The Grandfather Horse: When Animals Have Pets…

I have a bone to pick with my Grandfather Horse. He stole my goat.

It’s hard to complain. Spirit’s been my soulmate for the last 29 years and I’m prone to writing sticky, sentimental posts about him. Sure, back in the day we got a little contrary with each other from time to time. And yes, he always did prefer people who didn’t know how to ride. Can’t fault him for that.

My Grandfather Horse’s habit of keeping pets wasn’t obvious at first. During the first years I boarded him there was no real opportunity for exotic pets, so he settled for what he could find; cats mostly. I thought it was normal.

At our last boarding barn, he befriended a tiny black kitten, way too young to be on his own. Spirit threw him some grain, and when the kitten was still there the next day, getting kitten chow seemed smart, along with a little bowl for under the hay feeder. The kitten swung on Spirit’s tail and climbed all over his back. He batted at my curry and left fierce claw marks on Spirit’s saddle. Horses are social animals and I didn’t think much about it until the kitten stepped off a gate and onto my other horse’s back. Dodger came apart like the fourth of July. The kitten didn’t have any luck riding other horses in the barn either.  I started to get suspicious of my Grandfather Horse.

The first year here on the farm a llama cria was born. Spirit let me know that the mom was in labor and then we both sat back to wait. Well, I sat back, while he put his head through the fence panel and stared. Two hours later, little baby Belle Starr finally wobbled away from her mom and over to touch noses with Spirit, still waiting patiently. I managed to keep them apart for almost two weeks. Perhaps you’ve met Belle? She’s the llama who comes up to strange horses–at a dead run–for a nose rub. The Grandfather Horse taught her that.

The next year, a friend and I rescued a small herd of neglected donkeys. When they arrived here, the last one out of the trailer was especially fearful, teetering on hooves that looked like elf shoes. Still, he marched right up to Spirit, whose nose was though the fence panel again, and it was all over but the tattoos. We re-homed the others, and it took me weeks to settle this little donkey, but if I looked out the window in the middle of the night the two of them would be doing the tango in the moonlight and biting each other’s elbows. I never had a chance. Years later when Edgar Rice Burro arrived, it was a forgone conclusion.

You would have thought that a pair of elderly, free-range ducks would be beneath the Grandfather Horse… but they waddled back from the pond in the afternoon just in time for Spirit to toss some grain down to them. He was just showing off by that point.

It’s no surprise that the horses all love him best. The mares are all besotted and the geldings act like he’s Steve McQueen-cool. Even now, when half the herd doesn’t know who Steve McQueen was. Sure, he does me a favor every day; he runs the young Mare-Who-Would-Be-Alpha off her hay. It probably isn’t in deference to me; he does it for sport more likely. If he’s particularly stiff–he does it with his eyeballs. Then he gets his faux-humble look as Edgar Rice Burro dips his longears with respect. Egads.

But I had plans for Arthur, the goat. It would be different this time. Really.

Arthur used to live in the next county, in a pasture with his herd. He got to that awkward age for young male goats… and totally lucked out. He won a one-way trip in the cab of my truck. As one-way goat trips go, Arthur was wildly lucky, not that he was grateful. Goats aren’t burdened with the social constrictions of gravity or good manners. He left proof of that in my truck, but you know, a good ranch truck doesn’t worry about polite society either.

Arthur got a comfy pen in my other barn, far from Spirit but next to Edgar Rice Burro and a very amiable chestnut gelding. He was terrified, having never been around people, but I have a way with goats, and a can of grain, so I set about winning him over. By the time he was tentatively taking one tiny bit of grain from my hand, he was able to break out of his pen five or six times a day. Each time Arthur got loose he bolted through the other horse runs and screeched to a stop under Spirit’s belly. Resistance was futile. I gave up bringing him back; he’s been in that shady spot ever since. Now Arthur comes to gobble a handful of grain from me, but then he’s gone, recklessly bounding back through the fence in an important hurry. He has priorities.

My Grandfather Horse had a mild colic this week, as the first snow storm of the season threatened. Arthur and I stayed close. Mild is a word we can only associate with colic in hindsight. All colic is serious in the beginning and my old horse is frail. He’s okay now and it’s still good to be king. He’s the one who taught me the most important thing I know about training horses–it’s all about negotiation. I used to be a bit of a goat myself, in my youth. I pretend to know better now.

Look at the photo again; is this some sort of massage? Arthur must weigh at least sixty pounds by now and he has pointy hooves. He tries to stay on when Spirit stands up, like that kitten did, but Arthur’s off in a twitch.

No one can stay mad at the Grandfather Horse for long… or maybe I’m jealous of Arthur. That used to be my spot.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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