Monday, December 14, 2015

The Dowager Queens

My barn is being overtaken by mares. But not just any mares – oh no. A very specific sort of mare is invading my stalls, eating my grain and frolicking in my pastures. Out of a field of ten, six of my current equine residents are mares. Although their ages range from 13 to 31, their stories read along the same lines. Their dowry comes in the form of training they’ve received from previous owners. Some of them have show records. Others spent long hours trotting on the road for a living. Perceived as past their working prime perhaps, they’ve gone on to raise multiple babies. And somehow, they’ve found their way to Tantius Farm where they are known as my “dowager queens.”

This trend started a decade ago when I, a devoted gelding person, purchased my first, down on her luck queen. I didn’t know it at the time, but that one mare would change my perspective on working with horses forever. Tia taught me to take things one step at a time, that baggage wasn’t a four letter word but rather something of a brain teaser – a crossword puzzle, if you will. She could not be trained like a young horse, as she was already 12 and had had some rough handling. There seems to be certain levels of trust with her and each new training step required a different level of trust. I learned to build on what we had until a beautiful web of trust enveloped us both. Most of all, she taught me patience. A concept I’m sure she’s quite familiar with – she was a proud mother of 5 by the time she was 9.

Breeze believes that being silly is very important!

 Next came Breeze. My sweet Anglo-Arab mare was a mother twice over before she was broke to saddle at the age of 11. From the moment I loaded her into our trailer, I was in love. She is my hippy chick. Breeze is 15.2 hands of peace, love and connection. She had a brisk 30 days of training when I got her and she handled everything like a pro. She, like Tia, had a show career with me, except Breeze did crossrails and she loved it. She is my go-to girl for a quick, unscheduled ride as she doesn’t forget anything. Breeze reminds me to relax and take a deep breath, usually because that’s exactly what she’s doing as she’s smelling my face, which she does as often as she can. Having Tia prepared me for Breeze and although they’re two sides of the coin – Tia is quick and purposeful, Breeze is laid back and prone to wandering, hence, tripping – they are a fabulous yin-yang in my heart.

This is the face Shadow makes when she wants more bananas!
Shadow came to the farm on a cold and snowy evening. She was strapped into a blanket too small for even her bony frame. Shadow was 27 when she moved in with her younger sister. They had been together for 26 years and when we lost her sister, we thought we’d lose Shadow too. But the old queen surprised us all. Instead of withering from the loss, she began to blossom. Her sister had always been dominant but without her, we started to see what Shadow was really like. In the past four years, Shadow has made a new friend – our 13 year old gelding, Rip – and gotten on with her life. Although she was never trained to do anything, she stands perfectly still for kids to brush and is polite about taking cookies from them. She has firm opinions on blankets – she hates them – but she hates the cold even more. She always knows what stall is hers and what paddock she should be in (and will lead you to both in case you don’t know). Every day we say to each other, “I wish she was younger” or “I wish we’d gotten her when she was younger” as we have to come to love her and her grumpy old lady attitude (unless you have bananas, then look out!). She would have been a rock solid trail horse as nothing scares her.

In 2013, my mother and I won the bid for Forever Morgans on a registered Morgan mare, the foal she was carrying and her 3 month old filly. That mare was called Showy and as fate would have it, she came to live with us. In part because she needed a safe place to foal and we felt at least a little responsible for her since we’d won the bid. Showy went through auction because she has suspensory damage in her right front leg. The foal she was carrying was number 3. It will also be her last. Showy will never be 100% sound. That doesn’t stop her from running with her new mate, Gryff, it just means she needs some extra attention on occasion. The thing is, I’ve never seen that mare in a bad mood. She has more heart than most people. She may walk slower sometimes or run a little less, but she’s always ready for attention, ears up, eyes bright. Her special talent is teaching people about horses. She cuddles with strangers if they stop by her gate, resting her head on their shoulder, eyes closing as they pet her. To add to her resume, she’ll start trick training in the spring. Her perky attitude reminds me on a daily basis that everyone is experiencing some sort of pain. You don’t need to see it or know what it is to be gentle with them.
Sarah in yellow, Dutch in pink
Rounding out my court of royal ladies are the two newest members – Sarah and Dutch. Sarah is 23 and Dutch is 19. Both had show careers as young mares before heading to the breeding shed. They spent the last 5 years raising babies, side by side. They are thick as thieves, relying on each other instead of me for comfort. But that’s changing. Each day that passes finds Dutch a bit more outgoing – nickering at me when I start feeding – and Sarah a bit more tempered – our barn is filled with rules and manners and Sarah enjoys testing them all. Each day I tell them that Tantius is a different kind of farm. We may not have state of the art fencing or perfect white washed stalls, but we do have love. Lots of it. We don’t care that Sarah has a tumor on her throatlatch. It’s benign and surgery is not an option because of its placement. It doesn’t bother her so it doesn’t bother us. And Dutch is as shy as Tia was a decade ago and yet each day, I see a little more of the confident Park horse she must have been in her youth. I tell them that baby time is over, it’s time to get back to work! They nuzzle each other through the stall bars when I say this and then look back at me, ears up, ready for the challenge.

These mares, some with training, some with baggage – all seem to have hope. Hope that they have found someone they can trust and someone who loves them as much as they want to love a person. They shuffle in with dull coats and hooves just a tad shorter than the stories they could tell. Their sprung bellies drag at their top lines, making them appear even thinner, and their teeth too worn to help in putting the weight back on them. But even in their pauper disguises I know who they are. Given enough time, I can help them recover their crowns so they may take their proper place as the dowager queens of Tantius Farm.

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