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Horses With A Mission
Extraordinary True Stories of Equine Service
By Allen Anderson, Linda Anderson
New World LibraryCopyright © 2009 Allen and Linda Anderson
All rights reserved.
At my door the pale horse stands To carry me to unknown lands.
— JOHN MILTON HAY
UNDER THE WINGS OF PEGASUS
* * *
VANESSA WRIGHT, Nashua, New Hampshire
The first rays of dawn were beginning to light the face of the sleeping world as I pulled into the barn's silent parking lot. I turned off my truck ignition and smiled wryly, waiting for the unique reveille that the resident barn staff had come to depend on for their alarm clock: the rattle-rattle-thump of my old Chevy's battered engine, followed by an imperious "Feed me!" whinny from my horse, Pegasus.
As I jumped down from the running board, the engine settled with a final thump and a sudden, shrill creak that startled a flock of pigeons from their roost on the barn's roof. The birds scolded me with their hoots, but strangely I heard no retort of joyful welcome from Pegasus.
Perplexed, I scanned the high hill that was Pegasus's pasture. When Pegasus — at 17 hands and 1,200 pounds, and the color of newly polished silver — galloped out of his shed, his mane, tail, and feathers streaming, racing to be the first to breakfast, he usually shone against the shadowed woods like a shooting star. This morning, though, the pasture was empty and silent. My memory flickered back to a February morning several years ago, the only other time Pegasus had failed to greet me.
A Problem with No Easy Solution
Leading up to that February morning, the trouble had begun when I brought Pegasus to our new barn. In hand and under saddle, Pegasus was a perfect gentleman. Even the barn owner's four-year-old daughter could lead him, groom him, and sneak the occasional swing from his tail. But when his work was done, and we turned him out, he became our and the other horses' nightmare. The simple fact was that Pegasus refused to tolerate the presence of other horses.
Certainly at this large barn they'd had turnout troubles before. Usually, though, once new horses had spent a few days sharing a fence line with their soon-to-be herdmates and had a chance to bond separately with an established member of the herd, they then folded into the larger group without much fanfare. But Pegasus was different. Even sharing a fence line seemed to goad him into a fury. From his very first day he would charge the electric fences, leap the stone walls, and crash through the four-board two-by-fours to get into the other pastures. Once inside, he would chase or attack any horse — mare, gelding, or stallion — in his path.
We tried every kind of care and diet modification and several types of positive behavior training to help Pegasus accept other horses. In the end, though, there was nothing we could do but pasture him alone. The barn owner and I surveyed a little more than an acre on the high hill and surrounded it with a five-foot, four-rail fence. Each rail was a six-inch-thick muscled arm of lodge-pole pine, sleeved with a 4,000-volt hotwire. Trees bordered the pasture on three sides; on the fourth was an old, unused dry lot with a shed that we renovated to create a cozy all-weather shelter.
The pasture and pine fence had held Pegasus for nearly all of his first year until that one morning in February. When I arrived at the barn my engine had settled with a frosty clank, but Pegasus had not come down to greet me. Threading my way through the snowdrifts, I had found him at last, standing inside the shed, his right hind leg a mass of shredded flesh, his fetlock, the grapefruit-sized ankle joint, gashed to the bone. Too shocked to whinny, too injured to move, he had stood there, glazed-eyed and trembling, a slow pool of scarlet spreading in the snow under his hooves.
A few hours later, while the veterinarian finished stitching Pegasus's wounds, the barn owner and I pieced together what had happened. One of the geldings had been turned out in the dry lot for a few minutes while the road to the big pasture was being plowed, and Pegasus had kicked straight through the top rail of the wooden fence to get to him. The rail lay in the snow in two neat pieces, as easily snapped as if it were a toothpick. The barn owner and I thought that a stronger fence might be the solution. We replaced the wooden fence with a metal one, and ran it through the shed that the pasture and dry lot shared. Through the spring and summer, the new fence had held Pegasus. But that autumn, after a lesson pony had gotten loose and galloped a few triumphant laps around the farm, the barn owner and I found some of the metal fence rails not broken but bizarrely twisted and bent. Stepping back a few paces, we gasped. The damage formed a perfect outline of a horse charging as swiftly, madly, and unheedingly as a comet into but not through the solid steel rails.
The barn owner whistled softly. "Someday, something's going to singe that horse 's wings," she muttered, "and no fence in this world will be stronger than his fury."
What Would I Find This Time?
All these thoughts of my horse's previous run-ins with fences flashed through my mind this day as I sprinted down the gravel path toward Pegasus's pasture. My heart leapt in my chest, and I began to run. My hands shook as I unlatched the gate. I had only one question: Had my horse finally torn through steel?
When I barreled up the high pasture hill, my worst fears seemed to be confirmed. I could see Pegasus silhouetted in his shed, standing as perfectly, terribly still as he had that past February when he'd been wounded by breaking the wooden fence. Only this time, I knew, a run in with the metal fence would have left him with more severe injuries than he had suffered previously. If he had flung himself hard enough into the fence, he would have cracked ribs or bruised organs. And if he had kicked it, his leg, not the rail, would be snapped in two.
Without breaking stride, I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and pressed the speed dial for the vet. But as I approached the open side of the shed, Pegasus suddenly swung his head toward me. He flipped his muzzle at me twice and then fluttered his nostrils in a silent whinny.
I stopped and shut off my phone. I glanced over Pegasus's body, searching for an injury and wondering what had transfixed him so completely since his head, neck, back, and belly were whole and unharmed. Behind him, the metal rails of the fence that divided the shed were straight and shining, completely untouched.
And then I saw it. Saw the impossible. Poking out from under the lowest rail on the other side of the metal fence that divided the shed, with his head and front legs stretched under the fence and blissfully tangled around Pegasus's hind hooves, there rested a tiny, peach-fuzzed muzzle and two china-teacup hooves.
I tiptoed, almost lightheaded with disbelief, to Pegasus's side. He curled his neck around me as I crouched down next to him and the two of us stared in wonder. The little face and delicate legs belonged to a scrawny brown foal who was no more than a week or two old. Nestled sweetly, the foal was sound asleep, his baby breaths making Pegasus's silver feathers dance.
I rose as quietly as I could. Looking for the foal's mother, I peered into the dry lot, which adjoined but was separate from Pegasus's pasture. Having left her foal behind, she was staggering toward the dry lot's gate at the foot of the hill on her side of the fence. With her lips to the ground, she scrabbled for the tiniest bits of leftover hay. Her ribs stood out from her body like cruel, fleshless fingers, prodding her relentlessly away from her beloved baby with her even more desperate need for food.
I gripped Pegasus's mane, though I doubted I could stop him if he decided to charge. But Pegasus only watched the mare with calm eyes and made no move.
The door to the apartment above the barn clattered open then, and one of the barn staff emerged to give the horses their morning feed. Seeing her, Pegasus stretched out his neck, extended his nose to its utmost, and pricked his ears as far forward as they could go. Still, this horse, whose stomach good horsemen set their clocks by, didn't move or make a sound, allowing the exhausted foal to sleep on, undisturbed.
A few minutes later, when the girl drove the hay cart toward the pasture gates, which were about thirty feet apart along the same fence line, the mare raised her eyes from the dust and chaff and whinnied. At the mare's call, the foal awakened and, blinking blearily, scrambled to his feet.
For the first time in the five years that I had known him, Pegasus turned his attention away from an approaching hay cart. Then, perhaps for the first time in his life, he gazed with kindness at a horse, this gaunt and gawky slip of a foal on the other side of the metal fence.
Gently, Pegasus arched his neck over the metal rails and touched the foal's nose with his. He watched as the foal tottered out of his side of the shed and down the hill and stuck his head resolutely under his mama. Satisfied, Pegasus nudged me with his head, and the two of us trotted down to his pasture gate, where he neighed like thunder for his breakfast, awaiting the hay cart's arrival.
I asked the girl about the mare and foal. "It was a rescue case," she said, throwing several fat flakes of hay over the fence. "They came in last night, and this was the only space we had."
I had planned to bring Pegasus in for a morning ride but decided instead to wait and see what would happen. One of the hay flakes had landed slightly under the fence that divided the two pastures. The foal watched as Pegasus dug into the hay with gusto. Tentatively first, then boldly, the foal thrust his muzzle under the bottom rail of the fence, into Pegasus's hay pile, lipping and nipping the leafy stems. Pegasus, who usually would have defended his hay to the death, only snorted once and kept chewing stolidly and contentedly.
When the hay was gone, Pegasus walked, trotted, and cantered with the foal along their shared fence line. And when the morning had passed and a sultry, late summer afternoon had settled in its place, the foal curled up in Pegasus's shadow and napped. Though the sun beat down on him, and the plump, sweet valley grass and cool shade of the shed beckoned, Pegasus once again stood still, watching over the little horse, providing shelter for the foal's big horse dreams.
Pegasus Finds His Calling
During the next eight months, a new, vast expanse of Pegasus's spirit unfurled. He became nanny and tutor, coach and leader of their herd of two. Racing him along their fence line, the spindly brown foal of indeterminate breed quickly grew into a strapping bay quarter horse colt. By turns playfully pummeling Pegasus with his pearl-like hooves and submitting happily to long sessions of mutual grooming, the once-forlorn baby matured into a confident young horse. He grew full of the natural joy and boldness — touched by a sparkling streak of mischief — that belong by right to youth.
Soon it came time to wean the colt. The clear choice for his first buddy was his great silver guardian, Pegasus. The barn owner, the staff, the colt's owner, and I were present to supervise. We took a deep breath and turned the two out together in Pegasus's pasture. The colt pranced immediately to Pegasus's side, ran his chin from Pegasus's withers to his flanks, and nipped him fearlessly and sharply on the rump. Pegasus's eyes popped open and he kicked half-heartedly. Then the two of them once again touched noses and ambled off, side by side, to tuck into a patch of juicy clover.
From that day on, Pegasus shared his pasture with the colt, playing with him, teaching him manners, and chaperoning his playdates with the cats, the dogs, and the flock of wild turkeys who began dropping by to visit. On sunny afternoons, the colt still curled up in Pegasus's shadow to nap. But when it rained, the colt would either cuddle against Pegasus's enormous, warm side or flop down under my horse's belly and snooze.
Pegasus always stayed awake while the colt slept and seemed to keep a constant eye on him. But I could tell, as with anyone who cares for the young, that loving attention sometimes took its toll. One day, I found the colt frolicking alone among the buttercups and daisies by the woods' edge. Pegasus had moseyed down to the water trough for a drink and had dozed off with his head balanced precariously on the trough's rim.
These were happy times, but eventually the colt's owner found him a forever home. And while the colt began a joyful new chapter of his life, shortly after he moved away, Pegasus started to decline. He stopped eating. He drank next to nothing. Most heartbreaking of all, he spent hours wandering anxiously around his pasture, whinnying piteously into the empty sky.
Finally, one day a few weeks later, his whinny was answered. A friend's palomino filly lost her mother, so the little golden girl took up residence on the hill. Pegasus befriended and raised her. After she grew up, he went on to parent many others, colts and fillies of every background and breed. As the years passed, Pegasus grew into a true healer: he helped his foals become whole and sound and also restored himself. This once-friendless gelding created a family and a legacy that is truly his own. My previously rage-bound horse had let love teach him how to fly.
Now when I arrive at the barn and Pegasus is nowhere in sight, I don't worry. I know he is guarding the dreams of another young horse, keeping bright the vision of the wonderful future he or she has ahead. He is their great, silver angel, and they can grow and rest, safe and content, under the span of his mighty wings.
The transition from anger to offering hope and joy replaced Pegasus's negativity with love and friendship. How have you had a change of heart or attitude by giving of yourself to others?
MOLLY, THE THREE-LEGGED PONY WHO GAVE HOPE TO NEW ORLEANS
* * *
KAYE T. HARRIS, New Orleans, Louisiana
I did my first volunteer work for the Royal SPCA in Singapore when I was eleven years old, and I have always been one to rescue animals. After Hurricane Katrina hit, my husband Glenn and I ran a food line in our parish just outside New Orleans with volunteer ministers. One day, we traveled into New Orleans to drop off supplies for hurricane victims at various locations. Our pony ride business has trucks used to transport the ponies, and our volunteers loaded these up with food, water, and ice.
After delivering the supplies, we stopped at our feed store to see if we could find feed for our animals. Ginger, the owner, was helping rescued animals who were sheltered at the store. She said that there was a pony who had been left behind when Hurricane Katrina hit and was being cared for by the Arizona Humane Society while that group worked in New Orleans. No one had a trailer to transport the pony, and the volunteers were leaving and could no longer care for her. Ginger asked if I could take the pony. She thought I'd be the perfect person, since I was a pony expert with twenty ponies at the time. I agreed to rescue the pony.
My husband and I went to pick up the pony from her barn on September 6, 2005, which was my birthday. We were surprised to find that a tree had fallen halfway through her stall. I don't know how she had not been killed. It amazed me that already she had survived both a hurricane and her stall being smashed by a tree. I was soon to find out how much more of a survivor this pony would be.
Upon first meeting the pony, I observed that she was predominately black but shot through with white roan hairs. Turns out, she is a Pony of the Americas, with Appaloosa mottling around her eyes and nose. Her mane and tail are mostly black, with silver and white hairs throughout. She is forty-four inches tall at the withers. At the time we estimated her age at fifteen.
Our ponies are all trained to jump into the back of our trucks, and there are racks for transporting them. On the day we brought the pony home, we backed up to one of our levees so this plucky survivor would have a very small distance over which to jump into the truck bed. This girl did not hesitate and leapt right inside. It was like she was saying, "I'm leaving!" We left a note for her owners with our phone number.
This smart pony rode perfectly all the way home. She got down from the truck with no problem. For the next couple of months she pastured with my herd of older horses. When her owners returned, they turned ownership of her over to us. We then found out our survivor's name: Molly.
After we brought Molly home, my husband and I rescued other displaced Hurricane Katrina animals until after Thanksgiving. I personally rescued a pit bull terrier. Instead of leaving him at the MuttShack Animal Rescue Triage Center in New Orleans, where I was volunteering, I brought him home. We called him Red Sam. After all he had endured, it was not surprising that the dog had severe anxiety attacks. Whenever we left him alone in our house, he would chew or tear up something, but it was always an inanimate object, like the floor or items in my son's bedroom.
Excerpted from Horses With A Mission by Allen Anderson, Linda Anderson. Copyright © 2009 Allen and Linda Anderson. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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