The title of this piece is somewhat inaccurate. I don’t think we could say that we actually raised our horses. We had a horse and she produced a baby horse. The mama definitely raised her colt; we just watched and hoped for the best.
But I should start at the beginning. There is no doubt that we acquired most of our farm animals more on a whim than as part of a plan. But in each case but one, we were rewarded with wonderful fresh food as well as learning experiences. Unlike everything else we raised on our farm, our horses did not provide us with food, but they certainly had much to teach us.
I’m not 100% sure how I ended up with a large buckskin quarter horse named Daisy. I seem to recall that a horse-loving friend of mine thought that since I had a farm I should get a horse. Being open to new experiences, I signed up for riding lessons to see what it was was all about. I had never been on a horse before – man, are they high! But although I was apprehensive about these lessons, this was something new that didn’t involve small children, so I tried not to dwell on my anxiety (aka fear). And I really did like my riding togs and boots!
The next thing I recall is this same friend telling me that she had heard about a horse for sale – it seemed like a really good deal. What did I know? Clearly, I was a mark! You guessed it, before I knew it we owned a horse. And after a few months she was moved from the stables and nice safe indoor riding ring to our farm. Our fields had already been fenced for our cows, we had a good supply of hay, we had barns for shelter – and now our cows had a new friend named Daisy.
I think the idea was that my friend would spend some time with me and the horse, and that our kids would play together while she took the lead with Daisy. However, before I knew it, their family moved away and I had a horse over whom I had no control and about which I had no confidence. Daisy and I took advantage of an opportunity to attend a week-long intensive riding clinic at the stables where I had taken my beginner’s lessons. I learned a lot from this riding clinic:
1. Not only was I a novice rider, but the clinic instructor assured me that Daisy was a green horse. It would have been better if at least one of us had known what we were doing.
2. If a horse decides not to go over a jump, she can make a sharp right turn just before the jump instead. Unfortunately, the rider (me) will already be heading forward and be propelled solo over the jump, unable to respond to this unexpected change in game plan.
3. Turning your horse around to head back to the barn at the end of a trail ride is a truly frightening experience.
4. If you spend a few days working really hard at keeping a tight rein on your horse, your arms no longer work. You gain a new respect for the expression “keeping a tight rein”.
At the conclusion of this week I was pretty well terrified to ride “my” horse. I took her out on our rural road once, circling continually on the way back so I wouldn’t end up in the ditch when she took off on me in her keenness to get back home. I rode her in the pasture once or twice, but that wasn’t too much fun. So she had a pretty good life, eating like a horse (there’s a reason for that expression) and bossing the cows around. She was nice to watch in the pasture.
At one point, my husband proclaimed that if I wasn’t going to ride the horse we might as well breed her. Our neighbour walked his appaloosa stallion down the road, put him in the pasture with Daisy, and within 15 minutes they had mated. A little less than a year later, my husband looked out the window and announced, “There’s a little appaloosa foal running in the pasture.” What an absolutely splendid sight.
As Daisy’s colt – named Commanche by our 4 year-old son – grew, our ability to provide any training was minimal, to say the least. But he sure was magnificent to watch. We knew we couldn’t keep an untrained stallion for too long, and were fortunate to find a buyer when he was a yearling.
What we learned from having horses:
1. You really need to know what you’re doing to have horses, otherwise they are in charge.
2. Horses may have big tongues, but if they don’t want to eat the crushed pill cleverly mixed in their grain, they can employ an uncannily delicate touch to separate the tiny pill bits from their precious grain.
3. It’s easy to dispatch cows and pigs when you need to, just send them to the slaughter house. Horses are another story altogether, you need to find an unsuspecting mark! We got lucky twice.
4. There is a reason why horse flies are called horse flies. They plague horses mercilessly in hot weather. Shelter from the sun is required.
5. Horses deserve respect for their beauty, strength and grace of movement; people who can train, ride, and control horses deserve even more respect!
6. Horses are the kings (or queens) of the barnyard. Our cows would have attested to that.