I’ve had to restrain myself from touching the keyboard, to spare you my enchanting company in the last few days. (My funny bone buried itself.)
Like many horse owners, I had a dream. Like most dreams, it was romantically blurry and full of sunlight, flowers, and chirping birds. My horse would live in my backyard. Together 24/7. Bliss.
I was 20-something, had a sturdy little Morgan mare (a rescue) named Roz. She had been treated as a commodity, and could not comprehend the idea of bonding, or even enjoying a good grooming. Roz tolerated handling by standing rigidly still, determined to obey by enduring. I was convinced I could use the Teenager Principle to bring her around. The Teenager Principle: total immersion for the horse: you are either sitting on the horse, touching the horse, doing something for the horse, or standing nearby thinking about the horse. (I’d use ground work and riding too.) I felt the T. P. was exactly what she needed.
I was young enough to mistake a thorough day-dreaming for a logical plan of action.
I kept an eye on the rental market, convinced getting her out of the scattered atmosphere of the boarding barn would turn her around.
Found it! A cross-fenced, 2 acre pasture with 2 stall barn, superb drainage, surrounded by trees, nothing poisonous growing, the house a mere 30 feet from the pasture gate. The house yard was also horse-fenced and gated. Double fencing: no possibility of a loose horse. Unusual low-price for a horse property, it’s the almost the same price as a normal rental. Huh. I signed the lease that second.
“House” may be a stretch. It was a converted 2 car garage. What happened to the original house? Didn’t know, didn’t care. What is more important? A perfect living space for your horse, or a perfect living space for you? I can see you all nodding your heads. Horse people have their priorities straight.
Here’s what I saw when the romantic fuzziness evaporated:
Roz was now alone for at least ten hours every day. I still had to work. Previously, there were barn workers, other boarders, and tons of horses.
I was now alone with Roz’s care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I loved doing it. Except when I’d been throwing up for 3 days. There was still mucking and feeding in the freezing rain. I discovered pneumonia is not my friend. Roz got sub-standard care when I was sick, and my attempts to make it standard made me sicker, prolonging the whole standard care thing.
It was horrifically lonely. No friends, no activity, no arena, no trails, no company, no friendly banter and pitching in for each other in a pinch.
The fairy godmother of all sunbeam-and-roses pin-pricking POOF: I’d never thought about where we would ride. What IDIOT rented this place? How many rotations (at the plod: gopher holes) of the pasture can you do before you want to slit your wrists? For Roz, it was like never leaving her bedroom. I did not own a horse trailer. I had leased a terrific horse property in the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t on anyone’s trailer-out way. There was no shoulder on the road.
My Bliss-Ninny self had signed a year lease. The landlord had no intention of letting me out: clearly, other horse people had rented this property previously. Moving her back was not an option. Once I dismissed arson as a potential lease-breaker, I put on my thinking helmet: I had to do something. “Something” turned out to be a lot more error than trial.
Plan A: get Roz a goat!
Find goat staring at you one morning through bedroom window, ripping out window frame. Cha-ching! Free goats are expensive, wiping out one’s trailer savings. See how fast I can find a new home for goat.
Plan B: Offer free boarding to elderly retired horse in need of lawn ornament status!
Win-win! I do all the work, owner supplies feed, pays vet, etc. Can we say gullible? Find good home for unrideable, elderly, abandoned horse with bad manners and voracious appetite.
Plan C: Consider taking in a Shetland pony!
When woman from Shetland rescue calls, (my vet told her I was looking for a companion animal for my mare) it sounded too good to be true. I was no longer gullible. I called the vet, visited the rescue, asked for references, and read the contract with a microscope: I’d be responsible for feed and board only, rescue would be responsible for upkeep and feet. The pony belonged to them. I would be providing a foster home and care. There would be regular unannounced visits. I’d pay $50 for trailering (due to my idyllic dream location) and the Shetland came with everything: halter, lead, his own brushes (all of her ponies had their own stuff??) and a detailed write-up of his history, including previous owner, impoundment, and vet check ups. If it did not work out at any time, she would pick him up for free. Vet, humane society, and references couldn’t say enough good about her. Sold.
Thus, Mr. Chips bombed into our lives.
I read his documentation. Impounded over founder and neglect. He’d spent 14 years rotting in a field after the family (who bought him at 4) realized he wasn’t a suitable first mount their five-year old girl. At the time, he’d had 90 days. If you know Shetlands, you know 90 days isn’t squat. Owners kept him for “sentimental” reasons. They thought foundering every spring/summer was normal for horses. They didn’t feed him. He ate grass in the spring and summer, and lived off that until the next spring/summer. He’s been at the rescue for a year. I looked at his hooves. Perfect. Amazingly, he was not lame. He wasn’t wild or emotionally destroyed.
You have to love the Shetland Ego.
He was Entitled.
He unloaded off the trailer with the regal bearing the Godolphin Arabian, and the snottiness of Man ‘O War. He paused artfully on the ramp for a photo op. What?! No camera? This moment should be documented! Every moment should be documented! Do we NOT know who we are dealing with here? Imagine Napoleon crossed with a Megawatt Pop Star: one who did NOT get the Champagne he requested in the green room. Mr. Chips looked around for his entourage. Where were all his people? Humans! I can’t live without my staff! What are you thinking?
I squatted down and lifted his bushy forelock to try to find his halter. He regarded me with a sort of eye-rolling contempt and controlled impatience. Do Not Touch the Hair: what? Did you grow up in a barn? Where are your manners? He was a clear, sunny Palomino, with a bright white, elegantly long mane and tail.
Roz hated him. He didn’t care. He had enough charisma, personality, and Alpha male little-man syndrome to create a new world order. The pasture? Ha. It was his in two hours.
6 am the next morning, I am awakened by what at first I take to be the goat bulldozing the opposite side of my house while murdering a couple of pigs.
High pitched squealing and crashing. Oh NO.
I rush out in my PJ’s.
Mr. Chips is forcefully cantering Roz around the pasture; her ears pinned, teeth bared. He’s flat-out galloping. She squeals and aims a kick near (my first clue she likes him) his head. He rears, and bites her on the butt. Then he wheels around, squealing at an ear-splitting, headache-inducing pitch that causes dogs all over the valley to start barking. He races away, looking back once over his shoulder. Roz tears out after him, bending down to try to bite his butt on the fly.
It’s hits me.
She’s having a ball. She LOVES him. Within a week, she’s head over heels in love with him. He prances in circles around her like a stallion, tossing his elegant mane, determined to impress. She’s impressed. He becomes the pasture boss. But she’s not passive, she challenges him right back, and it turns into ritualized play.
It hits me on another front: I can kiss the whole win-win rescue operation thing goodbye. I’m going to have to convince them to let me buy him. He is the FIRST creature to which she has responded, ever.
Mr. Chips was staying.