Sunday, June 21, 2009

The birthing

As you might have suspected, there is more to this story of breeding Legend to Monandan. Unfortunately, the cover took. I remember thinking, it couldn't get worse. Could it?

It got worse. In due course, Legend’s time for delivery arrived. We regularly checked her nipples for waxy deposits, colostrum. I began to have second and third thoughts about the wisdom of our actions. After all, Legend was not a girl, but a grown mare, a matron. Was pregnancy really the right thing to do?

We had pretty well decided on what night she would deliver, based on our studies of Legend’s udder and the calendar. That fateful night we put her in a smaller pasture next to the house. I woke up every 45 minutes to check on her and make sure that she wasn’t trying to do this mad thing alone. I didn’t need to worry because when her time came, she walked to that part of the pasture closest to the bedroom window and bellowed, “You got me into this, boneheads, now get me out!”

Joanne and I quickly put on our clothes and met Legend at the pasture gate. She lay down and Joanne shined a flashlight on the delivery area. We could already see front feet and a nose presented. This was a help, because it wasn’t a breech birth and we didn’t have to call the vet. However, we could also see that this wasn’t going to be particularly easy. Legend lay on a slope so that her head was uphilol. That was good. She was going to let gravity work for her. As it turned out, gravity worked for all of us..

Soon enough of the foal was presented so that Joanne and I could get our hands on it. Every time Legend had a contraction we would pull. In the meantime we murmured words of encouragement. Running through my mind were positive thoughts like: I am so stupid! How could I do this to my friend? We’ve made the Tevis Cup ride together. A hundred miles in twenty-four hours. We’ve ridden cross-country from Barstow to Las Vegas and slept in adjoining stalls at the fair grounds. She helped me sing for my drinks in Goodsprings, Nevada. We’ve even jumped off a cliff together. “Oh, Legend, my friend, how could I have been so goddamned stupid, I’m sorry, push, baby, push!”

While Joanne and I pulled at the foal's hooves every time Legend had a contraction, I noticed that its front feet were delicately folded together with its nose resting on them so as to present the smallest front possible. The hooves were very soft, rubbery, like cuttlefish, so that they wouldn't tear anything on their way out. Well, not very much anyway. When the foal came, he slipped out all at once. Joanne and I probably took ten or fifteen minutes off Legend’s delivery time.

It was a boy, a colt. A slimy little guy, slick with afterbirth. We slid the foal uphill toward Legend’s head and she began to lick him clean, clearing the sack away. This is the way it happened, and if it grosses you out, don’t blame me. Blame God. If this is intelligent design, I’ll take vanilla.

Very soon the colt raised its head to Legend and made a strange little sound in the back of his throat. Legend repeated the sound, the only time I ever heard her make it in her life. The imprint was completed. They knew who each other was.

Joanne and I left the two together and returned to the house to remove some really filthy clothes and shower.

By good daylight the foal was running around the pasture enjoying the first morning of his life. He was totally lacking in color and all other Appaloosa characteristics. He was a thoroughly sound mongrel colt. Dan and Joan couldn’t boast of the color, and so they named him Montanden’s Secret. But the Daniels' disappointment aside, it was clear that the colt and his mother thought he was the finest creature ever born. Joanne and I were pretty proud of ourselves, too. What a way to start a day.

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?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Duck Blind

When Joanne first attended the University of California Riverside in the fall of 1954, she brought her two horses, Sheba and Legend, with her. Naturally. Since the two horses wouldn't blend in very well in the apartment Joanne shared with three other young women, she boarded them at a ranch owned by Ken and Joy Haiks in West Riverside.

For some reason I've never understood, West Riverside lies just north of Riverside on the other side of the Santa Ana River. The Santa Ana River, at that point, is nowhere near the city of Santa Ana. Not even in the same county. Go figure.

The horses loved it at Haiks' ranch. There was plenty of room and it had a duck pond. During the months when the flies got numerous and bothersome, Sheba immersed herself in the pond. All you could see was nostrils and eyes as she swam in circles. The flies then moved their swarm to Legend who never put it together that she could go swim the duck pond too.

Haiks didn't keep a pond for the purpose of raising ducks. But he loved the fact that ducks would come there because then he could shoot them. If only he had a duck blind. If only.

Pastures tend to be devoid of cover. The cows and horses take care of any ambitious grass searching for height. Haiks devised an ingenious duck blind. He used Legend. Legend was still learning how to be a horse, and she didn't realize that what Haiks was doing was not acceptable. You ride horses, jump them, have them pull your carts. They do not tap dance, cook your dinner or answer your phone. And they do not stand still while people hide behind them and shoot shotguns.

Legend didn't know that, so she became Haiks' duck blind. I hope that she got extra oats out of that.

That's life. If you don't learn to swim, you may end up as somebody's duck blind.