Saturday, June 13, 2009

Breeding Virgin Horses

We were living in Auburn, Placer County, California at the time. We had five fenced and cross fenced acres upon which we grazed and raised our horses, cats, dogs, and sometimes other livestock. Among our horses was my very good friend, Legend, an Arab-American Saddlebred cross. She was about fourteen years old and had never had a foal.

Our neighbors, Dan and Joan Daniels, lived over the hill on their own five acres. They were going to make their fortunes raising Appaloosa horses and had acquired some very nice mares from Utah. But they had no stallion and so had to trailer their mares to stallions on other ranches and pay a hefty stud fee. This was not cost effective. A successful horse ranch needs a resident stallion, even though they are assertive and unreliable at best.

So Dan and Joan picked up an untested young horse, Montanden. Monty, as he was called, had never bred a mare for reasons that are peculiar to the Appaloosa trade. Appaloosas have certain physical characteristics, striped hooves, white sclera, mottled skin around the eyes and rectum, and Appy foals are checked rigorously for these distinctive qualities. It’s embarrassing, if you’re the foal. But the most coveted characteristic of them all is the color, either the rump patch or the leopard skin pattern. With brilliant colors the animal is worth beaucoup bucks. Without any color at all, he’s dog food.

Monty was untested, a virgin stallion, because nobody was going to entrust their mare to a stud that might not throw color. And until Monty had some foals on the ground, nobody knew for sure what he could or couldn’t do. It’s like an acting job in Hollywood; you can’t get a job unless you’re in the union, and you can’t get in the union unless you have a job. What to do? What to do?

The Harrises and the Danielses put their pointy little heads together and came up with a splendid idea. Why don’t we breed Legend to Monty? Neither has ever been bred; it will be an experience for both of them. Moreover, maybe the foal will be brilliantly colored and be worth thousands!

On the day Legend showed up in heat, Joan and Dan brought Monty calling. In the horse world it is sometimes difficult for a mare to distinguish between passionate love making and outright rape. So we decided we would use breeding hobbles to keep the mare from changing her mind in mid event. The Danielses hauled out enough leather straps to harness three horses, and decked and festooned poor Legend from head to tail and side to side. She looked like Gulliver in Lilliput.

At last the poor mare was ready and Monty was decorated with a leather-and-chain headstall positioned, with Joan on the end of a rope and armed with a whip. So there we were, four humans, two horses, and whips and chains. And not a clue in the crew. Joan pointed Monty in the right direction and the stallion stood on his hind legs and charged, nailing Legend in the ribs. A second try scored on her left ear. A dozen more tries produced a very frustrated stallion, but finally, with the help of all human hands, Monty found the right place.

It was then that Legend decided to object. She took off running, she entangled in the hobbles, Monty entangled in the hobbles, and both of them entangled with each other. Monty bounced off of Legend and came down to her left side just as Legend decided to run through a pile of junk wood I had stacked for later burning. Boards flew everywhere, rusting nails pointing out. Once through the wood pile, adding large pieces of wood to their leather ensemble, the horses headed for a barbed wire fence. I imagined a small child at a spelling bee standing in front of a large audience saying, “stupid, H-A-R-R-I-S, stupid,” to resounding applause.

Dragged down by large pieces of lumber and stumbling over each others feet, the horses stopped just short of the barbed wire fence. Very quietly we approached them and began the grand disentanglement. Once peace and order had been restored, we decided that if this covering did not take, there would not be another. Forget the horses, the humans weren’t up to it.

But the cover did take and Legend found herself in a family way. Well, thought I, that’s over. It’ can’t get any worse, can it?

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