After writing yesterday’s post I was thinking about other occasions when I’ve had fun coping with farm problems. Two from about ten years ago came to mind.
Back then I was working as the barn manager for the school, overseeing the care of fourteen horses, a donkey, six pigs, a dozen sheep, a couple of cows, a flock of turkeys, and a hundred laying hens.
Bonnie and her daughter Rachel worked with me. Bonnie was my mentor in all aspects of livestock care, but particularly horses. She and Rachel are real horsewomen, which I am not. I can tend to the basics, but the passion, the horse-whispering intuition, and the talent just aren’t there.
One October morning Bonnie and I met at the barn at 6:45 AM after an unexpected blizzard dumped two feet of snow overnight. The herd was in the far pasture. Somehow we had to bring all fourteen horses up to the barn in time to meet the children coming for chores at 7 o’clock. We each grabbed a lead rope and a halter and began wading down through the woods to break trail to the far pasture.
We finally reached the herd and haltered two of the leaders. All the horses were crowding us and blowing with excitement in the deep snow.
“We’ll ride back!” Bonnie shouted to me over her shoulder.
It truly never occurs to me to ride. I rode throughout my childhood but have never bothered as an adult, despite having horses all around me and working with them every day.
But on this occasion I grabbed Marmaduke’s frozen mane and swung myself up. Bonnie jumped up on Peanut. And we both rode through the snow, bareback, with a halter and lead rope for bridles, and a dozen horses creaming in our wake. I have always remembered that morning. As the herd splashed through the slushy stream below the barn and trotted up the hillside, I felt exactly like The Man from Snowy River.
* * *
The second occasion was a few years earlier. My friend Larry was running the farm. It was the beginning of the school year, about 9:30 PM, and there was an evening faculty meeting. The staff was sitting around tables in the big school dining room when Jon, about thirteen, poked his head in.
“Mom? The state police just called. They say someone reported a cow on the highway!”
Uh-oh. If Daisy the Hereford was out, the horses were out too. A half-dozen adults immediately jumped up to start searching for the herd in the dark. Some headed toward the highway and Betty’s pastures across the road. Larry, John D., Jeff, and I headed for the interior of the campus, in case the herd had galloped in the other direction.
We found the horses on the lake hill. They’d had their heads down, cropping grass, but they were spooked by their unaccustomed freedom. They lifted their heads to watch us warily. A mare trotted in a tight circle, head high, eyes on us. The only light came from the stars.
We were very aware that one sudden move could cause the whole herd to wheel and gallop away again, straight down the drive and onto the highway.
“Go slow,” Larry warned us softly. Larry is also a real horseman.
“We don’t have any halters,” I said to him out of the corner of my mouth.
“Everyone, take off your shirts,” Larry ordered.
“When you can get to a horse, tie the sleeves around his neck.”
It worked like a charm. We all peeled off our shirts, moved quietly up to the horses, rubbed their necks and spoke to them soothingly, and then tied our sleeves behind their ears. The three men and I led four horses through the dark back to the barn by our shirt-fronts dangling under their chins. The rest of the horses followed behind.
I’ll never forget that walk in the dark, in boots, jeans, and bra, just one of the guys leading the herd to safety.