Click here to go to the beginning of Adventures in Paradise
I walked out to the paddock for evening chores a couple of weeks ago. I was watching my feet as I traversed the rocky path down to the barn and noticed what looked at first glance like deer droppings. No big deal there. We rent our property from the local herd of mule deer, who swipe drinks from our birdbath and clean up the sunflower seeds that fall from the birdfeeders.
Then I noticed something odd about those droppings. They lacked the uniform shape of deer poop. Instead of being shaped like short, fat cigars, they were more like marbles with irregular flat sides. And the air had a distinctive odor, similar to something I smelled before when I stumbled upon a herd of elk resting on a hillside over on Ft. Bayard next door.
I wondered about it briefly, but then set about my chores and forgot about it. When I was about finished, I heard something that sounded like a baby crying and saw something move on the other side of the pinons beyond the paddock fence.
Is that a goat? Wait! There's another one. GOATS! Where did THEY come from?
The horses were trailing along behind me in anticipation of dinner. All three of them noticed the goats simultaneously and, being horses, conducted an airborne one-eighty and a pandemonic flight down to the far end of the paddock, throwing a shower of gravel and dust like a stock car off the starting line on a southern dirt racetrack.
"Well," thought I. "Won't see the horses again for a while."
Nobody has goats around here. There's cows, donkeys, mules, estray horses, and deer of course. Members of the elk herd mosey off Ft. Bayard now and then and clatter through our acreage.
So goats. Two of them. The musky cloud that followed them around said they were bucks. I hoped they would go away, but after a couple of days, it was clear they liked it here. They started following the horses around and munching on weeds and leftover hay. Leo didn't much care for them took to chasing them off. I approved.
Goats mean mischief. They quickly figured out how to open the hay shed door and they ravaged a bale of alfalfa. It was the only alfalfa I had. I don't normally feed alfalfa to the horses, but I bought a bale to sprinkle over perfectly good grass hay the horses were being snooty about.
Ted assumed responsibility to degoatify our spread. He called a neighbor, a talkative retired school librarian who knows everything about everybody and has memorized everybody's phone number. She said the goats belonged to Linda, a local realtor and heir to the infinite expanses of what used to be the XYZ Ranch, a.k.a. the Club Ranch, a.k.a. the Franks Ranch, a.k.a. Christian Flury Estates, a.k.a. Juanita Franks tiff-with-her-brother ranch. The goats were a rare type of Navajo caprinae, prized for their unusual horns. Linda gave the goats to another neighbor, Henry.
Ted called Henry, who said he built a goat pen, but that goats are hard to contain. Henry was off on an extended trip and wouldn't be back home for two weeks. Ted told him that if the goats were still here when he returned, he could come and round them up.
Ted then called the sheriff's office, who said to call the livestock inspector, who said he could only pick up the goats if they weren't running free and suggested we talk to the county extension agent. The extension agent couldn't pick them up either for the same reason, but he knows a rancher up in Mimbres who raises goats and might want them.
Since the goats clearly liked alfalfa, I started handing out what was left of it so they would stick around in case the Mimbres rancher showed up. I got to know them a bit. There was a big one and a little one. The big one was the stinkiest and apparently regarded as daddy by the little one. They were never separated by more than a few yards. The big goat was the more courageous of the two and didn't move very far off when offered alfalfa. The little one tended to hide behind the big one.
The rancher showed up after several days. He pulled in with a suitably soiled stock trailer that contained two tacked-up stock ponies. He was accompanied by a couple of skinny teenaged boys armed with lariats.
I turned off the electric fence, explained the layout of the land, and opened the gate. Two horsemen entered the paddock track. One of the teenagers remained on the ground. The goats saw the riders and took off down the rocky slope, startling my horses, who went running up the rocky slope, where they met the met the riders and the teenager-on-the-ground. The two groups passed through each other, briefly looking like colliding galaxies.
The goats continued downslope, ducked under the fence, and ran back up the hill, followed by riders, who were now on the wrong side of the fence, but moving hard toward the gate, which I opened to let them out. The rancher tipped his hat and grinned while the horses clattered by.
The goats headed south around the stock trailer. The riders split up and flanked the goats, moving them back up toward the trailer. The teenager-on-the-ground threw a loop, caught the big goat by the horns, and wrestled him into the trailer. A partition in the trailer clanged shut, sounding like the door on a jail cell.
The riders galloped after the little goat and herded him back up toward the trailer, where he bawled for the big goat. One of the riders threw a loop, but missed and the goat took off again, looking for a place to hide.
The roping-teenager-on-the-ground hopped out of the trailer right into the little goat's path. The goat away toward the tractor shed, where the rancher cornered him. The mounted teenager rode up from the side, threw a loop, and snagged the goat. The teenager-on-the-ground moved in and after a short tussle, the teenager and little goat were in the trailer. One of the riders, still mounted, wheeled around and closed the trailer gate, locking both goat and roper inside. A partition clanged inside the trailer and the teenager appeared on the in-side of the trailer's gate. He let out a big "baaaaaaah" while peering over the top of the gate, Kilroy-like. The rancher said "Oh. You want out?"
The entire episode took about five minutes.
The goat crew loaded up the horses, climbed into the truck, and drove off. No more goats!
The paradise and associated adventures described here do not occur in the western Pacific ocean and they do not involve sailing or boats of any kind. Instead, they occur on four acres of New Mexico ranchland, the domicile of three horses to whom I delightfully devote most of my time, energy, and money. For the horses, the land is a paradise, compared with the way horses are traditionally boarded.
The concept of the paddock paradise was introduced by Jaime Jackson in his book, Paddock Paradise, A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding (2006, Star Ridge Publishing). I stumbled upon Jackson's book shortly after I purchased my Tennessee Walking Horse, Thunder. The ideas Jackson expresses appeal enormously to me--allowing domestic horses to live in an environment that mimics the natural habitat of feral horses.
I carved out a chunk of Ted's and my 10 acres of and turned Thunder loose in it. A neighbor commented that Thunder, not being the sharpest knife in the drawer, might get lost in that maze I built. Funny guy. The fact is that Thunder didn't know what to do with himself and spent most of his time munching juniper berries under only one of the dozens of trees out there. He figured out that the story has additional chapters when Leo came along and demonstrated the concept of foraging. Penny joined the herd and was delighted as she hobbled around and figured out her place in the hierarchy.
The system works well for the horses--Leo is pretty much rehabilitated from the injuries he had when he joined us last year. Penny is getting around better than I ever thought she would, proof that movement is good for arthritis. I'm having fun managing the paddock and watching the horses thrive in it.
I'll get right to sharing the adventures so you can have fun too.
6/19/13 - A lesson I've been trying to synthesize for Ted's and my entire life together is this: Go back in through the same door you go out. Ted's frustration with me (one of them anyway; he has an endless supply) is that I leave doors unlocked because I wander from door to door as I go about my outside and inside chores. I lock the door through which I came back in, but it's not necessarily the door of my egress and that door remains unsecured. Ted's nagging is irritating, but effective in a water-over-stone sort of way; I'm better about locking doors than I used to be, even to the point of being aware that I'm using a different door and therefore going back to check the lock on the one from which I left the house. Ted doesn't appreciate any of this because he ALWAYS re-enters via his exit door and he ALWAYS locks it. Everybody on the planet should be just like Ted, of course, and I'm not being completely sarcastic when I say that. We'd have much more orderly and less distracting lives if we did. He's still annoying, though.
Kharma folded back on me today. Twice. On each side of the barn are gates that access the rest of the world from the paddock track. Until recently, I had little need to use these gates, which are vexatious anyway. They are green, stretchy extensions of the white electric fence tapes. They have insulated handles so you can unhook them from the terminating gatepost, but the tapes retain a charge even when disconnected and can deliver an unpleasant surprise if you're not careful. You also have to disconnect each of the tapes one at a time and reconnect them one at a time after you pass through--anathema to my needless hurry to get things done as fast as I can.
Now that the truck and horse trailer have their own place out of the sun, this gate provides convenient access to the trailer. I've been taking Penny to and fro through it as we practice loading.
I've been taking the easy way out and reconnecting only the top tape after Penny and I go through it. That worked until today, when Thunder discovered two things:
- The fence is turned off pending delivery of a replacement part to fix a short.
- He can duck under the top tape.
Horse adrift! Fortunately, Thunder's easy to catch. Penny was already tied to the hitch rail and therefore didn't accept Thunder's invitation to wander off in search of greenery. Thunder found the grass he longs for right next to Penny. Not a big problem.
I caught Thunder and returned him to the paddock, then reconnected the top TWO tapes. Thunder's too big to duck under the middle tape. When I returned Penny to the paddock, I led her down the track to join Thunder and Leo, who were happily munching new grass in one of the exclusion zones I opened up for them. I left the paddock gate open because I knew the grass would keep them occupied with no thoughts of leaving the paddock. I intended to close up the gate, but I remembered I needed something in the tack room and went directly there. Then I returned to the house through the tack room door and forgot all about the gate. (Ha ha! Ted says.)
At horse dinner time, I returned to the paddock and chased the horses out of the exclusion zone. They headed up to the barn, expecting their evening mash. Leo saw the open gate and mosied right through it. Uh oh. Thunder followed. Then Penny. Nuts. All three horses out. The land on which our parcel sits is fully enclosed by a fence, so they can't get very far away. Also, there's no water outside the paddock. Thirst would drive them back in if I couldn't do it.
I approached them quietly to herd them back to the paddock. It's pointless to run at them, even I know that--they can go faster and farther than I can, and even THEY know that. Also, being chased makes them run faster. If you want to catch them, you have to walk. Calm and slow as I was, Leo farted, snorted, bucked, did a series of twisty kicks and took off at a gallop, followed by Thunder. Penny brought up the rear, moving right out. The horses can and do run in the paddock (well, not Penny usually), but this was the wide-open spaces. This was something new and FUN!
They headed up to the house, the better to raid the sunflower seeds in the bird feeder. I walked after them and got within touching distance of Thunder, who side stepped me and caught Leo's attention. Leo took off again, with Thunder following, and Penny clumping along at the rear.
The herd assumed an eastern trajectory as they veered toward the northeast fence. I thought they'd trap themselves in the corner where the paddock fence joins the fence at the property line. I forgot about the gate between Laurie's place and ours. We leave the gate open so the deer and the elk can get through. Oops. The herd merrily zipped through the gate. Laurie's property is fully fenced too, so I knew they couldn't get far. As Leo ran by, Laurie's Pepe horse whinnied and ran to the upper fence of his enclosure, followed by her Indy horse. Leo was ecstatic and swung around Laurie's barn to meet and greet these guys, whom he knows from across the fence, but has never been over for tea and crumpets. Woo-hoo! Leo stopped to play gelding games with Pepe, but Thunder and Penny kept going, although at a walk. Having lived at Laurie's for several months, Thunder knows his way around the place.
Laurie's paddock adjoins Gail's expansive acreage. Laurie's husband, Joe, observed that I'd better get down and close the gate that Laurie and Gail keep open between their properties--again so the deer and elk can pass. I said a bad word and took off running. Leo pounded past me to catch up with Thunder and Penny. I ran to the right to close the gate while the horses ran to the left. When I came up from the gate, Joe advised they had stopped on the septic drain field. Thunder was nuzzling the gravel for something tasty. Leo eyed me warily and Penny looked baffled. Laurie's dog-watering trough caught Thunder's attention and he headed up for a drink. The other two followed. "No way," I thought. "If they get water now, I'll be chasing them around until midnight." I waved my harms and howled at them and they took off again, heading toward our fenceline and its still-open gate. That's right, you guys. Go that way.
Everybody stopped on Laurie's side of the fence, with a band of trees between them and me, watching me to see what I was going to do next. Penny stepped toward me. Good girl. I pointed at the gate and she ambled through it. VERY good girl. I turned my attention to Leo and Thunder and pointed at the gate again. Leo sprang into action, with Thunder right behind, and they hotfooted through the gate. I went through behind them and closed it. That was easier than I thought it would be.
Laurie came along, equipped with several lead lines, and offered to help. You betcha! We herded the horses up the hill toward our house, where they sojourned near the bird feeder. Ted called me (love those cell phones) and told me they were hanging around off the south patio and making a fool of me. "No they aren't!" I puffed as Laurie and I hauled our aging asses up the hill." I got them back here from Laurie's and they didn't get onto Gail's billion acres where I'd never get them back. And if Thunder takes after the bird feeder, you just let him do it!"
Laurie circled in behind the herd and I put myself on their south flank, in effect squeezing them so their only route of escape was toward the barn. Off they went. Penny and Thunder headed directly for the gate back into the paddock, but Thunder got distracted by hay in the trough at the hitch rail and stopped there. Penny stopped too and stood by, again looking baffled. Leo headed off back toward the fenceline with Laurie's place, probably to confer with Pepe, but he didn't count on the closed gate. Laurie angled around him and headed him back up toward the barn.
Thunder and Penny remembered it was dinner time. I stood by the open gate and pointed at it and in they went. Good horses. They saw Leo heading down the hill and hollered at him, but didn't attempt to follow him. I hooked up the gate and went for Leo, who was trotting along ahead of Laurie toward the barn. When he dodged around me, I laughed out loud. His entire demeanor changed and he slowed his pace and gave me a quizzical look. I think he expected to be in big trouble--and was surprised when I laughed. He walked over to the paddock fence and stood there, just the way he does when he's finished playing "You can't catch me," a game that usually lasts for about 15 seconds and 10 yards. He let me toss a lead line over his back and put his head down to help me fasten the halter. He followed me obediently into the paddock.
I bet the horses have never had that kind of liberty and I'm thrilled to have had a part in it. It was delightful to watch their antics and the expressions on their faces as they ran. Leo glided across the rocky terrain like a hovercraft and wherever he went, Thunder and Penny followed. Penny surprised me at how well she moved and although she was always in the rear of the herd, she kept up pretty well considering her arthritic knees. Thunder snorted, laid back his ears, flexed his muscles, and leaned into the turns like a skier.
They all looked like the wild and free beings they are in their hearts. Everybody was exhilerated and ready for dinner. Everybody got home safe, too.
8/10/13 - When my mom moved to a house in Virginia near where I was living at the time, I made 10 copies of every key she had and set up what I thought was a foolproof system so she would stop locking herself out of her house because she misplaced her keys. By the time she moved out of that house, there was one set of keys remaining--the set of master keys that I kept just in case the system wasn't so foolproof as I hoped.
Mirror, mirror on the wall--I am my mother after all.
I keep the key to the barn, along with a house key, on a carabiner that's attached to a belt loop on my jeans. The keys are always there when I need them. (I lost them once, but then found them the next day). I also keep the key to the Subaru on its own carabiner, which I attach to the same belt loop when I go to town. When Ted drives the Subaru, he says the carabiner dangles on his knee so he's forever taking it off. Then when I go to attach it to my belt loop, guess what!? No carabiner. So I attach it to the same carabiner as the barn and house keys.
That's the problem, right there. It's possible to dislodge the barn and house keys when I remove the Subaru key from the carabiner. I know it's possible because it happened. The barn and house keys vanished. A mere annoyance. There's still a master barn key remaining, so off to the hardware store I went to get duplicates made.
When I got home from the hardware store, the duplicate keys--and the master, which the helpful hardware person placed in a bag with the duplicates--were not among my purchases. I searched the Subaru. No joy. Ted searched the Subaru because he knows I'm unable to find my ass with both hands tied behind my back. He didn't find the keys. A call to the store revealed that the keys were not at the register and nobody knew anything about them.
I waited a day or two to see if they turned up somewhere around the house; they did not. I was mightily irritated with myself for losing the keys in the first place, and then for losing the set of keys I had made to replace them. (I actually found a duplicate barn key, but it didn't work, so maybe it wasn't a barn key anyway. That was irritating as well.) I fumed for a while and decided that the best solution was to buy a new lock set for the barn door. Just to cover all my bases, I checked again at the hardware store to see if the keys were there; they were not. I bought the lock set and went home to remove the keyless one and install the new one.
Ted's comment was, "You know as soon as you tighten that screw, the keys will show up." I emitted an ironic grumble. Ted went into the house. I went into the paddock to clean up horse manure, feeling much less grumbly now that the problem was solved.
When I finished with the manure and went back to the house, Ted said "Remember what I said just before I left the barn? The hardware store called. They found your keys at the front register. You can go get them tomorrow."
10/3/13 - Partnership is the desirable outcome of messing with horses these days. ('Twasn't always universally so, but the horse whisperer revolution changed the game.) The partnership means that you take care of the horse and the horse takes care of you. Connecting with a horse (or anyone, for that matter) is fundamental to a good partnership.
Some horses are easier to connect with than others, but the connection with those I've run into is something that has to be cultivated patiently, gently, and consistently.
Consistency has been my challenge since Thunder dumped me back in August. The incident put painful limits on my strength and mobility for several weeks, during which I provided only the essential care--feeding and poop clean-up--for my horse buddies.
Today I started reconnecting. Thunder and Penny let me back in readily as I massaged all the places that equine bodyworkers know about to obtain a horse's awe and affection. By "let me in," I mean that the horses' eyes softened. They assumed a dreamy, relaxed expression, gave happy sighs of pleasure, lowered their heads, and transmitted a tranquil feeling that touches me in the abdomen like a resolution and release of all the world's cares.
Leo, however . . . Leo's a paradox. He's the alpha horse in our herd, yet he's a nervous little fellow, worried about doing the wrong thing and worried about protecting Thunder and Penny. He's always watchful, always tense, and it takes a bit of time and reassurance to bring him in. The more I work with him, the more he relaxes, but he loses touch with me quickly. I've been away from him for nearly six weeks.
I think Leo is worried about my injury, of which he seems to be aware. He sniffs at the cast on my arm and nibbles at my exposed thumb. Before The Dumping, Leo and I were doing well. He was increasingly confident around me, beginning to understand what I expected of him, and willing to comply. He let me catch him, stood for haltering and grooming, and accepted the therapeutic touch with obvious pleasure and joy.
Leo and I lost ground in the last weeks.
He's back to the state of mind he had when he first arrived--wary of being touched, disassociated during massage and acupressure treatments, neck and poll braced, tail clamped. He stands for bodywork, but returns a sense of bare tolerance while he waits for the mountains to crash down on him. He trots away from me when I approach, although after a few moments, during which I stand still and call his name, he stands still and lets me catch him.
I'm hoping he'll relax more quickly this time around.