Valentine’s Day and a Goat Tail. I Mean Tale.

Is it too soon to say the word? Sure, there’s more snow coming. You’d be nuts to pack away the tank heaters and long johns. Still, there’s a change in the light and the calendar agrees. The coldest part of winter is past and for some of us, Valentine’s Day is a cross between New Year’s and the first day of Spring. Horse people have their own sense of time. Let’s toast with chocolate.

We made it! If you have an elder in your herd, you breathe a secret sigh. He’s managed to steal another base and the game plays on. Each winter has a new set of challenges. It isn’t that the old ones have been resolved. The Grandfather Horse is still arthritic and his awkward lump hasn’t gone away.

Of course, he had his annual gastric emergency. I was recuperating from foot surgery and on a knee scooter when it happened. I called the vet and sat down while I watched him shift weight and furrow his brow. Then he walked down the run, sniffed my hair, and carefully laid down almost touching me. I checked the time and the pain in his eyes. Was this the day?

The Grandfather Horse is coming thirty. It’s an old thirty. If you can look past the elephant in the room, it’s almost laughable. We reminisced about close calls while we waited for the vet. Like that time two years ago, in the midnight ground blizzard, when he couldn’t stand up. And he never lets me forget the famous near-death emergency sheath cleaning incident. Okay, it was pretty funny.

Eventually the vet arrives to find the two of us sprawled the width of the run. He probably wonders if today is the day, too. Nope. Not today.

Less than a month later the Grandfather Horse started spitting out all of his chew-ed up hay. He’d been spitting out a random wad here and there for years, sometimes keeping a chaw in his cheek, but this morning, it’s two entire flakes of hay chew-ed up and spit out in a mushy pile.

It’s not that I’m cynical. Not exactly, but at lunch time I place one perfect flake of the greenest, leafiest alfalfa in his feeder. Consider it a reality check. The Grandfather Horse has grown persnickety about the exact texture of hay that he likes over the last decade, but he did it again. Spitting out alfalfa is like spitting out chocolate cake. I made the call.

The vet found a loose tooth and dang, it was on his good side. It’s been four winters ago now that he had that nasty infection on the opposite side, resulting in a complicated extraction and a long recuperation. I swore I wouldn’t put him through something like that again. The vet assures me it’s so loose, he can almost get it with his fingers. I agree, there’s a quick shot, and the tooth is out in a blink. Then it’s a full hour of trying to keep him balanced until he can stand on his own. Sedation is the scary part; we all try to act casual but no one takes an eye away for an instant. Once again, today isn’t the day.

I’d love to say the Grandfather Horse is as good as new, but that isn’t the way it works. At this age, they never come back all the way. It’s a negotiation; now he spits out about half his hay.

I hesitate to write about my Grandfather Horse at this point. People always tell me they cry and that isn’t my goal. I swear, this is a happy story. Please don’t feel sorry for his old heart… Last week he cantered a few strides in the snow and stayed on his feet. And the sun is getting warmer for his midday naps. Sometimes I see the two mares he gets turned out with cantering in circles, while he stands in the middle, lunging them with his eyeballs. It’s good to be king.

I suppose I should report one more injury. Arthur the goat, who loves to race the horses to turnout, bounded past me like that old riddle; what’s black and white and red all over? The blood splatter was so vibrant and far-flung that it startled me–especially on the run like that. Goat tying isn’t my event, so I went back the barn table and shook the grain can. Arthur bounded back just as quickly, blood cheerfully flying in all directions. It was the very end of his tail and it was missing. The very last vertebra of his tail was exposed–sticking out like just one finger at the end of a sleeve. The blood was starting to clot, so I dumped some grain out and ran for the amateur vet’s best friend: Google. I was careful choosing my search words, but no need. Dozens of articles appeared instantly. Apparently it isn’t a rare thing with goats and they recover without much help. I managed to clean it up some, but as previously stated, goat tying isn’t my thing.

Earlier, as I was mucking chew-ed up hay out of the Grandfather Horse’s run, I’d found a small patch of white hair still attached to a hunk of skin. It was bordering the next run, but that occupant is a bay. I thought it was odd, but then mice and snakes get baled up with the hay all the time. Egads, that must have been Arthur’s tail scalp.

If there were witnesses, no one was speaking up. In U.S. criminal law, guilt is proven by means, motive, and opportunity. Those pointy little hooves might be motive enough. Opportunity is a no-brainer; Arthur is always as close as kin. As for means–well, those long old front teeth are about the only ones he has left.

The evidence was all circumstantial. Besides, we don’t have a democracy here. Like I said, don’t feel sorry for his old heart. Game on. It’s still good to be the king.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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