Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Work of Grace

Grace, that beloved horse, will not be returning to Wisconsin from South Dakota after all.

And that is okay, because Phil and I were going mad under the pressure of setting up house for two horses in the midst of setting up house for ourselves.

The barn needs work, there are soybeans where there ought to be grass, and then there is the matter of erecting fencing...

It was making Phil and me cranky.  For Josh, for whom the farm had been a hard sell, this was not sweetening the deal, which I was aware of, and which put me in mind of the legal term "bait and switch", the practice of advertising something wonderful at a low price and substituting it with something crappy for a high price.

Yes, the farm had been a hard sell.  There had been discussion of purchasing an ATV Gator, of getting kittens and raising bunnies, of building tree houses and hosting parties in the loft of the barn.

What Josh got instead was a big old tractor that he won't be allowed to drive until he's 14 or 15.  Having discovered an enormous pile of raccoon excrement in the loft, (which, if you recall, is outrageously toxic), we decided to stage the birthday elsewhere.  Needless to say, no kittens or bunnies.  No tree-house, as of yet.

Yeah.  We promised him a Porsche.  We gave him a toaster.

So, today we are going to go get a couple of kittens.

When I mentioned this to Josh yesterday, he threw his arms around me and screamed with delight.  I don't think he's liked me this much since before we moved to the farm.

Over time, we may get bunnies and goats, and we will certainly have a couple of horses by next summer, after the pastures have been established and we've put up fencing.

Gracie's story is worth telling.  I wrote about Gracie in an earlier post, but, to re-cap, I half-leased her last year and spent a lot of time with her.  She's a tremendously dear creature--think 1200-pound Basset Hound, all stubbornness and devotion.

Last year, Gracie moved to South Dakota to live on a big cattle ranch near the Minnesota border.  (She was not, thank God, affected by the recent blizzard that tragically killed hundreds or maybe thousands of livestock and horses.)

Unfortunately, Gracie didn't take to the cows.  She found them frightening, and she was disinclined to work with them.

With Gracie, as with Basset Hounds, disinclined means DIS-IN-CLINED.

The very tall and handsome cowboy whose ranch it was, whose boots practically touch the ground when he rides a horse, tried to make Gracie see sense.   But she was DIS-IN-CLINED, with an obstinacy that defied proven-effective cowboy persuasion techniques.

That horse is no good, he said to his wife, who loved Gracie.  It won't work with the cattle.  No one can even ride her, she bucks so much.  

The wife, who was also a mother and a media celebrity and a bit of a rock star, knew what was coming.

That horse is a hay burner, said the cowboy.  [I'm kind of imagining this conversation, btw.]

Hay burner.

From a cowboy perspective, that's what my own horse is.  Belle doesn't make money, she costs money.  I ride her around and groom her and write checks.  I don't compete with her, she doesn't win money.  She's not a wrangler or a cutter...To be fair, she's capable of all of these things.  With a great rider, she could be a money maker.  Her potential has gone largely untapped.

But Grace, to be honest, hasn't got the potential to be anything but a hay burner.

When the cowboy's wife, (let's call her Moxie), had the blues, she was in the habit of going out to the pasture and calling Gracie, who would come running.  Moxie would wrap her arms around Gracie's neck and have a good cry.

Moxie agreed, back in June, to sell her to me, because she knew that there was no place on a working ranch for a hay burner, and that I loved Grace and would take good care of her.

After my family moved to our farm, I began to ask Moxie exactly when they would trailer Gracie back to Wisconsin.  For one reason or another, Gracie's ETA kept slipping.

Finally, Moxie admitted that she was ambivalent about selling Grace, and in fact had been crying herself to sleep every night thinking about it and crying on Gracie's shoulder daily.

Now of course, I harbor no judgments about hay-burners, I think they're fine.  I hail from the suburbs where all little girls aspire to have a hay-burner some day, a hay-burner of her very own to ride around on and love on.  From my perspective, Gracie was an ideal horse; her hay-burner heart was as big and true as you could ask for.

So I said, Then keep Gracie, for goodness sake!  Why would you even think of selling her?

But Moxie had been trying to see things in the practical way of the successful cowboy rancher.  She loved her big handsome cowboy and didn't want to come across as being decadent and suburban.

And yet...

Some folks, (not just cowboys, but those whose paramount interest in horses is winning in shows or running a ranch), don't appreciate the usefulness of a horse like Gracie.

But I think, prior to the proliferation of the automobile, horses like Gracie were keeping people like Moxie and me, and people coming home from wars, and young kids who didn't fit in well at school, and all kinds of troubled, broken, human people--sane and sound for thousands of years.

We just didn't know it.

Eventually, a couple weeks ago, Moxie's cowboy did come to understand the implications of life on the ranch without Gracie.  In fact, Gracie really was a working horse. And that is why Gracie, that great and gifted horse, will not be coming to live on our farm.

P.S., Thank you, everybody, but please do not send me the name and number of everyone who is looking to re-home their horse.  You can pluck a horse out of the air in Wisconsin, (I've had already had offers of half a dozen equines), and I really don't need one before June of next year.

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