Saturday, July 31, 2010

Huzzah! The Greenheads Are Gone!

Hurrah! At last, the greenheads have run their vicious bloodsucking course! Since they appear to have died off now, I've been able to leave Ben and Commander out during the day, yay! But alas, there are still plenty of other flying pests to annoy them, and yesterday when I walked into their paddock, Commander saw me and came charging in from the field, circling tight around me and trying frantically to rub his head on his human: "Get these mosquitos offa me!"


I took pity on the boys and put them in the barn while I cleaned the run-in and refilled the water tub, then put them back out for the night. Before turning them out, I gave each one a good grooming -- Commander loved it so much, he even stopped eating hay while I worked on him -- and flyspraying. That Morgan's a right smart fellow; he normally gets put out first, and he'll zip directly into Ben's side of the run-in to gobble as much as he can of Ben's hay before the big guy gets there and turfs him out.

They do love their run-in. Why shavings in a run-in, you ask? Because Commander took to treating it like a regular stall, peeing as well as pooping, and, well, it just was unbearably gross without putting down shavings to absorb the mess.


They have access to their far field, but spend most of their grazing time on the near field, even though it's eaten down to lawns and roughs by now; it's closer to the run-in, to shelter from flying biting annoyances.


Ben, poor sensitive fellow, hates the bugs, and if I try to drag him out of the run-in to the field (with a loop of baling twine around his neck) he'll often race back in as soon as he's released. Same same with Commander. But they do get out and graze, more now than during the past few weeks of greenhead grief, and it's a treat to see their shiny bay coats illuminated by the late low light:


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Memories of a stray cat

A long time ago, I rescued a stray cat that was living -- no, existing; it wasn't much of a life -- in a small fenced-off space at the end of the alley in Boston where I then had an apartment. It took several days of feeding, inching closer each day as the little thing grew in her trust of me, till I could snatch her up, stuff her into a carrier, and bring her to my vet.

She was filthy. She was half-starved. Her long fur was so matted she had to be shaved over most of her body. Worse yet, she'd broken one hind leg above the hock some time ago and it had healed up bent outward, so that she walked on the inside edge of the paw. My vet almost cried when he saw that; he said if he'd gotten her right away he could have fixed it, but by now it was too late.

Well! That wee Piglet (so named for her enthusiastic appetite) could get around just fine on that crippled leg, could run like blazes on it in fact, and she settled in with me and my other cats quite happily. Her body filled out; her fur grew back in to a rich soft brown tabby and white; and she proved to be an affectionate, gentle cat. We were all so happy.........

Until, after several months, things started to go downhill. Piglet began losing weight, despite continuing to eat voraciously. Her energy diminished. She began spending long stretches of time lying by the water dish, alternately drinking and just resting her head on its edge.

A visit to the vet confirmed my fears: Piglet was ill. Specifically, she was diabetic. We discussed whether to try her on insulin; but my vet's considered opinion was that euthanasia was the kindest option. And so I said a sad goodbye to my little rescue. It grieved me, yes; but it comforted me to know that I had plucked her from misery and given her a happy life for its last few months

Monday, July 5, 2010

Gentle Giants

"Gentle giants" -- that's a term commonly applied to draft horses. They are massive, true, though some breeds are no taller than many riding horses; but the largest among them are awesome, almost overpowering in their physical presence when you are close to them and can measure your own puny insignificance against their immense height and girth, their unimaginable strength. If they wished to, they could crush you like a bug.

And yet they don't. Though draft horses, like any other equine, can rebel against their human handlers, or panic and bolt (as a team did in Iowa during a July 4th parade, with tragic results), mostly they bear patiently with the small two-legs that buzz about them, commanding their obedience and ordering their lives.

It is fortunate for humanity that they are so biddable, and not just in terms of safe handling. For most of recorded history draft horses have pulled the plows and wagons of agriculture and transport, skidded logs out of the forest, hauled ore from the mineheads, mowed fields for the hay that fed them through the winter, dragged graders down dirt roads, and in multitudes of ways powered the human milieu that selectively bred them to their massive greatness.

Today, of course, draft horses are irrelevant to the functioning of society. The internal combustion engine put paid to their usefulness in almost every sphere. There are those who still use them for logging; folks like the Amish still use them for agriculture; but by and large, their day as the motive force for civilization is done.

Most people, if they think of them at all, think of the Budweiser Clydesdales. Though the best known of promotional hitches, they're not the only ones. I've seen up close and personal the Hallamore Hitch, a team of eight Clydesdales who pull a gigantic antique wagon at fairs, expositions and parades across the Northeast. I've stood in the stands at the Topsfield Fair, mere feet from the team as they trotted past, harness jingling, wagon wheels rumbling, feathers at their fetlocks floating, and felt the floor beneath me shudder with the seismic power of their thundering hooves.

It's at agricultural fairs and farm shows that you'll also find an old amusement of rural America still alive and thriving: horsepulling -- where a team of horses is hitched to a given weight and must pull it a given distance. It's uncommonly exciting:

The contest is run one of two ways: using a dynamometer, a machine used to measure horsepower, or with weights on a stone boat or sled. A horse pull is an elimination contest, with successful teams moving on to the next round until there are only two teams left. The winner of the last round is declared champion.

Horses must stay within the boundary lines drawn in the dirt or will be disqualified from the round. Hookers are assistants whose job it is to hook the horses to the sled or the dynamometer. Once they have done this they are required to stand back and not speak to the horses or drivers. It is against the rules to slap the horses with the lines or strike them in any way.

If you've never watched a horse pull you owe yourself the experience. To witness the power of these 2000-pound animals strain against the harness and pull thousands of pounds of dead weight twenty-seven and a half feet (the official distance) is an amazing sight.

Outside of such venues, though, one doesn't often see the gentle giants of the draft world. But there's a farm near where I live that boards horses, and last fall I had the privilege of photographing two massive buddies in their field.

The gelding is a Belgian, one of the more popular draft breeds; a friend of mine, in fact, for many years had a Belgian which she used for trail riding. I saw him standing out in the field, enjoying the mild autumn day.


With him was a mare, almost as large as her large protector.


What was the mare's breeding? Her mane and forelock were as long as a Friesian's but she did not look like a purebred.


They eyed me for a while, perhaps wondering what I wanted and what it might mean for them. Finally they decided to come investigate -- or rather, the gelding did, and his friend followed.


All the while I was observing them the mare, shy and wary, kept the gelding between us. Or perhaps it was the Belgian who made sure to stay between his companion and any possible threat.


Was she curious? Yes. Willing to approach the stranger? No. But still.... curious.


The Belgian clealry was most tenderly attached to his lady, and made frequent small gestures of affection.


I do not know, will never know, the mare's history; but at some point in her life, she was no more than a number to the human(s) who owned her and branded her number 35.


Whatever her past, her present was easy, comfortable, and happy. The eyes that watched me cautiously held no terror of the human, only a shy hesitancy.


Are draft horses' heads big and boxy? Yes; they're a far cry from the delicate elegance of, say, the Arabian. But they have their own majestic beauty.


And their eyes are as lovely as any equine's, anywhere.