We stopped in Ft. Collins that night. Kathy coaxed me into stopping for dinner and meeting up with a friend. I was gnashing my teeth -- I wanted to make it to Sheridan that night -- but Kathy reserves the right to eat a meal once in a while.
We have logged enough miles hauling horses for her to know I'm quite capable of driving all night with a water bottle and a bag of granola. She also knows I turn into a raging psychotic bitch the next day. For some reason she objects to spending her precious vacation days with the Jekyll and Hyde version of Mugs. Whatever.
By the time dinner was over I was crashing, I was getting my first lesson in travelling with PD. Push too hard and watch my blood pressure plummet. So, we spent the night with the horses tied to the trailer and me out cold on the couch.
The next morning I was up and pacing before daylight. I had recovered my manners and gratitude and gave Kathy time for coffee before we loaded up and took off. My mind was on Montana and the pull of the road was so strong it hurt.
My breathing didn't slow until we passed Cheyenne. People complain about crossing Wyoming. The land is harsh and empty, the wind is strong and never stops. I love it. The open space soothes me, and I find endless variety in the terrain. Most of all, I love the play of light and sky on the prairie.
It soothes something wild that lives deep inside of me. When I'm alone, I cross Wyoming with my windows down and the radio off, and lose myself in the harmonies of the wind and the tires on the pavement, backed up with the percussion of a growling diesel engine. When I have company, I crank my road music to the max. Music is totally my pick through Wyoming, no exceptions.
My music choices aren't for the faint of heart. Try The Execution of Stepen Razin Op.119 at 6:00 a.m. and see if you still call me friend. Ask the kidlette how she feels about Desi Arnez, Joni Mitchell and Edith Piaf. She'll tell you my road music is the sole reason she applied for Emancipation of a Minor when she was 11.
Be afraid, Becky Bean, be very afraid.
I watch for livestock and antelope. The babies were big enough to be up and running.There are more this year than the last few, but not by many. The drought and the market have brought breeding to a halt in ranch country. The only time I saw more than one or two foals was the herd of mini's at a K.O.A. campground. There had to be at least a dozen of the cute little things on the ground. There was a sign on the pasture fence - Herd Reduction! Champion Bloodlines! - of course there was.
The horses tend to be a better quality across the board out here. They have good bone, pretty heads and appealing color. I like to think about the why's and how's behind that one. There seems to be a direct correlation between ugly horses and 5 acre ranchettes.
Travelling through Wyoming makes the occasional oasis much sweeter, every time we pass one I think about living in a tiny cabin with big windows and a giant deck. I could watch the sky and light roll by forever if I was settled in a bit of trees.
The closer we get to the Montana border, the lighter I feel. My world has become so small. My days are spent inside, my work is repetitive, and my time with my horses is usually short and anxious. I feel my old self come flooding back, the relief to know I'm still in there, somewhere, is enormous. As we cross into Montana, Kathy leans over, yanks my "Sambo Mia" c.d. out of the player and turns on the radio. I can see her fight the urge to chuck it out the window.
"Not to mention, there are ways to euth a horse that don't cost much. When I was a teenager my POA went blind. We didn't have facilities for a blind horse so he was hauled (in a familiar trailer) to an exotic animal facility, they shot him and fed him to the lions. For free, except for gas for the truck."
The above comes from the comment section of my last post.
We have the same type of option here- you can haul your horse to the big cat refuge, or the wolf rescue and leave your horse for somebody else to put down. Then, you can drive home, singing "The Circle of Life" at top volume and feel good about your humane and earth sustaining choice.
I had a client make the same choice. She called and asked me to come with her, she was extremely distraught over the whole thing, and couldn't afford to euth her horse through the vet. Since she owed me for two months training, I kept my doubts to myself and agreed to go.
Here's how it went down. The unwanted horse, who had a bad stifle, was taken from the paddock she had shared with two other horses for the last 5 years. She was loaded into a straightload trailer and hauled across a mountain pass. After a six-hour trip, alone, she was unloaded into a corral. Hay was thrown, hands were shook, paperwork changed hands and the horse was hugged while copious tears were shed into her mane. Then we drove home.
My client commented on how beautiful the area was, how nice the rescue folk were, what a solid stout barn her baby had to shelter her, anything and everything except the horrifying thing we had just done.
1. The treasured mare was extremely herd bound. She lived with her daughter and another mare who had shared a pen with her for several years. She began calling as we led her out of the pen and was soaked in sweat, kicking and squalling by the time we pulled out.
"Why is she so upset?" The client asked.
"Horses are herd animals," I said. "Her leg makes her vulnerable and you just took her from her friends and only sense of safety."
"She's with me, she knows I'll take care of her," Client said.
The mare whinnied off and on, with varying degrees of panic, for the entire trip.
2. Horses in straightloads tend to shift their weight over their hind legs: The horse had a bad stifle, she fell twice on the trip during the steep, winding, uphill climbs, and was walking three-legged by the time we unloaded her.
3. She was unloaded into a corral, alone, where she would wait for the required 72 hours before she was slaughtered. This was to make sure she wasn't drugged.
4. We were told she would be fed and watered until she passed quarantine, then she would be led behind the barn and shot.
5. I could smell the blood from the last horse they had butchered behind the barn. I'm guessing the mare could too.
6. The wolves were farther up the mountain side. I'm guessing one more time they could smell the mare. They sure started howling once we put her in the pen. They were really excited.
So. We yanked this mare from her friends. Took her on a long, painful trip, by herself. Left her alone, surrounded by the smell of death, listening to the wolves above her. They knew they were going to eat her. She knew they were going to eat her. For three days, she got to drag that sore leg around the corral, with no meds to ease her pain, smelling the blood of the horses who died before her and listening to the wolves put dibbs on her tenderest parts. Now that ownership of the mare changed hands, she was no longer a pet, she was meat, making sure the wolves didn't eat tainted meat became the priority.
It would be kinder to send her to a kill pen. There would be other horses to huddle with. To feel the strength of their bodies against her sides while they traveled on the truck. To have the company of her own kind in the stockyards, even as she was being run down the chute to her death, even then she could follow and be followed by another horse.
There are stories told about horses being trampled to death during transport --a graphic and chilling result from a man-made decision. As painful and frightening as a death like this would be, I can't help but think it makes a primitive sense to a horse. Herd animals understand what can happen within the herd.
I can't find a way, no matter how I think on it, for that mare to comprehend being taken, by the person she trusted, from her herd, and left alone, with all chances to escape blocked, to watch, smell and hear her approaching death. What went through her mind as the trailer disappeared around the bend?
I thought of the mare often over the next three days.
Yes. Slaughter is bad. I hate it. I am so bothered by our human habit of warehousing and processing animals, without regard to their mental and physical well being, I only eat meat that comes from farmers and ranchers I know personally, and practice animal care I am comfortable with. I also support the farming and ranching industry 100%, just to keep things confusing.
At a sale, on a truck, in the yard, in the chute, a horse is in the company of other horses. Even the coldest, most uncaring, money-grubbing, kill buyer understands a horse handles the horror about to rain down on it better in the company of its own kind. From the evil KB's point of view, he keeps the horses together because they are easier to control, or they hold their weight better with less stress, but still, his practicality becomes a kindness. He isn't lying to himself or the horses.
My mane crying client, so sure her horse would be comforted by her presence, well, she was nothing but a lying fool.