addition of Big Paul the draft horse to our family, I have been remiss in giving any updates on Kainan, our resident wolfdog.  Kainan has been a busy, wonderful, disgusting, and adorable boy lately, so obviously he deserves some blog time.

As you may or may not know, Kainan is a young wolfdog (a mix of malamute, husky, and wolf) Jim and I helped rescue last year. In the process of fostering him while he regained his health from extreme starvation, we kind of, sort of fell head over heels in love with him. He quickly became a permanent part of our family.

Now, after more than a year with Kainan, I sure can’t imagine life without him. He is an education and an adventure all wrapped up in a big, woolly, handsome package.

Recently, Kainan has dipped his toe into the pay-it-forward pool as an ambassador for Freedom’s Song Wolf Rescue, a local non-profit organization

Freedom’s Song was founded to provide safe haven for homeless or in-need wolfdogs, and to educate the public about the measures that must be taken to live successfully with a wolfdog. They also work very hard to dispel the big, bad, evil wolf myths and to teach people the value of wolves in nature. 

As part of their educational effort, the volunteers at Freedom’s Song give programs at area schools and, if a calm, willing candidate is available, they like to take a wolfdog along for the students to see firsthand. Kainan is calm. Kainan is friendly. Willing? Well, yes…and no, no, no. I’ll explain THAT part later.

The busy, wonderful, adorable adjectives listed above describe Kainan’s performance so far at area school programs. I could not ask for him to be a more delightfully appropriate representative of his wolfdog family.

JenksWhile the Freedom’s Song folks give their presentation, Kainan remains with me in front of the audience. We never allow the kids to rush toward Kainan, or, conversely, allow Kainan to rush toward the kids. Some of the kids are nervous about meeting the big guy. At the conclusion of the presentation, the students who want to (and HOW could you not want to?) are allowed to come meet him, two at a time, in a calm, orderly fashion.

I have to tell you that Kainan would prefer I just take the leash off and let him roam the audience at will. The moment he sees the kids file in, it’s game on. Apparently the curious/outgoing gene won out over the shy/reclusive gene that is dominant with many of his relatives.

If I crawlWhile we wait for the meet and greet portion of the program, Kainan watches the crowd intently. He pulls on the lead a bit to see if I’ll give enough slack for him to at least reach the front row of admirers. If that fails, and this is the adorable portion of the program, he will lie down and try to belly crawl to the students because SURELY the stealth approach will gain him access to these wonderful smelling kids.

I like these guysWhen his moment finally arrives and the first kids approach, Kainan remains very calm and accepts their attention without a trace of shyness, and with no over the top antics. You might think we spent hours training and socializing him, but the truth is that Kainan is just a really good guy. He is even happy to pose with the kids for selfies. It makes me wonder how many Facebook profile photos feature our handsome boy.

Now let’s talk about the “willing” and “disgusting” descriptors. While Kainan has integrated into our home really well, and while he is amazingly appropriate and fabulous once at the school programs, it’s the getting-to-the-school portion of the event that poses a problem.

Kainan is not fond of the car. He gets carsick and always has. When I say carsick, you may picture a dog that gets drooly, a bit queasy, or one that may even throw up. If only that were the whole picture with the K-man.

Of course the first trick is to even get him into the car. Kainin weighs about 110 pounds. He does NOT jump willingly into the car. He does not even pretend to cooperate when you try to help him get into the car. In fact, he can make his big, lanky body go as limp as a well-worn rag doll when he sees the open door of my Jeep looming.

When we finally do get him into the car, it’s both a good thing and a bad thing. Mostly, it’s a potentially very, very bad thing. You see, within the first mile traveling in the car, there is a high likelihood that Kainan will do the unspeakable. You know, the thing that can make throwing up look pretty mild.

It starts with lots of drooling. Then you see him move to the back of the cargo area where he starts circling in a tight, hunkered little spiral. Oh. Dear. Dog. NOOOOOOOOOO!.

The sight of a giant wolf dog doing “the” circle in the back of your car causes panic to crawl straight up from your stomach to prickle through the top of your scalp. You can call to him, you can plead, you try to pull over in the nick-of-time, but you won’t make it. You can’t stop the inevitable.

On our first trip to a school assembly, I was flying solo. Jim helped me toss the big guy in the car and we headed out. I hadn’t fed Kainan breakfast so I was actually confident that all would be well. Foolishly, naively confident.

Within the first 3/4 of a mile, with the drool flowing freely, the circling commenced. Everything pretty much went into slow-mo at this point. Picture me, eyes wide and glued to the rear view mirror, my mouth forming an exaggerated “O” as a drawn out “Nooooooooooooo” spilled out.

I immediately pulled over on a side road to try to head off the tragedy. I was too, too late. So very late.

Fortunately, I had the foresight to put a big tarp in the back of the car. This would be a quick and easy clean-up. Just a tiny little speed bump on the road of life with Kainan.

I got out, leashed my big boy and let him hop out of the Jeep (do you see my mistake here?). I pulled the tarp out of the cargo area, cleaned it up as best I could, refolded it, and proceeded to load everything back into the Jeep – all while holding firmly onto a wolfdog whose main mission was to stay as far away from the vehicle as possible.

The tarp and cleaning supplies went back into the Jeep really easily. Kainan? Not so much.

So here’s the scene passersby were treated to: A slightly crazed looking woman standing perplexed at the back of an open Jeep, with a huge, drooling wolfdog miserably hunched at the very end of a six foot leash.

The old “load up” cue was falling on very deaf wolfdog ears. If he could speak, I believe he would have said, “No way in hell, woman.” Desperate to stay on schedule, the show had to go on, I proceeded to try to lift Kainan into the Jeep. I’m a big, strong gal, but I have to tell you that when a 110 pound wolfdog decides to go not-a-bone-in-my-body limp on you, the scene turns immediately into a slapstick comedy.

I lifted his front end toward the cargo area. Kainan’s rear end promptly fell out from beneath him like strings of well-cooked spaghetti sliding from a fork. We both ended up panting, flat on the ground. Regroup, circle, and try again. And again. And again. Finally, with no small amount of baby talk mixed with a good amount of cussing and grunting, I shoved a pouting wolfdog into the Jeep.

“Goooooood boy, Kainey! Goooooooooooood.” As we got back underway, I made all sorts of promises about how much fun he would have at the school. His reply was a shiny, slimy smear of slobber on my right shoulder. Ugh.

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Kainan on a practice ride with Jim. Eyes a bit glassy, big guy?

Carsickness is not an unusual problem in young dogs. It takes time, a little training, and a bunch of short, happy car rides to help relieve the problem.  In Kainan’s case, on our most recent trip, I also used some essential oils for calming and stress relief. I chose peppermint, lavender, and Stress Away oils that I rubbed onto my hands and petted on Kainan’s neck and chest about 15 minutes prior to the car ride. I also put some lavender on a paper towel and stuck it into the Jeep’s air vent, which I had blowing on high and cold to keep Kainan comfortable and to also diffuse the lavender scent throughout the interior of the vehicle.

If nothing else, I was sure relaxed.

My other secret weapon? Yummy bites of chicken that I doled out as long as Kainan remained calm and settled in the car on the thankfully short ride to the middle school.

Guess what?

No drool. No throwing up. And thank-the-dog-gods, NO number-two in the back of my Jeep. Progress!

Kainan had a great time at the school. He got lots of attention, hugs, and pats. It was a good experience all the way around. I think it was even a tad easier to get him back in the Jeep for the car ride home.

By golly, Kainan is going to make a great ambassador AND, evenutally, a great Jeep dog. I love being able to give back to Freedom’s Song Wolf Rescue. They do such important work for these amazing animals and were ready and willing to help Kainan when he was rescued. If Kainan can contribute to their mission with his wonderful, adorable qualities, we’re happy to work through the disgusting part to help them out.

Education is the key to understanding and to successful co-existance. A new generation is learning about wolves and wolfdogs. A young wolfdog is learning about the rewards of riding in a car. Here’s hoping for success on both fronts.

 

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The New Kid.

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He stands quietly in the far corner of his small pasture. He is not sleeping, he’s just looking over the fence to the south. I wonder what goes through his mind, I wonder why he is drawn repeatedly to this spot, to this view. Does it remind him of a place he once knew? A place where he felt safe? It feels that way to me as I watch him.

Look south stillBig Paul is the Belgian draft horse we rescued from the killer buyer feedlot a couple of months ago. With the help of donations from many kind people, Paul was purchased just an hour before he was to be loaded on a trailer to make a very final trip to a Mexican slaughterhouse. Since that time, he spent 45 days in quarantine as a safety measure to ensure his health – horses on the feedlots often come down with upper respiratory infections – and then he moved to Tails You Win Farm. More appropriately said, he moved home.

Big Paul finally has a home and, lucky me, it’s my home too.

A quiet, easy horse,Paul seems to have settled in well, but unlike any other horse I have ever brought to the farm. Paul is not particularly curious about our other horses. He does not rush to meet them over the fence. He does not call out to our little herd when they move out of sight of his pasture. He seems content in his solitude.

It is odd to me that an animal with a heritage so firmly embedded in herd mentality is not pining to be a part of this new herd. Maybe his journey from his previous home to the auction barn then to feedlots, perhaps even transporting across the country, has made him weary of the process. The new kid has to be tested, has to earn a spot within the pecking order.

In the past, when I have turned a new horse out to be with our herd, the horses meet and immediately size each other up. Is it a mare? A gelding? Is this horse a leader or a follower? There will be some squealing, some foot stamping, biting and kicking, some chasing about. It’s usually not very serious and the drama generally plays out within a day or two as the newcomer finds acceptance.

IMG_5280I initially decided to keep Paul in our smaller pasture for several reasons. First, to let him have some time to rest and get to know our other horses without any confrontations. Second, Big Paul has been on dry lots (paddocks with no grass) for at least 60 days, perhaps longer. Our pasture still has good grass available and it is dangerous to turn a horse out on pasture if he is not accustomed to free grazing. Grasses in fall and spring  have higher levels of fructans. Excessive ingestion of fructans is thought to cause laminitis, a crippling hoof disease, in some horses. My veterinarian has recommended that we limit Paul’s grazing time until we have a good freeze.

Paul seems very happy with this arrangement. He is in no hurry to move out of the small pasture. Oh, and he’s not alone now. My band of five wooly miniature donkeys decided to invade Paul’s pasture. These little guys basically see fences as mere suggestions of boundaries. They have been keeping Paul company for about a month now.

I think he’s pleased to have his tiny friends around, except maybe at feeding time when they turn into a little band of thugs determined to steal bites of his food, despite the pans of grain set out for them. Paul is very patient and gentle with them, just occasionally shaking his big head at them in protest.

Getting to know youThe decision to join the other horses is completely up to him. I open the gates every few days to let him mingle a bit with the others. They try to engage him…Cheyenne our young paint mare is fascinated with “Uncle” Paul, Ferris the big mule grazes calmly near Paul, and Patty the bay mare pins her ears and snakes her neck toward him in a grumpy fashion. She is obviously not the chairwoman of the neighborhood welcome wagon.

So far, despite the open gate and free access to good grazing, Big Paul just sticks to his small pasture, moving away from the other horses to his favorite corner in the south end. So I shoo the other horses out and shut the gate, allowing Paul all of the time and space he needs. We’re in no hurry here.

Meanwhile, I’m thoroughly enjoying my time getting to know Paul. It’s a been a gradual process of gaining his trust, and finally, I think, gaining his affection. Each morning I go out with a sweet red apple to share with my big boy. Each morning I give him a scoop of feed, rub his massive neck, and give his soft nose a kiss. This morning, as I walked toward the barn calling, “Paulie, Paulie, breakfast,” I was greeted, for the first time, with the most beautiful, rumbling, bass nicker I have ever heard.

What a wonderful start to my day. Thank you Big Paul. I love my time with you too. Welcome home.

Look Where Your Horse Looks

easter gogo 2 (2)It was a beautiful Sunday morning – the kind of day that actually causes a swell of happy anticipation to spread through your body the moment you open your eyes and give a first waking stretch. I was hoping for a leisurely day after spending long hours at work on Friday and Saturday. Every part of my heart and soul was begging for a little peace and relaxation.

I decided to start the day with a visit to the barn to check on our newest addition, Big Paul, a Belgian draft horse who had just moved to Tails You Win Farm a week before.

I stepped through the pasture gate and handed Big Paul a rosy red apple. Then I worked my way from donkey to donkey to mule to sheep, doling out treats, hugs, and scratches in all the good places.

As the horses arrived to vie for their share of my attention, I couldn’t help but feel that something was off, something was out of place. Glancing back around at all of the faces surrounding me, I suddenly realized that GoGo was missing.

GoGo is Jim’s appaloosa mare. She was his riding horse for years, but now, at 30 years old, she has lost most of her vision. It was a gradual process. I suspect she was having problems long before we realized it, but managed to follow her normal routine and, when under saddle, trusted the rider to make up for her deficit. Animals are so amazingly adaptive.

To see GoGo in the pasture with the other horses, you wouldn’t likely even realize that she’s blind. With her other senses heightened and with the help of her herd-mates, GoGo usually finds her way just fine. If the herd grazes a bit away from her, she will call out to them for help and one of her friends, generally Leo our paint gelding or Ferris our mule, will walk over to touch noses with her and then lead her back to the others.

Jim and I have talked about GoGo a good deal. On one hand, it would be safer for her to stay in a stall at night and to only be let out in the small pasture behind our house during the day. We could bubble-wrap her, pull her away from the routine she knows and loves, coddle her to give her the longest life possible.

But she would hate that. OH how she would hate that life.

On our farm, our animals are given as much freedom as possible to live as naturally as possible. Our dogs come and go from house to yard freely through our dog door. Our big hog, Jerry, has a comfy spot inside the barn and a one acre pasture complete with mud hole where he can roam, graze, and wallow to his heart’s content. And our horses have always had free run of our 50 acre pasture with open access to loafing sheds and our barn. It has been a good life for them all. They are relaxed and content.

Anytime we have had to confine a horse for any reason, it is an unhappy, stressful time for that animal. Perhaps we have made a mistake in not teaching them to tolerate being in a stall better. There are times when horses do need to be confined.

However, if we pen GoGo up, even with another horse with her for company, she paces and frets, calling out to the rest of the herd, pushing at fences and gates. Jim wants the best for his mare and we have decided that “best” is to let her live the life she loves with her humans keeping close watch.

Occasionally GoGo strays from the other horses, but usually not far. On this morning, I made a quick circle around the barn, sure I would find her napping in the morning sun. But there was no GoGo.

I walked to the top of the little hill to the north of the barn so I could see that side of the pasture. Still, no GoGo.

A few times GoGo has gotten confused and wandered back to the far east end of our pasture. This is where our land is wooded, with a little creek bed running through it. We leave this part of our land in a natural state for the deer, coyotes, raccoons, and other wildlife to enjoy.

Evidence on our wildlife camera tells us that the horses occasionally follow the trails back into these areas where the trees and brush are thick. On these little forays, they generally stick close to the gently winding paths carved out by nimble deer hooves.

I determined that GoGo had probably followed the other horses back into the thicket, but failed to follow them out again. I set out on one of the trails that would take me on a wide loop of the property. GoGo is generally not quiet if she feels lost. She will call out with long, loud neighs until one of us comes to lead her back to the barn. I told myself she must be resting somewhere, not yet aware that the other horses were no longer with her.

I walked, and walked, and walked. The sun was climbing brightly in the sky actually making it harder to see through the brush with the light reflecting on the lingering morning dew that coated every blade, leaf, and branch. It was like shining a bright spotlight into a thousand tiny mirrors and I squinted my eyes against the glare.

I called out to GoGo repeatedly. She is normally very good at answering our calls, but this morning, instead of hearing GoGo’s answer, I just heard the scolding caws of a few crows as they complained about my noisy intrusion.

My heart started to feel little stabs of panic. Though still very fit, GoGo was an older gal with a significant handicap. Had we made a bad decision in allowing her to stay with the herd at night? Had she gone down somewhere in the thick brush? If she was injured and quiet, how would I ever find her?

I walked back up toward the barn and called Jim on my cell phone so he could use the binoculars to search for her from our second story window. Our house stands on a small hilltop and gives us a good vantage point for overseeing the east pasture.

While he did that, I decided it was time for reinforcements. I turned to our other horses for help. Dublin, our sturdy herd boss appaloosa gelding, and Patty, GoGo’s bay daughter, were standing near a water trough outside of the barn. Patty noticed me right away and seemed to sense my stress.

I started talking to her. “Where is GoGo, Patty? Show me where GoGo is. Find your mom.”

Patty and DublinAmazingly, Patty seemed to understand exactly what I was asking. She immediately lifted her head to the morning breeze and started taking in some deep breaths as she looked from side to side as if to say, “Where the heck IS my mom?” She walked to the open gate that leads out to the east pasture and stood for a moment, scanning the treeline.

Then she froze, eyes and ears fixed on a distant point in the tree line, every muscle tensed. Dublin, who had followed her to the gate, stood at her shoulder, ears swiveled alertly in the same direction.

In that moment, my brain reminded me of my personal creed: Always look where your horse looks. You’ll see things you would have otherwise missed. Listen to your horses, Nancy.

As Patty and Dublin remained as still as statues, I followed their gaze and started out into the pasture. Patty immediately fell in behind me as surely as if there was a lead rope between us, stopping from time to time to sample the air while she continued to listen.  Suddenly the little bay took the lead, calling out in short, excited whinnies while stepping out in an extended, hurried trot, Dublin close on her heels.

I followed at a jog, keeping the two horses in sight. At the edge of our woods, Patty stopped again and called out a long trumpeting neigh. Finally, the stark morning silence was broken by a distant answering call. GoGo!

Patty and Dublin took off again, loping and leaping straight through the trees and brush. I followed the horses as best as I could, now thankful for the heavy dew that their hooves disrupted to paint a trail for me to follow.

When I caught up, I was shocked to find that GoGo had somehow wandered into the most dense section of our little woods. I’m not sure how she got there, but even Patty and Dublin weren’t willing to push through the thicket to get all of the way to GoGo.

Shafts of golden light piercing the dense foliage to highlight her pale speckled coat, Gogo was trapped in a small clear spot just big enough for the length of her body. Behind her, in front of her, and to her far side  was a thick wall of sapling trees and thorny undergrowth. Separating us was a dry creek bed, about three feet across and an equal distance deep – a hazard GoGo could not see or judge. Her hooves were perched on the very edge. One wrong step would send her sliding blindly into the crevice.

Excited by the proximity of the other horses, GoGo started to step nervously forward and back, but was trapped on both ends. She turned her head as if to step toward us, tiny pills of dirt already crumbling away from beneath her hooves as she leaned over the creek bed.

Banishing the mental image of my horse falling and potentially getting stuck or breaking a leg, I focused on GoGo’s face, took a deep breath and started talking to her, using her training as my strongest tool.

“Whoa, GoGo. Whoa girl. Whoa.”

Somehow, despite my growing panic, I found a low, steady voice. I spoke calmly, but firmly, hoping the mare would settle down long enough for me to cross the creek bed and slip a halter on her. I was not excited about stepping down into that narrow ditch for fear that GoGo might come crashing down on top of me, but I was running out of options. I had to get to her.

I am very grateful that GoGo is a well trained, level-headed, intelligent horse. The familiar verbal cues calmed her and she stood quietly while I scrambled through the creek bed and came up right under her neck. I got her haltered and pulled her head away from the  edge.

Relieved and ready to get my horse out of this mess, I took a look around to find some sort of exit. Problem number two quickly presented itself. How the heck DID she get back here?

The clear path was on the other side of the creek bed. A horse with vision could have judged the distance and probably hopped right across, but I was sure not going to ask GoGo to try to that leap of faith. I thought about calling Jim to come help us hack our way out of the brush, but I couldn’t begin to figure out how to tell him where to find us.

Ok. Plan B.  Slowly and carefully, I started stomping down the brush and briers, thankful I had on my sturdy leather boots and thick jeans. Our progress was slow and a bit sticker-laden, but we were cautiously, somewhat clumsily making our way toward a clearing. Patty and Dublin, still concerned for the older mare, followed along on the opposite side of the creek bed.

Finally we got to a spot where the terrain flattened out enough for GoGo to cross safely. She nickered softly as Patty came to her to touch noses in a reassuring gesture. The rest of the walk up to the barn was easy and calm. Just a woman out for a nice morning stroll with three horses trailing along.

Once back at the barn, I gave GoGo a thorough exam to make sure she had no significant cuts or scrapes. Thankfully, she was perfectly fine, and mentally seemed no worse for the wear. In fact, she seemed a bit impatient with me as she pulled against the halter, determined to head straight back out into the pasture – to the life she knew and loved.

I was the one with frazzled nerves and a few scrapes and cuts. But all in all, we came through in good form, though it was clear that Jim and I would need to have another conversation about possibly keeping GoGo confined, at least at night.

IMG_3483Finally, removing the halter, I smiled in gratitude as I watched GoGo head confidently back out to graze with her herd. Crisis averted, I took a moment to reflect on how amazing it was that Patty not only understood what I was asking of her, but that she was able to jump into action to help rescue her mother.

I have been drawn to animals my entire life, always finding kinship and comfort in their company. And still, even with 50+ years shared with countless creatures of different species, I remain in awe of the connection I feel with each of our barn animals and dogs on a daily basis. Our ability to form meaningful relationships and establish effective communication that breaks through species barriers has always been, and always will be, both a mystery and a blessing to me.

I will always honor and nurture the miracle of this connection, whether it is with a dog, a horse, a donkey, a big snorting hog, or, especially, a clever old mare named GoGo.

Building Trust One Kibble at a Time.

dog foodIt was getting late, I was tired after a long day at work, and I really just wanted to get home to collapse on the couch with Jim and our herd of dogs. Instead, I found myself standing in the pet isle at Walmart trying to decide which brand of dog food had the most appeal. Meaty nuggets? Shredded chicken bites? I needed something spectacularly smelly. Something that would put the old salivary glands into overdrive.

Before you really start worrying about my culinary skills (I have none) and Jim’s well being (he’s a far better cook than I am), let me assure you I was not shopping for food for the humans at Tails You Win Farm. I also was not shopping for food for my own dogs. No offense to our nearest and dearest big box store, but the premium food my dogs eat is not found on your shelves.

No, I was searching for just the right enticement for my new little project dog. I’ve seen her several times over the last three weeks and I really need to convince her to come home with me. I think her life has been a bit of a struggle up to this point and Jim and I would really like to help her turn it around.

MerryShe appears to be a young mother, basically a puppy having puppies, though I don’t believe her brood is still with her. Her milk has dried up and I have not seen even one little head trailing along with her as she trots up and down the gravely shoulder of a country road near our farm. Her coat is a bit rough, her face has little scars all over it, likely cuts received while foraging through weeds and brush.

She is obviously very road wise. She trots along with great determination and awareness. It almost seems as though she has someplace to go, or someone to meet, but I’m pretty sure there really is no special place, and no special person on her horizon.

But I’m willing to be her special person. Jim and I are willing to give her a special place. A place where she can rest, recover, play, eat, drink, and be merry.

Oh, hey. I think I just named her.

She will be Merry. A bright and promising name. And hopefully, bright and early tomorrow morning, I will get another chance to give her my sales pitch. I shall call it “101 reasons why Merry should decide to come to me, climb into my Jeep, and come home to Tails You Win Farm.”

I’ve already told her all of the good things that can be hers if she’ll just decide to trust me. I’ve told her she’ll never again have to search for her next meal. We hand meals out twice a day, every single day around here.

I’ve told her I keep the water buckets full and fresh. She’s heard me talk about lots of soft dog beds scattered throughout the house (though most cute little girl dogs find their way onto the couch to snuggle with Jim). I even explained about the special little door in the wall that would allow her the freedom to go outside to our safely fenced yard anytime she likes.

I’ve told her that I’ll help her grow to be healthy, with a glowing coat. I’ve promised her we’ll make sure she never has to be a single mom again. And I told her I would help her find a permanent home that will love her forever. But no rush…no timeline. She’s welcome at our farm for as long as she needs.

I’ve told her all of these things over and over. But so far, with her neck stretched out like a little giraffe and her body postured for a quick getaway, she’ll only consent to sniff my fingers and cautiously lick a tiny bit of dog food off of the very tips.

But I think we can turn the corner. I have my new secret weapon. I now have some special, stew-flavored, gravy-laden, meaty, smelly, super-tempting, dog-food-equivalent-of-a-happy-meal food to share with her.

Well. Not share. I may pretend to take a bite or two to catch her attention though.

Here’s hoping I’ll see Merry again tomorrow. Here’s hoping she’ll be in the mood for a little stew, a little conversation, and a car ride home.

Come on in Merry. It’s time to trust someone. You’re tired. The air is starting to get a chill at night. Let me be your someone.

 

What He Does Know.

Hilltop

Saturday, on Halloween, I finally made the 200 mile round-trip to bring Big Paul home to Tails You Win Farm.

Well, small correction here. You see, in the somewhat impulse online purchase heard ’round my world, I overlooked one tiny detail. Big Paul is, true to his new name, too big to fit into our trailer. (If you missed the original stories about Paul, click here and here.)

Huh.

Thankfully, the cavalry came to my rescue in the form of wonderful friends Dena and Dennis with their very roomy, tall, two horse trailer. They were kindly willing to chauffeur me to pick Paulie up and bring him home. Finally.

Dennis is our very trusted small animal veterinarian and also practiced as a large animal vet in the past, so I was very happy to have him along to see Paul. They also have beautiful draft horses of their own and have a wealth of knowledge about their care requirements. I had a private workshop in the truck on the way there and back. I am so very grateful to these lovely people.

To say that I was a tad excited Saturday morning is a huge understatement. I had been waiting for this day for over a month. Because horses on the killer buyer feedlots often become sick, I opted to quarantine Big Paul for 30 days to protect the horses, donkeys, and mule already in residence at Tails You Win Farm. It was the smart thing to do…but oh the wait!

When we pulled into Silvermoon TLC, a short-term boarding facility, I could immediately see Big Paul and he saw us too. The first time I met him he seemed a bit wary of me, unsure of my intentions. Saturday, however, he and his pasture-mate came right to us. He was relaxed and let me walk right up to slip his brand new  bright blue halter on his head.

It’s funny, I ordered a draft size halter online and when It arrived I thought it was huge. I just knew it was going to be way too big for Paul. I was wrong. It fit perfectly. BIG Paul, indeed.

Halter secured, I snapped on my lead rope and Paul and I headed out of the gate toward the trailer. The mare, left behind, immediately started calling out to Paul as she raced up and down the fence line. She did not want her friend to leave and I worried for a moment that Paul would react and pull me right off my feet to return to his friend.

But Paul stayed perfectly calm and walked alongside me like a true gentleman. The only hint to his nerves came as we passed the side of the barn and the truck and trailer came into sight. Paul’s ears started swiveling back and forth between my quiet reassurances and his friend’s frantic whinnying. He took some deep, snorting breaths, but walked steadily beside me. A horse I already dearly loved made my heart swell just a bit more with each brave step.

Trailer ride homeWhen we got to the back of the trailer, Paul stopped to study the situation, planting his huge hooves at the edge of the ramp leading up. His life over the past few months had likely included one uncomfortable trailer ride after another. I couldn’t blame him for not being eager to climb aboard one more time.

But we were all patient. I stood inside the trailer to reassure my big friend while Dennis and Dena encouraged him from behind the trailer. After a minute or two of hesitation, Big Paul loaded into the trailer without any fuss. What a good, steady boy.

The trailer ride home was smooth and uneventful (though Dennis’ right ear may still be numb from listening to my constant chatter with Dena! Dennis is a good, steady man, too!). Thankfully, our homecoming day was overcast and cool; Paul had a comfortable ride and didn’t even break into a sweat.

Finally the big moment came. We pulled through the gates of Tails You Win Farm. Paul was finally home. I opened the side door on the trailer so I could go inside to help Paul back out. His sweet face immediately filled the open door as he perked his ears and got a first look at his new surroundings.

Paul backed carefully out of the trailer, no silliness, no excited prancing about. He simply glanced around, and immediately dropped his head to enjoy some of the thick, still-green grass – a gift of our Indian Summer. I decided that was the equivalent of a horse thumbs up.

Jim joined us by the trailer to meet our latest family member. As you may have read in previous posts, I may or may not have consulted with Jim prior to purchasing Big Paul. This goes well beyond, “Honey, I was on Zappos.com today and bought four pairs of shoes.” Well beyond.

Have I mentioned lately that Jim is a really great guy with a huge soft spot for animals? Lucky Paul. Lucky me!

Paul meeting the gangWe all escorted Big Paul over to the barn for his first glimpse of his new herd. Oh boy. His new herd.

We have a rather eclectic family living in our pasture. We have a blind appaloosa mare and her adult bay daughter, a mule and a paint horse who have physical disabilities, a feisty miniature horse (his only disability is being extremely vertically challenged), a ram (his purpose in life is to annoy the horses, I think), a very large hog who, because of a dog attack at a young age (not on our farm!), is missing an ear and has a leg with some nerve damage, five miniature donkeys and a standard donkey (their purpose in life is to chase coyotes and annoy our neighbors with their occasional “escape the pasture” rampages), a beautiful paint mare that we raised as an orphaned bottle baby, and one large and in charge appaloosa gelding.

Paul must have been wondering what the heck he was stepping into.

Now, normally when I have brought new horses to the farm, there is much excitement, evident nerves, pulling to touch noses, and ensuing squeals and foot stomping  as everyone meets and works out the pecking order. Our other horses were at the ready, stretching their necks over the top of the fence as they took deep sniffs of the approaching newcomer.

Big Paul looked at the other horses with mild interest, but made no move toward the greeting line. My guess was that he had had quite enough of the meet-and-greets at the feedlots and really just wanted a little space.

No problem, friend.

First morningWe settled Paulie in our smaller pasture where he could have a little room to roam and a private loafing shed, but also be near to our horses in the adjacent pasture. It would be his choice whether to say hello or not.

In the past when I have turned a new horse out in a new pasture, I generally see excitement, some prancing around, maybe a lope the length of the pasture. But not Paulie. Nope, he was proving to be a very level-headed guy. He just sniffed the air a few times and then walked the perimeter of the three acre enclosure, stopping to gaze out over the south fence toward a neighboring pond. This would prove to be his favorite spot in the pasture, perhaps reminding him of a former home.

Everything about the big horse was calm and relaxed. No drama, no sweaty nervousness, no fretting. Just even-keel and steady.

After goodbyes to Dennis and Dena, Jim returned to the house and left me and Paul to get to know each other. I gave Paul a bit of feed and got him a stack of hay to munch. As he enjoyed his snack, I brushed him and talked to him, telling him all about his new home and everyone who lived there. When he finished his grain, he stood quietly enjoying the attention. Finally, after so many weeks, I was able to wrap my arms up around his massive neck and give him a hug. I buried my face in the slope of his shoulder and we both sighed in unison.

In this long anticipated moment, my eyes filled with tears as everything I dreamed about this horse while staring at his photos was realized. He was every bit the gentle giant that I hoped and knew he would be. I felt our hearts connect

Previously, I told you that Big Paul does not know what carrots are. Now I would like to tell you a few things he does know.

He does know that apples are delicious. He readily accepted several slices I offered, crunching away and looking hopeful for more.

He knows that our bay mare is a bit of a bitch (she tried to bite him in the butt twice. He knows to keep his distance for now).

He knows something about the view to the south of his pasture that I don’t know…but it’s apparently very special to him. I’ll spend some time there with him, seeing it through his eyes.

He does now seem to know who I am. Well, he recognizes me anyway. When I step out of the house and call to him, he perks his ears and walks to the fence to see me. He seems to understand that this funny human who likes to hug, who feeds him, and who knows all of the right places to scratch a horse is a good thing.

And most importantly, he seems to know that he is safe. Soon, I hope he knows he has found his home. This isn’t temporary. There isn’t another trailer ride in his future.

Look southWelcome home, Big Paulie Waffle Boo-boy.

(Yeah, he’s earned a few nicknames…I expect there will be more to come.)