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.
Big 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.
I 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.
The 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.